The history of the Crownsville State Hospital in Maryland is tragic, but it illustrates much about how psychiatric patients, and especially patients of color, have been treated and how that treatment has changed over the past 100 years. Although mentioned in the best-selling book and subsequent HBO movie The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, the history of this hospital is not well known. Read more about this disturbing relic from Maryland’s past.
At the beginning of the 20th century and during a time of segregation in Maryland, there was no hospital for Black patients suffering from mental disorders in the state. Many people in the newly emerging field of public health knew that this meant other public and private charities and hospitals who were not equipped to take care of mentally ill patients were doing so, and doing a very poor job. The idea behind the hospital was to create a better place for patients, but that, unfortunately, didn’t happen.
The facility opened to patients in 1911 as the “Hospital for the Negro Insane of Maryland,” at a time when very little was known about mental illness. People could be taken to a facility like Crownsville because they had alcohol abuse issues, because they had a genetic condition, or because they had another disorder like epilepsy. At a time when the Eugenics movement was gaining traction in the United States, public health offices, doctors, and politicians wanted to remove people who they saw as “unhealthy” from mainstream society and ended up placing thousands of people in hospitals like Crownsville.
As with many mental hospitals, Crownsville became a place where almost anyone could be sent, and overcrowding and understaffing became a problem. The Baltimore Sun wrote an exposé about conditions as early as 1948, but the experiments that patients were undergoing weren’t being revealed. In Rebecca Skloot’s book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, she explains the brutal treatment one of Henrietta’s daughters suffered while at the hospital. This was after World War II and the Nuremberg Code, which established human experimentation ethics and regulations on an international scale, but many patients continued to be abused because they were African American. Even if their families had known about the non-therapeutic treatment that their loved ones received, they had little recourse in the justice system. Almost all the patients taken to Crownsville, including Henrietta’s daughter, died at the hospital.
In 1963, the state integrated the hospital, and in 1964, they appointed the first African-American superintendent. During the second half of the 20th century, improved understanding of behavioral health, better treatment, and more outpatient facilities led to a gradual decline in the patient population. By 2000, the hospital had zero resident patients, and by 2004, it closed. The building is now abandoned, but the unmarked graves of over 1,600 patients are still on the property. Many people feel the whole property needs to be preserved to respect the memory of the lives lost here.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.