DeJarnette Sanitarium (Staunton, Virginia)
ADDRESS: 1355 Richmond Ave, Staunton, VA 24401
COORDINATES: 38.131937, -79.035290
Dr. Joseph DeJarnette was a major proponent of the forced sterilization of “defectives” or people who were considered insane. He felt sterilization was the only way to preserve the integrity of society. This is seen as insane by today’s standards, however, at the time forced sterilization was seen as revolutionary and a more humane approach to mental health treatment.
In 1924, Virginia’s legislature served as the model for forced sterilization laws in at least 12 other states. In 1932, the DeJarnette Sanitarium opened, named after the man who many Virginians saw as a future-thinking champion of the people. It was a private ward of Western State Hospital. DeJarnette acted as its superintendent and had considerable control over the treatment in the facility.
Dr. DeJarnette’s sterilization practices weren’t the worst of his work. He used the inmates in his asylum as guinea pigs in various experiments. These included blood transfusions between patients on opposite ends of the psychiatric spectrum, such as taking blood from a hyperactive patient and injecting it into a depressed one. He also used extreme x-ray exposure as a method of sterilization. Following the atrocities of the Holocaust, the trend of eugenics in the United States went quickly downhill. DeJarnette continued to support sterilization, leaving his reputation irreparably tarnished. He resigned from the hospital in 1947. The state of Virginia has publicly apologized for the sterilization program, and eventually even offered a reparations settlement to its victims.