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Open letter to readers: Today and tomorrow

By Lynda Waddington | 11.17.11

Wednesday was a difficult day for The American Independent News Network, which is the larger entity that operates The Iowa Independent. Our chief executive and founder announced two of our sister sites would close and their content would be moved to The American Independent.

ACS lockout continues; plan emerges to repeal sugar protections

By Virginia Chamlee | 11.15.11

A recently introduced bill could have far-reaching impact on the U.S. sugar industry, including American Crystal Sugar, a farmer-owned cooperative that locked out 1,300 Midwest workers on Aug. 1.

Cain campaign: Farmers know more about regulations than EPA

By Andrew Duffelmeyer | 11.15.11

The chairman for Herman Cain’s Iowa effort says the campaign “relied more on the word of farmers than Washington regulators” in deciding to run an ad containing claims the Environmental Protection Agency says are false.

Mathis wins, Democrats maintain Senate control

Liz Mathis
By Lynda Waddington | 11.08.11

The Iowa Senate will remain under the control of a slim 26-25 Democratic majority when it reconvenes in January 2012.

Press Release

PR: Nation should work to address veterans’ challenges

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

BRUCE BRALEY RELEASE — As US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan ends, it’s more important than ever that our nation works to address the challenges faced by the men and women who fought there.

PR: Honoring veterans, help in hiring

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

CHUCK GRASSLEY RELEASE — A difficult job market is challenging the soldiers, sailors and airmen who have protected America’s interests by serving in the Armed Forces.

PR: In honor of America’s veterans

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

TOM LATHAM RELEASE — No one has done more to secure the freedom enjoyed by every single American than our veterans and those currently serving in the armed services.

PR: Honoring and supporting our nation’s veterans

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

DAVE LOEBSACK RELEASE — Veterans Day is an opportunity to reflect on the service of generations of veterans and to honor the sacrifices they and their families have made so that we may live in peace and freedom here at home.

At a glance: Iowa’s four historic mental health institutions

By Lynda Waddington | 09.04.09 | 2:23 pm

There are four mental health institutions that serve Iowa through the state Department of Human Services, all built during the late 1800s when most advocates believed in a “moral treatment” philosophy of care made famous by Philadelphia psychiatrist Thomas Story Kirkbride. Each of the facilities — Mount Pleasant, Independence, Clarinda and Cherokee — have distinct service areas and have developed their own specialty of care within the state.

A state task force is preparing to tour the facilities and meet with local residents in an attempt to evaluate levels of care and cost effectiveness. Specifically, the task force will need to consider if the state would benefit from closing one of the facilities, a duty steeped as deeply in history as it is in state economics.

Kirkbride, a founding member of the organization that would later become the American Psychiatric Association, promoted standardizing not only care for those with mental health issues, but for the architectural design of the facilities in which such persons would be housed. Kirkbride believed that surroundings played a large role in the treatment of those described at the time to be “insane” or “feeble-minded.”

Kirkbride buildings were often sprawling structures that would allow patients to be segregated first by gender and then by degree and intensity of illness. In particular, the philosophy related to the architecture believed that nature — fresh air, sunlight — was an important element to treating mental illness, and many of the asylums based on his philosophy were constructed well outside of urban areas and on large lots where residents would be required to help not only with facility maintenance, but with ground-keeping, farming and other tasks.

The end result was state purchases of large tracts of rural land and construction of hulking brick and mortar facilities. Some of the structures closely resemble castles of Old Europe.

Mount Pleasant Mental Health Institute


The facility in Mount Pleasant was the first built by the state. (Photo courtesy of the IAGenWeb Project)

The Mount Pleasant facility is the oldest of the four state-run facilities that serve individuals affected by mental illness. The state made its first appropriation for the location and erection of the facility in 1855. Kirkbride himself recommended Boston architect Jonathan Preston to design the structure. The 50,000-square foot building formally opened as “The Iowa Lunatic Asylum, Mount Pleasant” on March 6, 1861.

“This is first permanent building erected in the state,” a reporter for the Burlington Hawkeye wrote at the time. “It is of large size. We have not the exact dimensions before us, but it is sufficient to say that when fully completed it will accommodate between 300 and 400 patients and will compare creditably with similar structures in other states…

“Before diminishing the subject, we think simple justice to the Directors and builder, and to all parties concerned, under the circumstances, renders it proper for us to say something further in regard to this building and the manner in which the public have been expended upon it. When we look at its extent, at its massive walls and firm foundations that nothing short of an earthquake could move, at its innumerable rooms and dormitories, all the partition walls being of brick — at its miles of iron pipe for heating purposes, hot and cold water and gas — at is pipes and flues in every part of the building for purposes of ventilation — at its engine and boilers, kitchen and laundry, et cetera, et cetera, our wonder was that so much had been done for the sums appropriated by the State. … We hope, now that it is open and receiving patients, that all citizens of the State who can make it convenient to do so, will visit the Asylum. They will find it a very pleasant place to spend an hour or two, and, notwithstanding its grated windows, and unfortunate inmates, having a cheerful, orderly and happy look.”

Within a year, however, The Hawkeye, began to publish articles on the overcrowded conditions within the asylum, violence and skyrocketing expenses. (According to the American Medical Association, the facility had 11 miles of iron pipes, 425 rooms above the basement, 900 doors, 1,100 windows, a 2,100-foot Artesian well and cost the state $600,000 to construct.) The facility had treated nearly 1,100 people, many of them from other states, during its first 21 months of operation.

In those early years, all of Iowa’s facilities were used for long-term care. Many patients who entered the wards likely never again lived outside an asylum.

According to the Department of Human Services, peak capacity was reached in 1946 at more than 1,500 patients. Since that time, however, and with the invention of better medications and different therapies, most patients’ stays are between 30 and 120 days.

For some time the grounds have been shared by the Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison designed to provide treatment to male offenders with character disorders and substance abuse issues. In 1999, a separate facility opened for women offenders who also had such specialized needs.

The Mount Pleasant facility currently provides inpatient treatment to adults, and it is the only dual-diagnosis program — psychiatric and substance abuse — run by the state. Although substance abuse patients throughout the state come to Mount Pleasant for treatment, it’s primary service area is limited to 15 counties in southeast Iowa.

Independence Mental Health Institute

The facility in Independence was Iowa's second asylum, and the structure continues to be used for the same purpose today. (Photo courtesy of

The facility in Independence was Iowa's second asylum, and the structure continues to be used for the same purpose today. (Photo courtesy of

The second of Iowa’s facilities began in 1868 with a state allocation for land and structure in Independence. The state hired S. Shipman of Madison, Wis., to serve as the architect and the building was given an Italian flair, complete with a mansard roof. It was built from limestone quarries in Epworth, Farley and Anamosa, which was considered to be quite an extravagance despite its local availability, and contained several fire-prevention amenities.

Construction began in 1869, and a portion of the building was opened in 1873, although the entire structure was not opened until 1884. Full cost for the structure, which contained 24 wards and could hold 600 patients, neared $1 million — nearly twice the cost of the Mount Pleasant facility.

Originally known as the “Iowa Hospital for the Insane, Independence,” it is now called the Independence Mental Health Institute, and, according to the Department of Human Services, it provides inpatient psychiatric treatment for adults, adolescents and children. The facility’s specialty, however, is its work with children and adolescents.

This facility currently serves 28 counties in eastern and northeastern Iowa, and children and adolescents from 43 counties primarily to the east of I-35.

Clarinda Mental Health Institute

The Clarinda facility was built by the state in the late 1800s to help alleviate crowded conditions in the other two state hospitals. (Photo courtesy of

The Clarinda facility was built by the state in the late 1800s to help alleviate crowded conditions in the other two state hospitals. (Photo courtesy of

The facility in Clarinda, originally named the “Clarinda Asylum for the Insane,” was began with state appropriations (of $50,000, although many more appropriations followed) in 1884 primarily to relieve over-crowding at the other two facilities. Construction began in July 1885 with plans from Des Moines architects William Foster and Henry F. Liebbe, and patients were accepted beginning in 1888. In the beginning, Clarinda was a male-only facility that sat on 513 acres. By 1933, according to the Clarinda Chamber of Commerce, the complex occupied 1.055 acres.

Clarinda, just like all four of Iowa’s facilities, has also been mentioned in conjunction with American eugenics, which was comprised primarily of compulsory sterilization laws for those deemed “mentally deficient” or criminal. Roughly 1,900 people were sterilized in Iowa, and, although the law allowing the procedure was passed in 1911, most of those occurred between 1941 and 1953, after the 1929 creation of a State Eugenics Board. The 1929 legislation called on the superintendents of state institutions to submit quarterly reports to the eugenics board that listed viable candidates for sterilization, which included members of the general public who were provided free legal counsel, according to author Nancy Ordover.

In 1980 the Clarinda Correctional Facility, a medium-security, all-male prison serving primarily chemically dependent, mentally retarded and socially inadequate offenders, was established on the grounds.

Today, the facility at Clarinda offers a wide range of diagnostic and treatment services through is Acute Psychiatric Program. It is also well-known for its geropsychiatric work, providing nursing home beds for individuals with mental illnesses such as Alzheimer’s. The acute program serves 15 counties in southwestern Iowa. The geriatric program serves the entire state and is the only one of its kind at the state-run facilities.

Cherokee Mental Health Institute

During the mid-1940s the Cherokee facility housed about 1,700 patients. (Photo courtesy

During the mid-1940s the Cherokee facility housed about 1,700 patients. (Photo courtesy

Just six years after Clarinda opened, the state asked architect Liebbe to plan another hospital in western Iowa. The “Cherokee State Hospital for the Insane” opened in 1902 and was the last of Iowa’s large state-run mental hospitals. Similar to the Mount Pleasant facility, the hospital in Cherokee had a peak population of roughly 1,700 patients in the mid-1940s.

The Cherokee facility, like nearly all state hospitals at that time, was host mid-century to infamous lobotomist Walter Freeman. The man had perfected the technique of completing a lobotomy with a device similar to an ice pick that could be pushed through the thin bone in an individual’s eye sockets and into the brain. Freeman felt that this type of procedure could be especially helpful in the state-run asylums because it did not require drilling holes into the skull or a surgeon.

Freeman, who enjoyed the attention of the media and often invited reporters to watch his surgeries, was performing one such lobotomy at the Cherokee facility when he stepped back to have his photo taken. As a result of Freeman’s camera mugging the patient died, the instrument plunging too far into the brain.

Today, the facility provides both inpatient and outpatient care to adults, adolescents and children. It serves adults in 41 northwestern Iowa counties, as well as children and teens in 55 counties primarily west of I-35. The vast majority of the patients admitted to Cherokee are there by order of the court. A correctional facility is also on the site.

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  • robertah624

    My father was a patient at Mt Pleasant Mental Health Inst. approx 1954-1960. The family knows he had many nerve related conditions that were treated with medications and shock therapy. Could you help us in finding the procedures needed to request his medical records?

    • Anonymous

      Did you have any luck finding your father’s records? I too wold like to locate my mother’s records. She was hospitalized at Mt Pleasant around 1955 – 1957.

      • Anonymous

        Yes, I had to pay a small copy fee, but they were quite helpful. Seems like they told me they were archiving records and some were going to be inaccessible in the near future. Good luck

  • robertah624

    My father was a patient at Mt Pleasant Mental Health Inst. approx 1954-1960. The family knows he had many nerve related conditions that were treated with medications and shock therapy. Could you help us in finding the procedures needed to request his medical records?

  • robertah624

    My father was a patient at Mt Pleasant Mental Health Inst. approx 1954-1960. The family knows he had many nerve related conditions that were treated with medications and shock therapy. Could you help us in finding the procedures needed to request his medical records?

  • christineschut

    i am looking for records pertaining to a mrs. Dora lammers Schut who may have been a patient at one of iowa's mental institutions. she is said to have died at one of the hospital in 1945. any information on how to find access to her records would be appreciated

    • Anonymous

      HI: I am a treatment worker at the Mt. Plesant Mental Health Institute. I have a copy of of the 1930 federal census record but no one by the name of Dora Lammers Schut was listed. I am just getting started on the task of trying to gain access to names of long forgotten patients. I am amazed at the huge number of families who are searching for their relatives who were patients in one of Iowa’s state hospitals. The Mt. Pleasant MHI cemetery has had no new graves for many years. There are only around a dozen grave stones that are still standing. The rest of it is simply a peaceful, grassy field. It is in the southeast corner of the St. Alphonsus Cemetery accessible via South Walnut Street in Mt. Pleasant. The MHI campus can be seen in the distance looking northeast from the cemetery. If I come across the name of Dora Lammers Schut I will contact you. Please feel free to e-mail me directly at

  • lizm7

    I too am looking for records from Independence Hospital. I have a relative who was a patient there on and off for a number of years. Any info. on how to obtain information would be greatly appreciated.

  • sisterkatie

    I have tried to find the burial site of my grandmother, Catherine Farr, who was sent to a mental hospital in eastern Iowa in the late 20s and was left there to die when they refused to bring her home. I was told she died of a kidney infection and she would have been around 38 years old at the time. She was the wife of Donald Farr from Camanche, who was my mother's stepfather.

    She was born in 1893 in DesMoines Iowa, the daughter of Charles Zugenbuehler and Flora G. Davis. She married Mahlon Elliott July 11, 1913 and remarried Donald Farr and they lived in Camanche Iowa in 1920 – and died in a mental hospital in or around 1931. I want to find her gravesite and don't know how to begin to find the hospital she was in when she died. There are no burial records in area cemeteries. Thnk you, I want to bring my grandmother home.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t know how much this will help you. I used to live near the Clarinda Facility and it actually has it’s own cemetery near what would have been the hospital farm. The down side is some of the headstones only have numbers on them. I would assume that the other 3 facilitys have simaler Gaveyards and that redords would have to exist somewhere, but due to medical privacy laws it could be difficult to access them. I hope this is of some help to you. 40.755417,-95.041952 these are the coordanates of the Clarinda Graveyard so you can see it’s location to the actual hospital

    • Anonymous

      I am a Resident Treatment Worker at the Mental Health Institute (state hospital) in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. I have a copy of the 1930 federal census record for the hospital, but there are no Catherine’s with any of the last names that you mentioned. I have recently began researching the hospital’s cemetery. It covers a fairly large area but only about a dozen gravestones are still present. It is located in the southeast corner of the St. Alphonsus Cemetery in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. However, you mentioned that she has ties to Camanche, Iowa which is actually in the catchment area for the Mental Health Institute in Independence, Iowa located in Buchannan County which is one of our sister institutions. It would be very possible that she was a patient there, and that she would have probably been laid to rest somewhere in that area. But I will let you know if I run across her name here in Mt. Pleasant. Feel free to contact me at if I can help you further. Here is the link to the Independece MHI:
      I wish you the very best in locating her.

  • LyndaWaddington

    Although this currently won’t do much good for those looking for headstones/graves in Iowa, there is a website that allows individuals to search for headstones. (It won’t do much good for those looking for headstones in Iowa, because none show up in the search — at least for now.)

    Visit to visit the site. Photos are uploaded by volunteers — and perhaps it is something that will become of interest to more Iowans in the future.

    I learned about the site during a visit this fall to Hannibal, MO. A local couple — Ken and Lisa Marks — have been instrumental in clearing and re-establishing a long forgotten cemetery. (Really interesting place, which has a rare headstone for an obviously much beloved slave woman and is at least rumored to be the place where Tom Sawyer buried the cat’s body.) In any event, I hope it is of some help.

  • Anonymous

    I have been looking for my great grandmother death notice…she had her 11 child in 1889 and seems to have just disappeared (Monticello, Iowa) My grandmother never spoke of her except to say she was very sick and my grandmother went to live with a “new” family, the baby sister wa adopted by two step siblings who married. Since little was known about postpartum depression, it would make sense to me that she might have ended up in a state hospital. Is there any way to follow up on this??

  • Anonymous

    In the State Hospital Cemetery in Independence, there is a headstone for Edward Young who died in Sept. 1874. This may be my 2nd great grandfather that came to America from England in 1859 and some family members say died in 1873/4 in Independence. Is there any way to get hospital records, death certificate, mortuary records, etc. that might help me fully identify this man?

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