A Walking Tour of Hospital Hill

Relationship with Smith

Smith College and the Northampton State Hospital

By Julianna Calabrese ('18)

In 1858, the Northampton Lunatic Hospital opened on the hill shadowing what would be Smith College. Spawned from Dorothea Dix’s activism, NSH was founded with idea of compassion and kindness toward mental illness. It was built to house up to 250 patients, but became overcrowded by the 20th Century. In 1903, it was renamed the Northampton State Hospital, and by 1955, over 2,500 patients called the hospital home. The quality of care plummeted to prison-like standards. The hospital had its own church, farm, apple orchid, piggery, and hennery. In 1978, the Consent Degree mandated Northampton State Hospital to be deinstitutionalized and all patients were transferred or discharged. The last patient left in 1993, and the hospital rotted until its demolition in 2007. Pictured above is "Old Main" of the Northampton State Hospital.

All land west of the Mill River, including the Athletic Fields and the Equestrian Center, used to belong to the Northampton State Hospital. In 1914, President Marion Burton became interested in purchasing all of the hospital’s land for housing and athletics. However, this purchase would require shutting down Northampton State Hospital and removing all patients, which the Massachusetts Department of Mental Diseases opposed. The purchase lasted five years and was a battle between President Neilson and the Commissioner for the Department of Mental Diseases, Dr. George Milton Kline, and the Superintendent of NSH, Dr. John Houston. In 1922, President Neilson eventually purchased the 33 acres for no less than $50,000. This purchase involved passing an act in the General Court and required the approval of the Governor. Pictured above is a view of Northampton State Hospital from present-day Park House at Smith College.

In the summer of 1918, Smith College opened their Training School of Psychiatric Social Work. 81 students studied psychology, sociology, and social psychiatry. The students trained, did practice work, and attended lectures at the Northampton State Hospital, where they interacted with the patients on a daily basis. NSH Superintendent and physician Dr. John Houston gave lectures and Dr. Edith Spaulding conducted courses at Smith College, as seen in the photograph on the left.