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Home > Archives > State Hospital (Tewksbury Almshouse)


The hospital was established in 1852 as one of three state almshouses needed to help care for the unprecedented influx of immigrants into Massachusetts at that time. The almshouses were the Commonwealth‘s first venture into caring for the poor, a duty which had previously been carried out by the cities and towns. Opened on May 1, 1854 with a capacity for 500, the almshouse population grew to 668 by the end of the first week, and to over 800 by May 20th. By December 2, 1854, 2,193 "paupers" had been admitted. Nearly 90% of these listed European countries as their birthplace. The almshouse reported having 14 employees at that time, and was spending 94.5 cents per week per resident.

In 1866 the almshouse began accepting the "pauper insane" becoming the state‘s first facility to specifically accept cases with the diagnosis of chronic insanity. By 1874 the facility had become diversified: 40% was used as a mental illness ward, 27% as a hospital ward, and 33% as an almshouse. The chronically ill population continued to grow, alcoholics were admitted for treatment, and programs providing therapeutic industrial and occupational therapy were added in the 1870‘s. A Home Training School for Nurses was established in 1894, and the school became a full-fledged three-year program in 1898.

The most famous patient in the almshouse during the 19th century was Anne Sullivan, who later became the tutor and companion of Helen Keller. Anne Sullivan spent four years at the almshouse (1876-1880) before being transferred to the Perkins School for the Blind, now located in Watertown, Massachusetts. At age 20 she left the school to go to Helen Keller‘s home in Alabama. One of the buildings on today‘s Tewksbury Hospital Campus is named for Ms. Sullivan.

Reflecting its changing mission, the Tewksbury Almshouse became Tewksbury State Hospital in 1900, the Massachusetts State Infirmary in 1909, and Tewksbury State Hospital and Infirmary in 1938. Over the years, facilities were added for treating tuberculosis and other contagious diseases such as smallpox, venereal diseases and typhoid fever. Meanwhile it continued to serve as a last resort for many patients in need of shelter and supervised care, especially during the late 1920‘s and 1930‘s.

Now known as Tewksbury Hospital, throughout the 20th century it has played a major role in the care of patients with infectious and chronic diseases. It is probably the pre-eminent historic example in Massachusetts of a public health institution operated by the Commonwealth.

The above information was obtained from the Tewksbury Hospital Public Health Museum website:  http://www.publichealthmuseum.org.

Helen Keller, Annie Sullivan, and a floor Maid. A very touching short story about the Almshouse, a Floor Maid, Annie Sullivan, and Helen Keller.

This is the Eighth Annual Report from the Inspectors of the State Almshouse at Tewksbury, dated October 1861.

This document is part of the Tewksbury State Hospital Register of Historic Places filing with the United States Department of the Interior.    It describes the history behind the hospital as well as the buildings that are now listed with the National Park Service.

This program is from the 100th Anniversary of the Tewksbury State Hospital held on October 13, 1954.   The program includes an interesting history of the Hospital.

View an actual invitation from the event. Download Adibe Acrobat

- Many thanks to the Karner Family for these wonderful items.

This newspaper article entitled "Nurses‘ Classes at Tewksbury Hospital" appeared in the Lowell Sun on Friday January 17, 1947.

- Thanks to J. Trudelle

This newspaper article entitled "3100 pounds of Turkey" was published in the Monday December 22, 1947 edition.

- Thanks to J. Trudelle

This newspaper article entitled "Fire at Tewksbury Hospital" was published in the Thursday March 6, 1947 edition.

- Thanks to J. Trudelle

This newspaper article from the Friday April 9, 1948 Lowell Sun entitled "Missing Link, 47 Years at Tewksbury Hospital, Dies."   The story describes "Johnnie, Circus Freak of Gay Nineties, medical marvel, Succumbs to Old Age"

- Thanks to J. Trudelle

This newspaper article from the "American Citizen Weekly" of 5 Oct. 1883, Page 1, Col. 6 refers to the Butler Book detailing events at the Tewksbury State Almshouse.

This is an image of the original Tewksbury State Almshouse logo used during the mid to late 1800s.  

This is an excerpt from the book entitled "Anne Sullivan Macy - The Story Behind Helen Keller" by Nella Braddy.   

These chapters describe in detail the tragic events that occurred while Anne and her brother Jimmy were residents of the Tewksbury Almshouse (State Hospital).  

- Courtesy of Selectman Doug Sears

This cover from the August 1, 1883 edition of Puck Magazine tells of a scandal at the Tewksbury Almshouse (State Hospital). 

The title is "THE WHITEWASH IS TOO THIN. The Republicans in Massachusetts make an attempt to cover their iniquity."

Puck Magazine has been described as "a national power.  It was read religiously by tens of thousands, feared and denigrated by those who felt its barbs, and became one of America‘s most popular and influential magazines."

The comments on page one refer to some horrific events that reportedly took place at the State Hospital in the 1880s. 

- Courtesy of Michael Kelley


This book is the Democratic response supporting Governor Benjamin Butler and the Tewksbury Investigation Committee of 1883.   The book details some very gruesome activities that may have happened at the Tewksbury State Almshouse. 

There is an extended discussion on the tanning of human hides that include several detailed graphics to show the human skin that was entered into evidence.   There is also discussion surrounding the selling of dead bodies to Harvard University by the management of the State Almshouse.  

Although this book is of significant historical value, please be warned that some may find the content disturbing.


This Anti-Butler document entitled "Gov. Butler‘s Insults to Women" was printed on July 14, 1883 and is a response to comments made by Governor Butler in his arguments before the Tewksbury Investigation Committee.

(From the Library of Congress - American Memory Collections)

This document from January 1884 is the Fifth Annual Report of the State Board of Health, Lunacy and Charity.   The report includes the individual Annual Report from the Tewksbury Almshouse for the year of 1883 as well as responses to the charges of mismanagement made by Governor Benjamin F. Butler.

Caution: This book was over two hundred pages in length and the resulting PDF file is very large in size.  

- Courtesy of Selectman Doug Sears

This report concerning the Tewksbury Almshouse "Tewksbury Investigation" was written in 1883 by Clara T. Leonard, of the Board of Health, Lunacy, and Charity.   The contents of the report detail the conditions at the State Almshouse.   The article was also published in the Boston Advertiser on May 7, 1883.

Download a copy of the article. Download Adibe Acrobat

This Anti-Governor Butler book written in 1883 has a chapter dedicated to the Tewksbury Almshouse "Tewksbury Investigation" that was initiated by Governor Butler.   We have extracted those pages and made them available in this document.

(Courtesy of Michael Kelley)


Several women looking at a baby in waiting room.


Workers in the Hospital Laundry.


Several patients playing card game outside.


Several nurses gathered outside.


Hospital Pharmacy with pharmacist reading book.


Nurses gather for picture on stairs.


Hospital employees in the Business Office.


Nurses and patients in ward.


Hospital laboratory.


View of hospital grounds.


Patient walking near hospital greenhouse.


View of hospital grounds.



View of building at the hospital.


View of hospital grounds shot in the vicinity of the new public library.


Nurse in the small dining room of one of the Nurses quarters.


Nurses enjoying off time by reading, knitting, and playing piano in common area.


View of patients ward with rows and rows of beds.


A group of nurses sitting for a picture. Graduating class at the nursing school?


Photo of a Hospital Building named Asylum 4.


The photo indicates this is the "back entrance" to the State Hospital.   Today the open lot to the left is where the current store house is located.   Even today things look much like they did in 1900.


This postcard shows a view from just about half way down Chandler Street, somewhere between East Street and Main Street.


This postcard shows a an image of what is described as the Nurses Home at the State Hospital.


This postcard shows a view of the Male Ward.


This postcard shows an image of the "Consumptive Home".