Hamilton Center, Inc. Honors Katherine Hamilton and Celebrates 35th Anniversary

Beginning March, 2006, Hamilton Center, Inc. will celebrate its 35th anniversary as a behavioral health provider in West Central Indiana in conjunction with Women in History Month.

Hamilton Center’s namesake, Katherine Hamilton, was a citizen of Vigo County, and a pioneer in the Vigo County and State Mental Health Association. She devoted her life to people with mental illnesses. “We are celebrating Katherine Hamilton’s achievements in conjunction with Women in History Month,” said Galen Goode, CEO of Hamilton Center, Inc. “She is an historical woman in our community and a champion for so many people suffering with mental illness. We feel it’s appropriate to reflect on that during this 35th anniversary.”

In a letter written by Katherine Hamilton on February 13, 1961, Ms. Hamilton said:

“On my twenty-fifth birthday, I was called upon to sign my twenty-seven year old sister over to the custodial care of those appointed by the State of Massachusetts (where she was living at that time) to care for its mentally ill. Burnt deeply into my heart is that frightening experience when that heavy door, which shut my sister in, also shut me out. I was terrified. What would those people do to her? Would they be kind to her? How and why had this happened to her, whom I had teased and badgered all my life, whom I had also deeply loved? Would they, could they, those people, help this person to whom I could no longer come close because we no longer spoke the same language, no longer lived in the same world? I was soon to learn that they could not. They could neither help her, nor did they have the least idea why she had become ill. They came to me for answers to their countless questions. What had she been like as a child? When and how had her behavior changed? Did I have any clues as to why this happened? In the end the summation was simple: 'Diagnosis, schizophrenia. Recommendations, none. Prognosis, steady downhill course.'
"Do you wonder that I have had for the thirty-three intervening years an avid interest in the development of the mental health field, for this prognosis was borne out by time? In 1944 my sister died of tuberculosis in Evansville, Indiana, State Hospital, emaciated and animal-like, incommunicative, a human vegetable. At this juncture I would like to make one point clear. I have been on boards of organizations since my teens. I have worked on drives since before that, selling cookies, lemonade, etc. as a kid. In all the work I have ever done, I have never had to work so hard to get constructive results as in the field of mental health. The apathy and lack of understanding in respect to mental illness is abysmal. This must change. Mental illness is an illness like other illnesses. It has physical, sociological and to a certain minimal extent, but no more so, probably, then tuberculosis, hereditary causes. People must learn to know and accept it. Roosevelt's polio spurred on the march of Dimes, Eisenhower's heart attack gave the Heart Association a terrific boost. Let's not wait until one of our presidents has a manic depressive attack before we all get on the bandwagon and give mental illness the attention its importance warrants."

Katherine Hamilton was instrumental in establishing the community psychiatric clinic in her own community but realized that it was only helping a small percentage of the population. She disliked the practice of the mentally ill being isolated and being separated from children and families and being sent off to remote hospitals. She knew many could be treated in the home community if outpatient services were available. She helped the Association organize community clinics throughout Indiana.

Katherine Hamilton did not do this alone. Hamilton Center, Inc. is also a story about citizens, volunteers and professionals in a six county area in Indiana, who worked tirelessly over a period of years to establish an organization, which would help to improve the quality of mental health care available in west central Indiana. This huge initiate began in the 1950s and culminated in 1971 with the first Hamilton Center office established in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Today Hamilton Center, Inc. has grown into a regional behavioral health system serving Central and West Central Indiana, employing 675 employees in a ten county region. The Center offers a broad continuum of behavioral health care and human development services to people during their entire life cycle - birth through older adulthood. Services include: Inpatient Services, Outpatient Services, Addiction Services, Child & Adolescent Services, Client Support Services (services for people with serious and persistent mental illnesses), Residential Services, Partial Hospitalization Services, and a wide variety of Rehabilitation Services for people with all types of disabilities.

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