In recent years, we at the Indiana Medical History Museum have worked to expand our focus beyond the science and technology, beyond the doctors and administrators who worked here, and beyond the architecture of this incredible historic laboratory facility. Through projects and programs, we have tried to draw more attention to the patients themselves and their experiences at the hospital.
Those other stories are so important, but something as or more important was frequently missing in our interpretation of the Old Pathology Building and Central State Hospital-- the patients. These are the people for whom the hospital existed and for whom many of the hospital's staff worked very hard to help throughout the hospital's long history. But they are also the people who suffered most from the negative consequences when things went wrong through lack of funding, lack of training for staff, lack of understanding of the nature and cause of mental diseases, the weight of stigma and isolation, the lack of empathy on the part of some staff, and too often neglect and abuse.
There is certainly stigma attached to mental illness today, but in the past this sometimes ran much deeper in society. Patients at Central State Hospital and others like it across the country were frequently ostracized by their families and communities. They were sometimes mistreated. They were isolated here from their families and even to some extent from each other within the hospital's grounds. They were marginalized, ignored, and hidden away in life, with few willing to speak up for them and no real voice of their own. We want them to be remembered in death for who they were and not for their tumor, their lesions, their traumatic brain injury, or their congenital defect.