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Indiana Village for Epileptics photograph album

 Collection — Volume: 1
Identifier: P041

Scope and Contents

This collection includes a photograph album with black-and-white photographs from Indiana Village for Epileptics in New Castle, Indiana ranging from 1914 to 1915 depicting residential, administrative, and farm buildings and scenes at the institution.


  • 1914-1915


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Legal title, copyright, and literary rights reside with Rare Books and Manuscripts, Indiana State Library, Indianapolis, IN. All requests to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted to Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Administrative History

Indiana Village for Epileptics was established in 1905 through legislation passed by the Indiana General Assembly. The first patients, males only, were admitted to the institution in 1907. Women were admitted 18 years later in 1925. Located 3 miles north of New Castle, Indiana, the Indiana Village for Epileptics occupied on a 1,334-acre tract and was constructed with a "village" plan, comprising small units for grouping of patients by gender, age group, and type, to accommodate 1,250 patients, with room to expand up to 1,800 with construction of additional units. The populace grew slowly, only numbering 931 on June 30, 1940. The institution's purpose was "the care and treatment of residents of the state suffering from epilepsy" (IDPW).

Patients were admitted to the village when they were committed by he Indiana Circuit Court and relatives or any responsible person from the patient's county of residence could petition the court for them to be committed to the instituion. Patients were discharged when the institution's superindendent judged it justified based on their mental and physical condition. The first superintendent of the village was Dr. Walter C. Van Nuys who stepped down in 1952. After Van Nuys' retirement, the institution was dissolved and renamed the New Castle State Hospital, following national trends. Care for people with epilepsy was moving away from residential colonies and instead focusing on medical advances for the treatment of epilepsy, including drug therapy and surgery. Epileptic individuals were allowed to reintegrate into society and over time, with public eduction, attitudes towards epileptics improved. The Epilepsy Foundation of America fights to continue education on the disorder, raise funds for the discovery of a cure, and to fight discrimination aginst people with epilepsy.


Loofbourrow, Rebecca L. "The Indiana Village for Epileptics, 1907-1952: The Van Nuys Years." Master's thesis, Indiana University, 2008. IUPUI Scholar Works. Accessed July 23, 2021.

Indiana Department of Public Welfare. Division of Mental Hygiene. Mental Hygiene in Indiana. [Indianapolis]: Indiana Department of Public Welfare, 1940. Accessed July 23, 2021.

Historical Note

Epilepsy, a seizure disorder, was not well-understood until the mid-20th century and a social stigma associated with the disorder persisted for millenia. The ideas that epilepsy was caused by some immoral fault or behavior and was contagious persisted into the late 19th century and were used to rationalize the isolation of epileptic people, physically and socially. The first colony for epileptics was founded in Bielefeld, Germany in 1867 and its succcess led to the rise of many similar institutions across Europe. Such colonies allowed people with epilepsy to work, receive an education, have a social life, and engage in recreation--things denied them by society--in addition to contemporary medical treatment. The colony movement spread to the United States and the first such colony was founded in Gallipolis, Ohio in 1891. Indiana was the seventh state in the United States to begin to recognize the different needs of people with epilepsy and make accommodations for their lives outside mental hospitals, jails, and county poor houses of the day, with the establishment of the Indiana Village for Epileptics.

There were also less benevolent motivations driving the colony movement. Eugenics had gained in popularity during the same period and eugenicists employed three popular means to prevent society's undesirables, which included both the so-called "feeble-minded" and epileptic people, from procreating and potentially passing on their perceived weaknesses. The most extreme and sinister method was sterilization, which was performed in many medical and civil institutions in the United States for decades, often without the knowledge or consent of the victim. In 1907, Indiana Governor J. Frank Hanly signed the state's first eugenics law, approving mandatory sterilization of "criminals, idiots, rapists, and imbeciles" in state custody. Governor Thomas R. Marshall ordered the cessation of sterilization in 1909 and the Indiana Supreme Court overturned the law in 1921. However, sterilization was reestablished in 1927 and not repealed until 1974 by Governor Otis R. Bowen. Over 2,500 Hoosiers were forcibly sterilized in the 20th century (IHB).

Marriage laws denying people with mental illnesses and epilepsy from marrying was another eugenics strategy. Indiana passed one such law in 1905, which was not repealed until 1977. Segregating people with epilepsy into and within colonies was also viewed by many supporters as the ideal solution to their dilemma. At the Indiana Village for Epileptics, only men were admitted for the first 18 years. Even after women were admitted in 1925, men and women were segregated into separate areas of the conlony, bisected by the barrier of the Blue River, and thereby restricting fraternization with the opposite sex and the possibility of reproduction.


Indiana Historical Bureau. "1907 Indiana Eugenics Law." Historical Marker. 2007. Accessed September 23, 2021.

Loofbourrow, Rebecca L. "The Indiana Village for Epileptics, 1907-1952: The Van Nuys Years." Master's thesis, Indiana University, 2008. IUPUI Scholar Works. Accessed July 23, 2021.


0.05 Cubic Feet (1 volume)

Language of Materials



This collection consists of one item.

Custodial History

This collection was received by Rare Books and Manuscripts as a records transfer from Indiana Division.


No further additions are expected.

Processing Information

Collection processing completed 2021/07/23 by Brittany Kropf. EAD finding aid created 2021/07/23 by Brittany Kropf.
Indiana Village for Epileptics photograph album
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Repository

140 North Senate Avenue
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204 U.S.A.