The sad case of Anderson R. Kendall, the first Western State Lunatic Asylum patient

Western State Lunatic Asylum (now Western State Hospital), Staunton Virginia, around 1891.

Anderson Kendall, age 22 and a single Orange County Virginia Schoolmaster, was admitted to the brand new Western State Lunatic Asylum in Staunton, VA 190 years ago on July 24, 1828 — the very first patient. His supposed mental malady was “hard study,” a sometimes catch-all term that included hyperactivity, obsessive-compulsive disorder, “hysteria,” “religious excitement,” epilepsy or “mania” that resulted in eccentric behavior.

Western State Lunatic Asylum (now Western State Hospital) was a mental institution from 1828 until 1976, when the hospital moved to its current site just east of Staunton. After the old site closed, it became a medium security prison, the Staunton Correctional Center, which lasted 26 years until 2002.

The original hospital became known for its lush, landscaped grounds and practice of “moral medicine,” allowing patients to wander freely outside rather than kept barricaded inside cells, as was the practice of the time.

Complicating Kendall’s diagnosis was the fact that many people at that time had temporary “hard study” psychoses from badly-made whiskey that was much stronger than available today, and often contaminated with narcotics and other toxins.

Kendall was reportedly “tall and slender,’ with a fair complexion, black hair and grey eyes.

He was admitted by his family initially for four years (it is unknown if the doctor or family approved that particular sentence); however, he served a total of 23 years, 10 months, 20 days before dying on June 13, 1852, from “dementia-related marasmus,” or what is known today as severe malnutrition. He is buried in a small cemetery started by Western State just east of Staunton on Route 250.

PS — the above picture of the 1891 staff is of particular interest for two reasons: one, the unbelievable artificially-induced waistlines of the nurses, and two, the spooky photobombing by a patient on the second floor.





Anti-death penalty advocate, cultural archaeologist, “American Grotesk” historyteller and author of 11 books. More at

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Dale M. Brumfield

Dale M. Brumfield

Anti-death penalty advocate, cultural archaeologist, “American Grotesk” historyteller and author of 11 books. More at

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