Dr. Hawthorne

Every Portlander knows that Hawthorne Boulevard is a fun place to hang out, and that the Hawthorne Bridge is lovely and pedestrian friendly. But do they know anything about James C. Hawthorne, after whom these things were named?

Hawthorne is a true hero, not only of Oregon history, but of America’s psychiatric history.

In the 1850s, when a mentally ill person was discovered, they were rounded up, judged insane or not by a jury, and remanded to the care of an individual. The patient’s belongings were sold to help pay for care, and the rest of the burden was shared between the county or State, and the caretaker. Contracts for care were renegotiated yearly. It was an extremely burdensome process, no good for either caretakers or patients, and caused endless tugs-of-war between the counties and the State for funding.

In 1861, Dr. James C. Hawthorne put in the only bid for the care of the mentally ill, and won the contract easily. He founded his Oregon Insane Hospital in temporary quarters on SW Taylor between 1st and 2nd, moving later to a permanent home at what is now 12th and Hawthorne. The street was called Asylum Avenue at the time.

Hawthorne ran his hospital with caring and diligence, earning high marks from even the critical Dorothea Dix, a pioneer of psychiatric care. Hawthorne was endlessly scrutinized by the State, as his hospital was expensive to run–at one time taking half the State budget! Nonetheless, he was always able to show a good cure rate, which he attributed to the excellent location (at the time, it was a wooded setting on the edge of town) and conscientious care. Often, when patients were well enough to leave but had families far away, Hawthorne would pay for their transportation back home out of his own pocket, so they didn’t just end up on the streets of Portland–and often back in his care because of it.

He also paid personally for the burial of 132 of his patients at Lone Fir, Portland’s first cemetery. Hawthorne himself died in 1881, and is buried in the same section as his patients.

A History of Psychiatry in Portland
A Self-Guided Tour of Lone Fir Cemetery
Oregon Public Library Online History Project
Oregon Department of Human Services

2 Responses to Dr. Hawthorne

  1. Gayle Lewis says:

    Savannah links to you and I love Portland. My daughter, Claire, lives in Gresham but works in Hawthorne on 7th and Salmon. My friend, Mary, lives in a condo on 13th and Clay and Paulette works for an architectural design firm on Pioneer Square. From reading your work, we are like-minded women :). Thanks for the entertainment, info, and for being Savannah’s buddy. Gayle Married to the other Lewis brother.

  2. Dan says:

    I’m moving to Hawthorne this weekend and thank you for posting this! This is awesome info!
    I’m going to write about it on my blog and link to you. Thanks!