What I Did on My Summer Vacation; or, Reflections on a Digitization Intern’s Experience

This post is part of a series of guest contributions from our partners at HomePLACE, a project of the Georgia Public Library Service. HomePLACE works with Georgia’s public libraries and related institutions to digitize historical content for inclusion in the Digital Library of Georgia.

During the summer of 2018, Clayton State Masters of Archival Studies student Virginia Angles served as the inaugural HomePLACE Digitization Intern. Working on-site at the Mary Vinson Memorial Library, part of the Twin Lakes Library System in Milledgeville, Georgia, Virginia ushered a single item through the entire digitization process, from imaging and description through research and promotion. That item, a record book detailing the participants in a nursing training program operating at the Central State Hospital from 1910-1947, is now available in the Digital Library of Georgia. Below are her reflections after spending months working with and researching the record book.

As a Georgia HomePLACE intern I had the amazing opportunity to get to know the people of Milledgeville Georgia, explore the story of Central State Hospital (CSH), bring a new and unique piece of Central State Hospital Nursing History to light, and all the while gain hands-on experience seeing a digitization project from start to finish.

Over the summer I digitized a Milledgeville State Hospital Alumna Association Record Book newly found in the Twin Lakes Library System’s collections. This journal is  handwritten and compiled by CSH nurse Rubye Cheeves and is a record of all the nursing students that graduated from the Hospital Nursing School. Amidst the huge amounts of information about the hospital’s history, very little is actually known about the nurses that served there. This book brings new context to what is already known about CSH and breathes new life into Milledgeville history.

During my research I had the opportunity to talk to many amazing people with deep family ties to Milledgeville and Central State Hospital. Many of these family roots began with the first generation of nurses moving to Milledgeville to serve the hospital. I was given many tours of the grounds, each time seeing something new and learning interesting facts. I was amazed to see many of the facilities still in use or in the process of revitalization. I was excited to see homes where the hospital staff stayed as I thought back over all of the names, addresses, and anecdotal information I had read in the record book.

The nurses and doctors lived on the hospital grounds as part of the compensation package. At the time CSH could not pay the hospital staff a competitive wage so they opted to provide housing instead. One of my tour guides even mentioned that the CSH cafeteria, currently being revitalized, was once the largest operating cafeterias in the world. It was an amazing feeling, connecting research with people and places.

As my summer project has come to a close, I have one final thing to do. My final step is to create a public event and invite everyone to come, learn, and ask questions. I decided to gather a small group of retired CSH nurses and current Georgia College and State University Nursing Professors to sit down and discuss psychiatric and medical nursing and how changing nursing practices impacted the hospital and the community.  One of the panelists, Georgia College Assistant Professor of Nursing Gail Godwin, has done extensive oral history research on participants in the nursing program, publishing her findings in her February 2018 Psychiatric Nursing article, “Lessons from the Light and Dark Sides of Psychiatric Clinical Experiences.”

Above all, I hope this panel discussion helps connect the community with their history, increases understanding of psychiatric nursing, and encourages more people to ask questions about their past.

View the Record book on Central State Hospital nursing students here.

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Newly digitized Milledgeville State Hospital record book a valuable source of local history

CONTACT: Deborah Hakes, dhakes@georgialibraries.org, 404-852-5547

MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga — Over 100 digitized pages of a Milledgeville State Hospital Alumna Association Record Book have been added to the Digital Library of Georgia at https://dlg.usg.edu/record/gv0_csh_alreg through a partnership between the Twin Lakes Regional Library System and Georgia HomePLACE. Spanning 1910-1957, the journal records the graduating classes of the Milledgeville State Hospital Nursing School over the course of its 37-year existence and is a valuable source of information about the mental health students trained by the program.

The Nursing School of the controversial Milledgeville State Hospital, which was also variously known as the Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum; the Georgia State Sanitarium; and the Central State Hospital; began as a two-year training program, graduating 286 certified nurses. Following the closure of the Nursing School in 1947, the hospital became the site of a three-month psychiatric nursing rotation for students both in and out of state. At the time of operation, Milledgeville State Hospital was the only mental health facility in the state and drew nurses and patients from across Georgia, though allegations of neglect and mistreatment, as well as a national trend toward deinstitutionalization of patients, eventually led to the hospital’s closure in 2010.

“Twin Lakes Library is committed to preserving and sharing elements of our community’s history, especially ones that offer new insights into the complicated story of Central State Hospital,” says Twin Lakes Library System Director Stephen Houser. “We hope that community members, scholars, and researchers will find great benefit from this fascinating record.”

Sept. 8 discussion to explore history of Nursing at Central State Hospital

Little research has been completed about psychiatric nursing students during this time. To shed further light on the program’s history, the Mary Vinson Memorial Library will host a panel discussion titled “Nursing at Central State,” on Sept. 8, at 11 a.m. in the Local History Room.

The panel, which will include two retired Central State Hospital nurses and Gail Godwin, Assistant Professor of Nursing at Georgia College and co-author of an oral history study on psychiatric clinical experiences, will discuss the history of nursing and how Central State Hospital changed the medical field in Georgia.

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Georgia HomePLACE encourages public libraries and related institutions to participate in the Digital Library of Georgia. HomePLACE offers a highly collaborative model for digitizing primary source collections related to local history and genealogy. HomePLACE is supported with federal Library Services and Technology Act funds administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Georgia Public Library Service, a unit of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.

Based at the University of Georgia Libraries, the Digital Library of Georgia is a GALILEO initiative that collaborates with Georgia’s libraries, archives, museums and other institutions of education and culture to provide digital access to key information resources on Georgia history, culture and life. DLG also serves as Georgia’s service hub for the Digital Public Library of America and as the home of the Georgia Newspaper Project, the state’s historic newspaper microfilming project.

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