Central State Hospital39.770091,-86.2154607,17

What inspires you most about this place? Draw a quick doodle of it in the margin of one of your books.
Anna Agnew
Riah Fagan Cox

From 1848 to 1994, Central State Hospital, formerly the Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane, housed and treated psychiatric patients. In those nearly 150 years, several patients, including Anna Agnew, Riah Cox and Albert Thayer, wrote about their time spent in the residential hospital.


Anna Agnew

Riah Fagan Cox

Literary Inspiration

Multiple Works

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From Under the Cloud

Published 1886

“I Remember Jones”

Written c. 1950


3270 Kirkbride Way
Indianapolis, IN 46222

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From Under the Cloud

Anna Agnew

Before I had been an inmate of the asylum a week I felt a greater degree of contentment than I had felt for a year previous. Not that I was reconciled to life, but because my unhappy condition of mind was understood, and I was treated accordingly. Besides, I was surrounded by others in like bewildered, discontented mental state, in whose miseries, each believing their own individual woe the greater, I found myself becoming interested, my sympathies becoming aroused.

I had always loved books, but, strangely enough, had never read any thing of insanity, had never thought but little about it; hence these insane people were a study—an interesting study, too. And at the same time, I too, was treated as an insane woman, a kindness hitherto not shown me, Dr. Hester being the first person kind enough to say to me, in answer to my questions, “Am I insane?” “Yes, madam, and very insane, too! so much so that I very greatly doubt your recovery; and I must say further, that had not the mistaken kindness of your friends kept you out of this place almost three years, you might now be at home, a well woman, with your children. But,” he continued, “we intend to benefit you all we can, and our particular hope, for you, is the restraint of this place.” The insane have no better friend than Dr. Hester. I heard him once, in reprimanding a negligent attendant, give utterance to this noble sentiment: “I stand pledged to the State of Indiana to protect these unfortunates. I am the father, son, brother, and husband of over three hundred women !—a tolerably big contract—but I have undertaken it, and I’ll see that they are well taken care of!”


“I Remember Jones”

Riah Fagan Cox

One night several years ago I quite suddenly and completely lost my mind. It happened to me, as I found out later from my family, in a telephone booth where I was trying frantically and incoherently to reach a friend in a distant city to tell her that her son was A.W.O.L in California. They took me to a private sanitarium where for three months I received gentle care, many sedatives and some mild electric shock treatments, but grew steadily worse. It was a tragic time for my family when finally there was nothing to do but commit me to a state hospital for the mentally ill. There, one fine morning about a year later, I awoke from the hideous nightmare, about to begin a long, hard struggle back to reality. Thanks to the skill of an overworked staff of doctors and nurses,—and a kind Providence, I recovered. The fact that the living conditions at the hospital were just barely endurable and that comfort was non-existent was factors of tremendous importance. And so it seems to me now that the fact I lost my mind is of minor significance compared to the way I regained it.


Over Central State Hospital’s long history many patients and former patients wrote about their time there. Some merely wanted to share their experiences to help themselves process their feelings. Some, like Albert Thayer, wrote to blow the whistle about issues of neglect and harsh treatment. Anna Agnew wanted to tell her side of the story.

Patients’ experiences and recollections of Central State Hospital were mixed. They were sometimes very positive, sometimes shockingly and heartbreakingly negative, and most often somewhere in between. The hospital opened with good intentions and lofty goals of healing the mentally ill, but persistent logistical problems like lack of funding, overcrowding and poor understanding of mental diseases limited successful outcomes. Likewise, poor training, lack of empathy and even cruelty on the part of employees made realizing the vision of healing and hope difficult, if not impossible. Many patients thought of the hospital as a place of healing and friendship, sometimes even as their home. But when things went wrong at the hospital—and they frequently did—it was the patients who suffered most. Writing provided an outlet for their troubles, and it helps us as historians better understand what they lived through.

Sarah Halter, Executive Director
Indiana Medical History Museum

Anna Agnew was admitted to the Indiana Asylum for the Insane (later called Central State Hospital) at the age of 42 with a diagnosis of acute mania. She spent seven years in the hospital. In her biography, From Under the Cloud: Personal Reminiscences of Insanity, Agnew helped expose the inhumane treatment patients endured within late-nineteenth-century state hospitals.  

Riah Fagan Cox spent time at Central State Hospital in the 1940s. She recounts the poor treatment she received from a particular nurse at the hospital in I Remember Jones.” Riah Fagan Cox was the mother of Kurt Vonnegut’s first wife, Jane Cox.  


Nanette Vonnegut

Nanette Vonnegut, Riah Fagan Cox’s granddaughter, created this portrait of her.


(Now Indiana Medical History Museum)

3270 Kirkbride Way
Indianapolis, IN 46222

The Indiana Medical History Museum is open for tours by appointment only.


Closest IndyGo Stop:

Michigan Street & Groff Avenue (Route 3) 


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You can explore the former grounds of Central State Hospital at the Indiana Medical History Museum, which is located within the hospital’s Old Pathology Building. The Building is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Indiana Medical History Museum is open for visits by appointment only.

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