Ellen Rebecca Cutler (1911-1927) was the fifth child born to Joseph Jonathan and Lucy Stokes Cutler and a sister to Grandma Cleo Cutler Fergus. Her mother gave birth to 12 children in total, only 6 of whom would survive to adulthood. Lavon, the baby preceding Ellen in birth order, was born sickly and lived for only 9 days. And after Ellen’s birth Lucy had three stillborn babies. Family members would later describe this time in Lucy’s life as her “female troubles”. After a corrective surgery at Ogden Hospital, Lucy would give birth to four more children, all of whom lived to ripe old ages.
Ellen was born with some type of developmental disability. In an oral history interview her younger sister Cleo described her as being slow and “not quite right in the head.” Further evidence of this appears on her death certificate where the contributory cause of death is listed as “idiot – low type”. Cleo also remembered that her sister became “unmanageable” and so her parents had her committed to the Utah State Mental Hospital in Provo, Utah. At what age, is unclear. Since Ellen is listed in her father’s household on the 1920 U.S. federal census we can narrow down the time frame to the years 1921-1927, or between the ages of 10 and 16. She died at the facility just a few months after her mother’s death in 1927. After her death, her father brought her body home and buried her in the family plot of the Snowville Cemetery.
Here is a glimpse at the history of the Utah State Mental Hospital.
The Territorial Insane Asylum was established in 1885 at Provo, Utah. The complex was sited just outside city limits some eight blocks from the nearest resident. And in a revealing message about the prevailing attitudes of mental illness at the time, it was separated from the city by the city dump and swampland.
Its purpose was to treat the mentally ill and restore them to a normal level of functioning. Yet in spite of their best efforts and intentions, it was little more than a human warehouse. In 1903 it was renamed the Utah State Mental Hospital, then in 1927 the word “mental” was dropped from the title in an effort to remove the negative stigma associated with the word. According to the 1920 U.S. federal census, the asylum had a population of 604 patients.
By the mid-twentieth century, the hospital was home to more than 1,500 patients. During the Great Depression (1936-1937) the castle and amphitheater were built by the Works Progress Administration. It was built to seat 800 people and used as a source of entertainment for patients at the hospital. For many years, the castle and amphitheater were decorated as a haunted castle for Halloween. Originally this was done for the entertainment of the patients, but it became so popular that the event was opened to the public and used as a fundraising event.
Today the role of the Utah State Hospital has changed from being the only mental health treatment facility in the state into more of a supporting role for community mental health centers created by the legislature in 1969. Original buildings have been replaced by modern structures, with the exception of the old superintendent’s home now a museum, and the historic castle and amphitheater.