On March 1, 1860, Governor Magoffin signed a bill to create an institution for the education and training of the feeble-minded children of Kentucky. Thus was established the second institution of this kind west of the Alleghenies, one in Ohio founded 3 years earlier. On July 3, 1860 a 61 acre plot of ground was purchased from the estate of Dr. Lloyd for $6500. there were buildings on the grounds which could accommodate 12-14 children. A new building was planned to house 75 children & all officers & attendants. It was to be 54 by 123 feet and 4 stories high at an estimated cost of $25,000. Construction began on October 28, 1860 and was completed the following year.
The first child was admitted August 16, 1860. It is not stated that this was the first child admitted but only appears in minutes of a board meeting. It is “ordered that Lizzie Bradford of Augusta (Bracken Co.), Ky, be admitted a pupil. Terms to be fixed hereafter.” Fifteen children,ranging in age from 8 to 17 were received from nine counties. The admission of the oldest children was a violation of the decision by the board that July that stated “ages of the pupils should be admitted at six years for the youngest and fourteen for the oldest.’ There were more then 50 applications.
Children were divided into classes according to intellect. They had to be at least 6 years old and not older than 14 years old, although children from the age of 17 were admitted.
Several skirmishes during the civil war caused some damage to the facility, at a cost of around $15,000. In 1864, the establishment of a mechanical department was developed. The pupils made mattresses, brooms and brushes. During this period, the following words were used: idiots, imbecile, and feeble-minded.It was suggested in 1866 that the purpose of the institution be changed so that the lowest grade of untrainable children could be admitted. More careful definition is indicated:”They are more correctly designated as feeble-minded or imbeciles. Idiots are usually regarded as persons destitute of intellect.
At the beginning of Dr. Black’s superintendency there were 55 children in the institution; in 1871 88. Starting in 1875 a regular quarterly statement of the number of children enrolled was entered into the minutes. At the time there were 100 children, 6 of whom were paid for by parents. A construction program started in 1869 made possible the increase in the population.
A change in the law made it necessary that the Superintendent be a physician. Dr Edward H. Black was elected with a fixed salary of $1500 a year. Some increase in the salaries of teachers was allowed.
In the 1870’s, corporal punishment was used. The institution was referred to as “The Third Kentucky Lunatic Asylum. A special committee made an investigation into reports of immorality upon the part of Dr. E.H. Black. The first being dismissed as a vague rumor, but the second investigated by a special committee. A girl became pregnant while an inmate of the institution. Advised by the Board of Commissioners, the Superintendent arranged for care of the girl outside of the institution. A sum of $50 was set aside for her care until permanent arraignments could be made. The girl, urged by her relatives, said that Dr. Black was not the father of the child, though she could not tell what she meant by saying so. the Legislative Committee concluded he was not guilty as charged but was culpable.
The Board of commissioners discussed in 1877, the educational theory for the mental defective as they believed it should be comprehended. “Idiots & imbeciles should be treated distinctly from other classes. They ought not to be associated with lunatics in asylums or paupers in poorhouses. Their education should be based on physical conditions.” It was decided that it should commence at the earliest age at which the child could be separated from the mothers care. They also stated “idiots & imbeciles” should have thorough industrial training to enable them to contribute their own support. Also it was was encouraged to cultivate any literary, scientific, artistic or mechanical faculty that they may posses to promote their self respect and to make them feel as they are of some use to society.
Common industries were introduced: Carpenter shop, Shoe Shop, and Sewing Shop. In the 1880’s, new buildings were built and improvements were made to the property. Practically all the digging was done by the boys at the institution. The total capacity was now 250.
Segregation was recommended by 1885. The May, 1885 minutes of the board meeting, said “To relieve the State of the tax for idiots, a custodial building should be erected for them on the grounds of this institution.” When Dr. Owens was Superintendent five years later, the subject was brought up again. Under Dr. Kehoe, both sterilization & segregation were considered with emphasis on sterilization in some cases. Approximately 10 years later Dr. Taylor referred to sterilization as a subject for serious study. The strongest recommendations for it passed when Dr. Lyon was Superintendent. A law passed the House in 1928 but was defeated in the Senate.
On the morning of May 3, 1889 at 9:30am, a fire began in an unoccupied room on the fourth floor. Most of the children were out of the building at the time, no lives were lost. Emergency arraignments were made as many offers of help came in. The girls were cared for at the farm of Mr. Dudley & the boys were housed in a large stable on the hospital grounds. Plans were made for the construction of some temporary buildings. By 1890 new buildings were completed. A great deal of work was completed by the boys, a value of about $10,000. The estimated total was $70,000 and could house 250 children.
At the time Dr. Berry was appointed in 1894, 106 children were enrolled. Changes were immediately made. About 20% were purely custodial cases, and as the law directed, were dismissed and returned to the counties from which they came. Some new children were received so that the population was 94 by the time the report was made.
In the 1900’s, more improvements were made to the institution and the work was done by the boys. They formed a union and demanded wages. They were paid a small amount of money for their work. On July 13, 1909, Superintendent Dr. Nutall was dismissed, the charge was improper conduct towards one of the children. He was replaced by Dr. Stewart. A new building for girls was opened in 1911.
In 1916, Dr. Helm, Superintendent found the conditions to be deplorable-unclean, unsanitary, not enough water for bathing, no fire protection, the machinery was in bad condition, and in need of paint. A new dining room was constructed in 1919, allowing an increase of population to 398.
On May 11, 1921 the dairy barn was destroyed by fire. The stock, but nothing else, was saved. A dormitory was built at the farm in 1923. In January 1925, an auditor found the records of money belonging to the children in a hopeless state of confusion. The only records kept were on loose sheets of paper which were in a drawer and many were missing.
Three major construction projects were completed during the time that Dr. Lyon was Superintendent. A school building ($67,721), a building for African-Americans ($81,095), and a new hospital ($32,718). Around this time a new carpenter shop was built. Other improvements include a fire sprinkler system, improvement of water supply, and a new boiler.
In 1925, restraint was being used on the pupils. One child was in seclusion for 77 days and others were put in lock up, straight jackets, or in handcuffs. Standing in the hall was another punishment.
By the 1930’s, 740 children lived in the institution and it was severely overcrowded. In 1945, the institute became the Kentucky Training Home. There was severe overcrowding with 750 pupils and instead of training and education , the service was custodial. There were both children and adults and they were housed together.
In 1963, there were 1129 residents. The facility qualified for federal funds and the name was changed to Frankfort State Hospital and School. In 1972, the Frankfort State Hospital and School Closed serving 700 residents from ages 5-75.
Cemetery Cleanup Project
On the Thursdays before Memorial Day Weekend in 2012 and 2013, the PADD Board and KYSAFF were joined by over forty volunteers to tend the graves of those forgotten, fellow Kentuckians. There are 371 graves with the word “unknown” on the marker. By the end of the day, all of the graves were cleaned, grass clippings removed, the cemetery was mowed, an American flag was placed on each grave, a Memorial Day wreath was placed on the front gate, the Kentucky Historical Society had registered the cemetery and 411 Kentuckians were remembered.
The PADD Board submitted an application and was approved for a historical marker for the Frankfort State Hospital and School Cemetery. The application was submitted to the Kentucky Historical Society for approval. This marker will honor and remember the many Kentuckians that lived and died at the Frankfort State Hospital School. To honor these forgotten individuals and remember their place in history, the PADD Board will participate in several Fundraising Activities to raise funds for the marker. This marker was dedicated in May 2014.
Want more information about this historical marker? Please click here for more details on the HMDB website.
Contributed by PADD Board, Susan A., Robin O., and Phil Tkacz
Arthur: Learning from the Past
This writer and advocate remembers the old Frankfort State Hospital, and how the history and current situation of the cemetery for that old state hospital show how our society still devalues individuals with disabilities. And he also shares what he and others are doing to change that!
Some newspaper images are from historical archives of The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky). Some photos are provided from former annual reports of the hospital to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. All other photos and videos were obtained, donated, or copied from state and hospital archives or personal collections. Please contact us before using any photographs or images on this website. We do not own the copyrights to all photos and those photos we do own require written permission before any use.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.