GALLIPOLIS — A northern Virginian resident is investigating the history of the Ohio Hospital for Epileptics, later known as the Gallipolis State Institute and then the Gallipolis Developmental Center.
“I did not know very much about this story until we found firsthand information from my great aunt who was a resident here,” said Lisa Haschart of her relative’s stint at the Gallipolis institution. “I believe I came to GSI in the late 60s as a child, but I can’t verify that because I was just a child when we came to see her. After that time, I heard about her story from her sister, my grandmother, over the years. I inherited scrapbooks, photo albums and a handwritten life story by my great aunt who lived here for 41 years.”
Haschart said she had shared some of her research with Gallia Historical Society’s Cheryl Enyart and the pair believe that Haschart’s aunt may have had access to a camera during her time at GSI.
“The photos are a story as well as the handwritten journal,” said Haschart. “Now I’m looking for information to get beyond just her story. She arrived in May of 1926 at GSI and stayed for 41 years. I believe she was discharged in 1967 or 68. The reason given for her discharge was the word ‘improved.’ I’m not sure what that means but I assume medication improved.”
Haschart said she had looked into court records regarding her aunt’s civil commitment hearing and that the result of the inquest was that she was sent to GSI for being epileptic.
“When she first begins to have seizures, she’s 13,” said Haschart. “Cloetta Wagener, she arrived at GSI at age 23…Her sister, my grandmother, felt at the time that a great injustice had been done in sending her sister here. My grandmother was 12 when her 23-year-old sister was sent away. So, she knew her sister just those dozen years and she described what she was like as a person. She had a beautiful singing voice and was the best milker on the farm. It’s all the things a little sister would think of her older sister.”
Haschart said for the rest of her grandmother’s adult life, she felt her sister was absent for not a good reason. Occasionally in the 50s, Haschart’s grandmother would visit her sister, traveling from Bowling Green to Gallipolis.
“Cheryl and I have been talking a lot about the power of stigma and how stigma would not only affect the people at GSI but also the town around it,” said Haschart. “I think the more contact people have with someone who has a major illness or disability, the less stigma one feels towards that group. Part of what I’m trying to do here is not just specific to the story of Cloetta, it’s more that this is a part of Ohio’s history. This hospital and the thousands of patients and hundreds of employees going through it were the first of their kind in the United States. I feel Ohio history needs to be preserved and examined while we still have people living who have memories of the place.”
Haschart said when she first came to Gallipolis to find information about GSI, she was surprised to not find more written about its existence and she therefore seeks to create a book on her own. Enyart and Haschart commented on the importance of the GSI campus to the Gallipolis area and how it had been a community within a community, a frontier in learning and a source of economic development in Gallia County among its other characteristics.
For those with information to share about GSI, Haschart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 419-740-0411.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.