St Elizabeths East

Oct 22, 2022 | St Elizabeth's East in Washington D.C. (USA).

I visited Gateway DC to participate in the 36th "Walk to End HIV" event where my child who is part of GenOUT Youth Chorus was briefly performing on stage at the end of the walk.

Little did I know about the rich history of St Elizabeths East when I went there. While this singular photograph near the entrance of Gateway DC in St Elizabeths East can in no way capture the essence of this location, I hope it serves to at least be an introduction to it.


[Source: Gateway DC: Wikipedia]

Gateway DC is an innovative and unique state-of-the-art open-air and covered pavilion in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC. This versatile venue has ample green space, built-in exhibitor booths, fully equipped test kitchen with indoor café and contains a multitude of opportunities for diverse cultural, artistic and musical programming and special events.


[Source: St Elizabeths East]

An historic gem in the middle of the nation’s capital, St Elizabeths East is located at the site of a formerly self-contained mental health community – St Elizabeths Hospital. Once a source of economic stability for neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, this campus is surrounded by the rich and complex history of communities that are an essential part of the story of the District of Columbia. Its associations with some of America’s most famous people and events, coupled with a once-celebrated past of architectural innovation and landscape design, make it a largely unexplored historic treasure.


St Elizabeths had been the name given to the original 600-acre tract of land by a 17th century owner, John Charman IV. The curious absence of an apostrophe in “Elizabeths” dates to a time when the use of such punctuation was inconsistent at best. Congress officially changed the name to St Elizabeths Hospital in 1916.


St Elizabeths was a prominent example of the mid-19th century movement advocating moral treatment of the mentally ill through a therapeutic combination of architecture and the natural environment. Perhaps the most famous institution of its kind in the U.S., St Elizabeths Hospital was one of the first hospitals to care for injured African American soldiers during the Civil War. It was home to one of the country’s earliest psychiatric facilities (Howard Hall, 1887), built specifically to care for and treat the criminal insane and mentally ill offenders. And it pioneered the use of hydrotherapy, psychodrama, and pets as a part of therapy.

By the 1940s, the first and only federal mental facility with a national scope housed 7,000 patients and sprawled across more than 350 acres on both the west and east sides of Nichols Avenue (formerly Asylum Avenue and now Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE). Setting the stage for the contemporary vision for St Elizabeths East, the East Campus became the hospital’s center of scientific research and medical services in the 1920s.

Coinciding with the federal deregulation of mental healthcare, the 183-acre St Elizabeths East campus was transferred to the District in 1987 . In subsequent years, mental health facilities were concentrated in buildings on the eastern end of the campus, and in April 2010, a new hospital opened to continue to serve local patients and federally assigned inmates with mental health concerns.

St Elizabeths was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990. The East Campus is also a designated historic district in the District of Columbia Inventory of Historic Sites (2006).

Kishore Murthy