Ambrotype of W.W. Godding, Asylum Engraving

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One of two early-1860s 1/6 ambrotypes in our collection of Dr. William Whitney Godding, taken at around the time he began working as the Superintendent of the Government Hospital for the Insane (later renamed St. Elizabeth’s) in Washington, D.C., along with a period engraving.

Godding worked at SE for many years, where he tried to provide good conditions for and humane treatment of the patients at a time when a lot of them were treated poorly. Several buildings on the East Campus of St. Elizabeth’s were named after him, but they eventually emptied out and fell into disrepair. I think they’re being redeveloped by the city now.

“But, though unbidden, and not mentioned above a whisper, the spectre is never wanting at our feast; step by step, keeping pace with our ever advancing civilization, still stalks the growing shadow of brain decay, with its attendants, apoplexy and insanity. We lock up our insane man in the hospital, and think that we are rid of him; vain is our selfish hope; we cannot thus shake him off, for is he not our neighbor? nay, may he not be our brother? worse yet, at the next turn, what shall prevent that the insanity may not happen even to ourselves?” W.W. Godding