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Exhibit showcases history of former Athens Lunatic Asylum

Haadiza Ogwulde
November 5, 2018
Athens Lunatic Asylum Exhibit
Graphic Design by Herbert Frimpong/Ohio University Libraries

The former Athens Lunatic Asylum, which had undergone more than a dozen name changes over the past 150 years, was in operation from 1874 until 1993 and provided services and treatments to a variety of patients.

Today, The Ridges, no longer a mental health hospital, stands as a part Ohio University and houses the Kennedy Museum of Art, amongst other University programs and departments. An exhibit titled “From the Athens Lunatic Asylum to The Ridges: 150 Years of Hospital and Community,” will be on display in the Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections until the end of the semester and will chronologize the history of the former mental hospital.

The exhibit coincides with the 150th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone for the institution, on Nov. 6, 1868. The construction of the hospital, however, was not complete until 1873, and its first patients were not admitted into the hospital until 1874. The Southeast Ohio History Center will be hosting events in commemoration of this occasion.

According to Karmen Beecroft, digital projects librarian and co-curator of the exhibit, the exhibit is centered around the connection between the hospital, the community of Athens and Ohio University. In the 19th century, the hospital was the focal point of the town and drove the economy much more than the University did, said Beecroft.

Stacey Lavender, special collections librarian and co-curator of the exhibit, added, “It [the former hospital] has just been such an important part of the Athens landscape for so long.”

The exhibit features samplings from the Athens Mental Health Center records collection, as well as other collections that include materials from the course of the hospital’s history. Photographs, various types of documents including court mandates and records, handbooks, post cards, scrapbooks and maps are just some of the many objects that are included in the exhibit.

“The purpose of the exhibit is to highlight the Mahn Center’s collections, particularly those containing records relating to the history of the Athens Mental Health Center,” Lavender said.

Lavender and Beecroft hope the exhibit will spark an interest in the former hospital and the collection. Beecroft says that she wants faculty to consider utilizing this collection in their courses and curricula, and to reach out to her regarding items that they may want included in the digital collection.

“…I think we’ll be promoting awareness of the collection itself and also of work that has been done around it recently and particularly in digital initiatives…Really just starting a conversation, that’s what I hope it [the exhibit] does,” Lavender said.

For more information about the collection contact Stacey Lavender.