Marcia Page had a different childhood experience than most of us. Instead of playgrounds and parks, Marcia and her family lived on the grounds of state mental hospitals. Her father, Curtis “Duke” Page, was a psychologist who worked at a variety of state institutions in the Midwest.
Marcia told her daughter, Sabrina, about her most memorable childhood home at the Fergus Falls State Hospital in Fergus Falls, MN. In 1954, when Marcia was 5 years old, her father was hired as the chief clinical psychologist and housing at the hospital was provided with the job.
Fergus Falls State Hospital (courtesy KirkbrideBuildings.com)
Playdates at the hospital were infrequent because Marcia’s friends’ parents “weren’t too keen on having their kids come up and play.” So instead of other children, Marcia made friends and played with patients who lived at the hospital.
Evelyn was one of Marcia’s best friends at the hospital. She was in her 20s and they played together almost everyday. Marcia remembered: “I asked my dad why [she was] there and he would talk to me like an adult. My dad told me Evelyn was a paranoid schizophrenic.”
Marcia’s father was Evelyn’s therapist, and he told Marcia that she “probably did more therapy with her than he did. We walked and we played. She was just Evelyn….I knew that they were patients at the hospital and they couldn’t take care of themselves somewhere else, but they were just people and that was a pretty profound experience to have.”
Even though stigma surrounded these institutions, Marcia’s memories are positive. She said the patients who lived at the hospital “had pride in taking care of their hospital and their community….The really positive thing was that they were living their lives and being productive, while being cared for. ”
Marcia and Sabrina’s interview was recorded in partnership with the San Luis Obispo County SELPA.