Saint Elizabeths patient on a rocking chair in 1955.

Saint Elizabeths patient on a rocking chair in 1955.

More than 160 years ago, mental health patients at the landmark Saint Elizabeths hospital in Southeast Washington were exposed to open space and fresh air. These amenities, made possible by the design of the facility, were meant to signal a more ethical approach to treatment. But as the hospital became overrun with patients, utilitarianism took over aesthetics. Kojo explores how design reinforced the hospital’s commitment to the ethical treatment of patients, how those goals changed over time and what modern facilities look like now.


  • Sarah Leavitt Staff curator, National Building Museum; @BuildingMuseum ‏
  • Dr. Tanya A. Royster Director, DC Department of Behavioral Health; Board certified general, child and adolescent psychiatrist

Photos: Saint Elizabeths Through The Years

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