Western State Hospital was located in Staunton, Virginia and was run for many years by Dr. Joseph DeJarnette who was a strong believer in the Eugenics Movement. Dr. DeJarnette is important not only for being a strong supporter of the Eugenics movement but he also served as a witness for the Buck v. Bell case going in favor against Carrie Buck. He had a career spanning Six decades beginning in 1889 as an assistant physician at the Western State Lunatic Asylum (Western State) and then served as Superintendent from about 1906 to 1943, he also created DeJarnette State Sanatorium in 1932 and was Superintendent their until 1947.1 Both of these institutions were known for their inhumane treatment of patients as well as their involvement with the Eugenics Movement.

Dr. Joseph DeJarnette’s role was “one part medical patriarch, one part public scientist, and one part political moralist.”2 DeJarnette was known to many to incorporate his own personal ideals into his work, which today is morally wrong on so many levels within this field. The author stated that Dr. Joseph S. DeJarnette argued within his first few years at the hospital that “weddings among ‘the unfit’ should be prohibited in order to eliminate ‘defectives and weaklings.’ His reach included not only people with ‘dipsomania, insanity, epilepsy [and] feeblemindedness’ but also those with tuberculosis and syphilis.”2 What the author is basically saying is that Dr. DeJarnette thought anyone who was seen as what he and other Eugenicists considered a “burden” to society should not be able to reproduce. Sometime in the 1920s, Dejarnette created a poem called Mendel’s Law: A Plea for a Better Race of Men, within this poem he clearly states his racists and offensive ideology in which he based his sterilization motives off of. After reading his poem one can see just how cruel and awful of a man he was to people in society that he thought of as inferior to him and his race.

Mendal’s Law: A Plea For A Better Race of Men

– Coutesy of Dr. Paul Lombardo3

Dr. Joseph S. DeJarnette4

Papers regarding Dr. Joseph DeJarnette and his impact following his death in 1957

-Courtesy of the Dejarnette Collection5 

It was reported that Dr. DeJarnette was originally “heralded as a caring administrator and friend to the less fortunate.”6 While this may have been true for a period of time, he eventually would change this ideology and way that he treated the patients within his car facilities. Between about 1910 and 1939 numbers of patients jumped from 188,000 to about 425,000.7 This was an interesting jump during this time with a high rising population of patients. During this time there were ideas going around that “moral management had proven ineffective, physical correctives could work, and thus mental hospitals not only sterilized patients but also applied such procedures as insulin shock, electroconvulsive therapy, and lobotomy.”7 These so called treatments would eventually be considered inhumane but were brought about during this time of the Eugenics movement. An interesting thing to note is that during the fiscal year ending in 1931 a report concluded that 927 patients had been sterilized or had some sort of surgical operation.8 This may not seem like a lot because it is a total spread across four different Hospitals, however it is. During the Following year in 1932 it was reported that the total jumped from 927 to about 1,235 patients receiving some sort of surgical operation or a sterilization.9 With the rising patient populations during this time this makes one wonder if it had to do with the shifting characteristics of curability that many institutions was shifting views in. Dr. Joseph Dejarnette worked in the institution and worked with Eugenics until he retired in the late 1940s after a long and controversial career.

  1. https://uncommonwealth.virginiamemory.com/blog/2012/09/19/two-faces-the-personal-files-of-dr-joseph-s-dejarnette/ []
  2. Lombardo, Paul A. Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck V. Bell. 121. [] []
  3. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/mendels-law-a-plea-for-a-better-race-of-men/ []
  4. Records of Western State Hospital, 1825-2000, box 114, folder 7, state government records collection, Library of Virginia. []
  5. . 1940s-1960s Dejarnette Scrapbook, Caroline County, The DeJarnette Collection (HA-2016.0004) []
  6. Norris, Caroline. “A History of Madness: Four Venerable Virginia Lunatic Asylums.”153. []
  7. Norris, Caroline. “A History of Madness: Four Venerable Virginia Lunatic Asylums.”154. [] []
  8. Annual Report of the Western State Hospital: No.104 1930/1931. Virginia, 1931, 9. []
  9. Annual Report of the Western State Hospital: No.105 1931/1932. Virginia, 1932, 9. []