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From: Freer, John H Mr BACH

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Subject: Athenaeum Paper














A Tribute to Louise Hightower Holloway, LPN

A Nurse at Western State Hospital 1936 -1978




THURSDAY, January 5, 2006






























A Tribute to Louise Hightower Holloway, LPN

A Nurse at Western State Hospital 1936 -1978




THURSDAY. January 5, 2006











A)    Biographical History


B)    Reflections of 42 years employment at Western State Hospital
























“If you keep on doing that they’ll take you to Hopkinsville!”


In northern Ohio County, Kentucky where I grew up, when you were “acting up” you were not threatened with the “bogey man” but rather with the lunatic asylum in Hopkinsville.  Everybody but everybody knew and dreaded Hopkinsville, the place were crazy people were “sent off to,” some never to return.


Western State Hospital on Russellville Road aka Jefferson Davis Highway or US 68/80 is the oldest continuously operating business in Hopkinsville/Christian County.  The second oldest business being the Kentucky New Era newspaper. (1)


It was established by an act of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1848 as the Western Lunatic Asylum. (2)


Kentucky, formerly a county of the Commonwealth of Virginia, like Virginia was a leader in caring for it’s chronically mentally ill citizens.  The first state hospital for mentally ill being the Public Hospital, later renamed Eastern State Hospital, Williamsburg, VA.  Note this is NOT Eastern State Hospital, Lexington, KY, which was the second oldest state hospital for the mentally ill established in the United States and the first established west of the Alleghenies.


 Western Lunatic Asylum was the second oldest state mental hospital established in Kentucky and also one of the oldest founded in the United States. The original tract of land on which it was established was Spring Hill Farm, A farm that belonged to the famous Methodist Circuit Rider, Peter Cartwright also know as “The Backwoods Preacher”  and “The Lord’s breaking plow.” Peter Cartwright was born in Virginia and migrated with his family, first to Ohio and then to south Logan County, Kentucky to an area there known as “Rogue’s Hollow.” He was converted in the Cane Ridge Meeting i.e. “The Great Awakening” and was influenced by the Great Red River (Tennessee) Revival. He became a Methodist and at age sixteen was licensed as a Methodist preacher. In 1819 0r 1820 he purchased Spring Hill Farm and moved to Christian County, possibly to better serve his Circuit. Because he did not want his daughters to grow up in a slave state and possibly marry slave holders, in 1823 he had sold Spring Hill Farm and moved to Southern Illinois.  He became active in politics in Illinois and twice ran against Abraham Lincoln for office. The first race being in 1836 when he won over Mr. Lincoln for a seat in the Illinois legislature and the more famous of his races against Abraham Lincoln being the race for the U.S. House of Representatives race of 1846 in which he lost to Mr. Lincoln.  (3)


In 1848, the Commonwealth of Kentucky purchased the 386 acres of former Spring Hill Farm for $5.14 an acre. This land was purchased out of a fund of $4,000 Hopkinsville, Christian County and surrounding area citizens raised in order to bring the asylum here. As an aside, Hopkinsville chose an asylum over a teacher’s college which went to Bowling Green, becoming today’s  Western Kentucky University.


Building was begun the following year, 1949. The construction was supervised by two Master Builders, Samuel L. Salter and John Orr. Both were brought into the area along with the largest work yet assembled to work on and build the most ambitious and largest public works program the area had seen to date.


In the next two years $86, 036.00 was spent, an enormous sum for the day, for the construction of the building. In 1854, when Western Lunatic Asylum opened, the Commonwealth of Kentucky appropriated over $202, 000.00 on the buildings.


The original, main Greek Revival style building was essentially as it remains today, an imposing, 5 story brick building fronted with  six massive brick columns with a long flight of steps leading up and into the building. It was topped by a cupola, a picture of which I’ll circulate. This picture is of the Western State Hospital cupola at midnight and was draw by a local artist.


The Asylum opened for service on September 18, 1854 with the transfer of twenty nine patients from the Eastern Lunatic Asylum in Lexington, KY. We don’t know how these first patients were transported here, overland by coach, via the rivers or how.


In the first year of operation 113 patients were admitted. In contrast July and August of this year, 2005, 250 patients per month respectively, were admitted to its namesake, Western State Hospital.


The “Big Event” in the early history of the Asylum occurred November 30, 1860.  At this time, which was about the time the out break of our Civil War, a disastrous fire leveled Western Lunatic Asylum.


The State of Kentucky, in an effort to save money, changed the original building plans and put a wood shingle rather that a metal roof on the original buildings. Once previously this wood roof had caught fire but on November 30 sparks from a chimney again caught the roof afire and this time could not be extinguished. The fire swept through the main building and its two wings gutting the interior. The patients and staff except for one male patient who barricaded himself in his room and refused to leave, escaped, unharmed.


The “inmates” (note the patients at that time were court adjudicated and called inmates), except for a few who escaped were “rounded up” and moved to the old courthouse.  The female inmates lived on one floor and the male inmates on another.  The female patients were later housed in a large house the State purchased. The male patients were returned to twenty three hastily constructed log cabins at $90 per cabin that were constructed on the grounds of the Asylum and returned and remained there until the hospital could be rebuilt. During this time, several of the Attendants, who, at that time slept in the quarters with the patients and an assistant doctor, quit because of the harsh, primitive accommodations. 


Samuel L. Salter, one of the two original Master Builders was called back to supervise the reconstruction. The cost of this reconstruction cost $258,000.  At the time of the Asylum’s rebuilding, our Civil War had begun and reconstruction proceeded slowly. Few patients were admitted during this period and one source said, “Many of those who could not be admitted waited in chains in poor houses or jails until room could be provided.” The Asylum finally reopened in 1867.


What were conditions like for the treatment of the chronically mentally ill in the early days of this country?  In The Public Hospital (later Eastern State Hospital) of Williamsburg, VA ( and they were much a he same at Eastern Lunatic Asylum, Lexington, KY or Western Lunatic Asylum, Hopkinsville, KY). The following is a description of the care in the Public Hospital, Williamsburg, VA in the late Eighteenth Century.


“There were 24 cells, all designed for the security and isolation of their occupants. Each had a stout door with a barred window that looked onto a dim central passage, a mattress, a chamber pot and an iron ring in the wall to which the patient’s wrist of let fetters were attached. Neither harmless nor incurable people were admitted; the cells were reserved for dangerous individuals or for patients who might be treated and discharged.


By the theories of the day, mental illnesses were diseases of the brain and nervous system, and the mentally ill chose to be irrational. Treatment consisted of restraint, strong drugs, plunge baths and other “shock” water treatment, bleeding, and blistering salves. An electro-static machine was installed. Between 1773 and 1790, about 20 percent of the inmates were discharged as cured.


In 1790, fences 10 feet high and 80 feet long were added to each end to provide exercise yards for both sexes and staircases were built at the ends of each hall. In 1779, two dungeonlike cells were dug “under” the first floor of the hospital for the reception of patients who may be in a state of raving phernzy.


Late in the century the treatment of mental disorders began to change. By 1836 restraint had been displaced by what was called moral management, and approach that emphasized kindness, firm but gentle encouragement to self-control, work therapy, and leisure activity. Cells were furnished with beds and other comforts. “


In the early 1900’s as research in the field and in part as the result of the Great War, WW I, Western State Hospital tried to keep pace. In Kentucky in 1919 the older methods of restraining and shackling patients were discarded as newer and better treatments were discovered.


The late 1930’s and WW II, especially, aroused a great deal on renewed interest in the care and treatment of our mentally ill, particularly in our state hospitals. In the 1930’s Gov. A. B. (Happy) Chandler, in his first term as Governor, instituted an investigation in the conditions in our state hospitals. As a result more attendants and nurses were hired and for the first time the treatment was directed by psychiatrist. Also at this time a major renovation  of the state hospitals was done, the first following the reconstruction following the fire or 1867.


 A teacher of mine, Karl Menninger, MD and this Brother, William Menninger, MD of the famed Menninger Hospital in Topeka, KS (recently moved to Houston, TX) barnstormed this country and especially the state legislatures in the United States, advocating more humane care and treatment of our chronically mentally ill.


Nationally, Clifford Beers, himself a recovered former severely mental ill patient, who became a staunch advocate of the mentally ill and the founder of the Mental Health Associations in the United States, including the Mental Health Association of Kentucky, headquartered n Louisville, KY were THE advocates for the mentally ill. This role in recent years has largely been replaced but the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill (NAMI).


In the early 1950’s, a blue ribbon Commission issued issued their report in a landmark document, “Pattern for Change.” This became the plan for then State Mental Health Commissioner, Dale Farabee, MD to make Kentucky a leader in establishing Community Mental Health Regions and local centers for the treatment and education of Kentucky’s mentally ill, substance abusers and mentally retarded. Also numerous needed reforms also took place in the state hospitals during this period.  Also For a number of years in the late 1950’s and the 1960’s Kentucky Had one of the premier mental health programs in the country and persons came from all over the United Stated to study it.


ALAS, in recent years in recent years Kentucky has sadly, badly regressed until we have joined our historic cry in education with the, sad lament, “Thank God for Mississippi.”


On September 18, 2004 Western State Hospital celebrated its 150th Anniversary with a gala celebration, a celebration that sadly included few of its current or past patient/residents.  I had the privilege of accompanying Louise Hightower Holloway to that Celebration. I was mesmerized by her accounts of her forty two years of experiences at Western State and the profound changes she’d witnessed and experienced. I was also struck by her wit, humor, profound wisdom and compassion. It is out of this that this paper grew and to who this paper is dedicated.


Louise Hightower Holloway began work at Western State Hospital as an attendant in 1936, two years before I was born.


To honor a tradition of our immediate past president, Danny Guffy, I’d like to establish some tie with and some place in history for this paper.


 This country’s first Social Security system had been created before in 1935.


In 1936 the throne of England was abdicated  by Edward VIII, to marry the commoner and American divorcee, Wally Simpson; the 1936 Summer Olympics were held in Berlin, Germany with the triumph of the nonAryian, American Negro, Jessie Owen; in 1936 the Spanish Civil War and the war between Japan and China started; in 1936f Fascism was rampantly spreading over Europe;  1936 saw the landslide reelection of FDR; the Dust Bowl problem; the first successful helicopter flight; the world’s first, daily television broadcast by the BBC; the debut of the electric guitar and the publication of Margaret Mitchell’s blockbuster novel, “Gone With the Wind.”


Louise Holloway was born into a devout Methodist, lower middle class farm family in rural Todd County, Kentucky. It was a typical family of the time.  Her father raised watermelons and dark, flu cured and later, Burley tobacco. Each fall he’d make the then familiar annual trek into Hopkinsville to sell his tobacco. It was in Hopkinsville that her father first tasted “the hamburger.” She was one of six children. All of whom, except of one how died as a child of diphtheria, lived to adulthood. She moved to Hopkinsville in 1936 to begin work at Western State Hospital.  When she began work at Western State she had the care of 62 patients. She worked 12 hour and was off 12 hours. While on duty they lived with, ate with slept with their patients.  When off duty she lived in the Nurses Quarters. When they left and returned to the grounds of the hospital they signed in and out. They were furnished uniforms, their meals and board. Their work WAS their life. She was paid $55 and that was welcomed as good income and employment at Western State then as now was seen as a “good” job. 


In 1937, a year after she began work at Western State Hospital she met and married Howard Holloway, who was also an attendant at the hospital. He was from Livingston Co., KY. They never had any children. He died in 1978, the year Mrs. Holloway retired from Western State.


For many years Louise, who is now 91 years old, had kept and looked after her younger, maiden, retired disabled sister, “Bitsy,” who has Alzheimer’. They are both faithful, active members of First United Methodist Church, Hopkinsville and Louis, although she probably shouldn’t, still drives.


I would ask you to remember Mrs. Holloway in your prayers, about 3 weeks she fell and broke a hip and is now in Rehab in Bowling Greer. I’d also invite you to sign a card to her that I will start circulating.


Having the responsibility of that many patients would have been impossible except the patients were largely self sufficient and the other patients helped look after each other and made their own beds, washed their clothes, helped clean, cook, worked of the farm or in the barn, milking cows,  etc.  For many years Western State, except for buying coffee, flour, sugar, spices, produced and processed the meat, vegetables, fruit etc they consumed and in fact, Western State sold surplus milk, eggs etc. to the surrounding community.


To give you an idea of the former scope of the farm operation at Western State listen to this excerpt from a report given in 1959-60, just 45 years ago by the Superintendent of the WHS Farm, J. Earl Thomas,


“The farm of Western State Hospital is composed of 1,200 acres of land. Part of this land is south of U.S. 68, part lies between U. S. 68 and the Butler Road and the remainder is north of SR 106.


The farm department is divided into four subdivisions. These are dairy, chicken or poultry, swine, garden and orchard.


The dairy has an average of 190 head of cattle. The average monthly milk production is around 9.000 gallons. All cows and calves not suited fort modern dairy production standards are killed for beef and used by the hospital.


The poultry project is located south of U.S. 68 (where staff housing and the airport is now located). This project produces an  average of 2,300 dozen eggs each month. 6,000 broilers are eaten as food at the hospital each year.


Our hog project is very profitable because of the garbage from the hospital. All garbage is collected in a large truck and re-cooked before being fed to the hogs. The last 12 months this project has furnished on average of 9,700 lbs. of pork each month.


The rest of the farm is more or less one unit. This unit does all the growing of hay and row crops including the garden and orchard. The past growing season we produced 962, 188 pounds of fruit and vegetables. Of this 1887, 632 pounds were put into 36,374 number 10 cans n our own cannery. Most of the vegetable production is toward the more staple foods such as beans, potatoes, onions, tomatoes and cabbage. We grow a few strawberries, some lettuce, carrots, etc. All together we row crop about 300 acres each year and care for the hay and pasture for the dairy. To do this he have seven tractors, one small bull dozer, plows, cultivators, ensilage machinery, sprayers, and other mechanical tools.”



Western State was still in 1936 a “dumping ground” for many non-mentally ill patients who were retarded, medically ill with epilepsy, tuberculosis, cancer, etc. Persons abandoned or unwanted by family or communities, this was especially so if the person was at all “odd” or “eccentric.”


Louise Holloway worked “on the hill.” 123 largely medically ill patients lived there in 3 “cottages” and 6 “tents.” The tents were primarily for patients with tuberculosis or cancer, several of whom wee not mentally ill but destitute and abandoned. The tents could be opened on three sides “exposing” the patients to “fresh air and sunshine.” Both of which were thought to be “therapeutic.” She worked on the hill with these patients for a number of years until she insisted in being moved due to exhaustion and a fear of contracting tuberculosis.