"This Could Be Heaven, or This Could Be Hell": A History of the Camarillo State Hospital



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The Camarillo State Hospital was a southern California mental asylum that operated in Camarillo between 1936 and 1997. Camarillo is a small farming town that is tucked into the rolling Santa Monica mountains that adjoin the sparkling Pacific Ocean. The California Department of Institutions built the hospital for state-building and as refuge for local hospitals during a period of overcrowding, poor living conditions, and limited federal funding. This thesis tells the hospital’s history. The paper introduces the architects that designed the building, follows the administrators that organized the hospital’s creation, describes the medical professionals research designed for daily treatments and therapies. The paper follows a patient’s experience as it traces the role gender, class, and race played in early twentieth century psychological diagnoses. Though the hospital emulated that of most California state hospitals at the time, it engaged in experimental therapies and procedures that had profound and sometimes severely adverse effects on those most susceptible to its influence. Boosterism and coercion were implemental to the longevity of the hospital, as malnourishment, mistreatment, and neglect were common on the campus throughout the twentieth century.



Southern California, mental hospital, treatment of mentally ill