November 26, 1952: Fire Kills 17 at Huntington State Hospital
A fire broke out at the Huntington State Hospital on November 26, 1952—the night before Thanksgiving—killing 17 patients.
The hospital was established in 1897 as the Home for Incurables. At the time, mentally ill people were often placed in these so-called insane asylums to remove them from society. A tall wire fence and iron gates made the facility appear more like a prison than a hospital. The hospital’s name was changed to the West Virginia Asylum in 1901 and to Huntington State Hospital in 1916.
The 1952 fire was deadlier than it should have been because of antiquated conditions and overcrowding at the hospital. Five of the victims were girls under the age of 15. All the others were women, the oldest being 89.
After the tragedy, efforts were made to upgrade the facility, and a vocational rehabilitation center was established there in 1958. It was the first rehabilitation center in the nation to be located on the same grounds as a state hospital. In 1999, the hospital’s name was changed to honor Dr. Mildred Mitchell-Bateman, who dedicated her life to helping the mentally ill.