Abuse, Torture, Corruption and Murder in Minnesota’s State Hospitals


Insane asylums have a horrible history. Originally intended to provide a place to keep away “madness” within society, asylums eventually paved the way for medical professionals to study patients with mental illness. The asylums were palatial buildings surrounded by vast landscaped grounds and beautiful vistas. Due to overcrowding, untrained staff, and corrupt administrators, these institutions gradually became places of squalor and negligence. State funding could not keep up with the high cost of maintaining the monstrous structures. As time went on, more and more patients were admitted, making it challenging to keep up with the demand for better care. By the 1980s, many state hospitals were closed.

This book provides the history of Minnesota’s two oldest state hospitals – St. Peter, which opened in 1866, followed by Rochester in 1879. Before, laws allowed families to commit their spouses, relatives, or friends with little supporting evidence. Many times, people were committed involuntarily and never released.

“Asylum Scandals” offers a glimpse into daily life in these institutions from 1867 to 1915. Many endured long confinements in straitjackets, hydrotherapy sprays, electric shock treatments, lobotomies, and other tortuous procedures. This is just a small sample of all the horrible things that went on behind the brick walls of the asylums, but there are many more secrets yet to be revealed.


1. “Patients with a great deal of mental and emotional fortitude handled their situation quite well. Many of them performed skilled tasks, operating machinery in the kitchen, laundry or on the farm.”

2. “The acts of cruelty which were revealed; the slow torture of helpless men and women, the terrorizing and brutal conduct of the attendants, unfolded a story which was too sickening to contemplate.”

3. “It was said she began wandering from house to house; from place to place; incessantly talking and singing. Her habits were filthy and destructive; tears her clothing and eats it… has been confined in a room alone and chained to the floor by her leg.”