Anna Hunt Marsh

The Vermont Asylum For The Insane, later to be known as Brattleboro Retreat. Courtesy of the Vermont Historical Society
The Vermont Asylum For The Insane, later to be known as Brattleboro Retreat. Courtesy of the Vermont Historical Society

Time Period

1820-1860

Notable Facts

Left $10,000 in her will to establish the Vermont Asylum for the Insane, later known as the Brattleboro Retreat or Retreat Healthcare in Brattleboro, Vermont. This gift reflected her lifelong concern for the treatment of the mentally ill.

Personal Information

Date of Death

10/14/1834

Primary Residence

Brattleboro

Historical Significance

Anna Hunt Marsh left $10,000 in her will to establish the Vermont Asylum for the Insane, later known as the Brattleboro Retreat or Retreat Healthcare in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Anna Hunt's father, Jonathan, was one of the first settlers in southeastern Vermont and served as Lieutenant Governor of the state. She married Perley Marsh, a physician, in 1793. They lived in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, across the river from Brattleboro, where Perley Marsh's medical practice was located. He was incredibly successful and was listed as the third wealthiest man in town.

Long before Marsh decided to donate her money for the founding of an asylum, she questioned how mentally ill people were treated. Her husband belonged to a council of doctors who wanted to help the mentally ill, but they held the belief that submerging the patient in water for three to four minutes and then resuscitating him would awaken the patient to new life. This treatment often proved to be fatal. Marsh's neighbor was given this treatment along with a massive dose of opium and died as result. Then, while living with relatives in Northfield, Massachusetts, she met the son of a cousin who was mentally ill. He was in and out of the State Lunatic Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts and this reminded Marsh of the need for proper treatment of mental illnesses.

Marsh's will was written up four months before her death in 1834, and her request to leave $10,000 to establish a hospital for people suffering from mental illness was very unusual. Only ten asylums for the mentally ill existed in the United States at that time, and treatment methods were often cruel. A month after her October 14, 1834 death, the Vermont Legislature incorporated the Vermont Asylum. It has since been renamed as the Brattleboro Retreat, and, in 2006, it became Retreat Healthcare.

Organizations or Movements

  • Retreat Healthcare

Occupations

  • Philanthropist

Additional Information (Bibliography)

  • The Vermont Book of Days Link

  • New England is home to historical psychiatric hospitals. Link

  • Retreat Healthcare History Link

  • Wheeler, Elizabeth P. and Louise F. Luring. "Anna Hunt Marsh." Those Indomitable Vermont Women. The American Association of University Women of Vermont. Williston, VT: Heritage Print & Copy, 2006.