The Peoria State Hospital Museum works to bring the true history of its institution’s namesake to light. This historical and ground-breaking institution was a shining example of the humane way of housing and treating the mentally ill, based on the work of Dr. George Zeller.
Our family of staff and volunteers, which has grown to over 200 members, aims to continue to bring to the eyes of the public the history of the Peoria State Hospital and the work, mission, and values of Dr. Zeller.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE
PEORIA STATE HOSPITAL
The Peoria State Hospital was, from the very beginning, built to be an institution unlike anything else of its kind. Opened in 1902, the Peoria State Hospital was funded by the Peoria Women’s League, who had seen the kinds of “treatments” that were being use to “cure” the mentally ill at the time. They knew there had to be a better way to house and help these people. From the very beginning, they knew they wanted Dr. George Zeller, a local surgeon, to be not only the superintendent, but the father of this institution.
Opened under the name “Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane,” Dr. Zeller had the name changed to “Peoria State Hospital” as he did not believe anyone to be “incurable.” Dr. Zeller wanted to run a new kind of institution which treated people with mental illnesses humanely. He took all of the bars off the doors and windows, removed all types of restraint, and instituted new, holistic types of therapies. Dr. Zeller was considered mad for refusing to lock his patients up or tie them to beds, but his open-door policy meant his patients were treated like people rather than animals.
Regularly inspected by the medical boards, the Peoria State Hospital was considered #1 for curing patients for 69 of its 71 years. The Hospital also boasted the #1 nursing program in the country for 30 of its 31 years of operation. Even after Dr. Zeller’s death in 1938, the Hospital continued to run following his vision of non-imprisonment, non-restraint, non-sedation, and an 8-hour workday.
The Hospital finally closed its doors for good in 1973. The Hospital closed due a combination of lack of funding and a lack of staffing, despite the remaining hospital employees’ protests. When the Hospital closed, it included an astounding 63 buildings. Unfortunately, a “taboo” existed about these buildings, and a majority of them were torn down. Now, only 12 of the 63 remain.
We at IWP Studios work tirelessly to keep this history not only alive, but more importantly accurate. We believe that those who worked and lived here, those who spent their lives here, both as patients and as staff, deserve to be remembered with respect—the same respect they showed their patients, the grounds, and the mission of Dr. Zeller.