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Illinois Neuropsychiatric Institute

Foundation and Founding of NPI Heading link

Black and white archival photo of the NPI Dedication

In 1917 psychiatrist Harold Douglas Singer (1875-1940) helped to found the Illinois Psychiatric Institute, but since the early 1900s he and other non-physicians such as Mr. A.L. Bowen, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Welfare (1933-41), had aspired to construct a state-of-the-art comprehensive treatment-centered hospital for neurologically and psychiatrically “afflicted” patients that would be a model for the rest of the country and the world. In 1937-38, remarkably amidst the Great Depression, they secured funding with the help of Illinois Governor Henry Horner (1933-40) to construct the NPI building. The groundbreaking ceremony for the NPI occurred in spring, 1939, and the building was constructed from 1940-41 under supervising architect C. Herrick Hammond. The NPI finally opened with a grand dedication ceremony in June, 1942. There are plaques in the entrance hallway to the north end of the NPI honoring Governor Horner, and statements from Director Bowen at the time of the NPI construction and about the Department of Public Welfare. Bowen stated:

A newspaper clipping of Groundbreaking Spring, 1939

Thirty years ago I discovered in one of our State hospitals an ineffable figure, with hammer and chisel, removing, little by little, from its entranceway, an inscription, long tolerated by ignorance and superstition, ‘Ye who enter here leave all hope behind.’ Today a new inscription appears above those portals, ‘Hope all ye who enter here.’ That spirit has here enchanted out of the bare earth this beautiful work shop and study center, dedicated stone and brick upon stone and brick to the axiom of science and of human brotherhood that the happiness of life springs from good health of mind and body. Here that spirit proclaims to Illinois and all the world through the eyes and tongue of this splendid structure that the afflictions of the mind are no longer impregnable[,] no longer mysterious[,] no longer unconquerable[, and] no longer hopeless.

An archival photo of building construction

The NPI building was designed uniquely based on its function as serving neurological, neurosurgical, and psychiatric patients. It was patterned after the brain with a connecting “corpus callosum” between the neurology/neurosurgery (North tower, or “left hemisphere”) and psychiatry units (South tower, “right hemisphere”).

archival photo of cement plaque

Founding fathers of modern neurology and neurosurgery (left) and psychiatry (right), Inscribed on the rear entrance of the NPI Building.

Brain slices and spinal vertebrae were sculpted on the outer walls of the building in the courtyard entranceway. It was likely the first structure to completely house these adult and pediatric services under one roof. The NPI building included in- and outpatient areas, open-air areas, a lecture auditorium, air-cooled operating rooms, a neuropathology laboratory, neuroradiology services, and dedicated neurophysiological and neuroanatomical research space.

Archival photo of Eric Oldberg and Percival Bailey

The Division of Neurology and Neurological Surgery with 54 beds and research laboratories was headed by Dr. Eric Oldberg from 1936 (prior to the actual opening of the NPI) until1971, and the Division of Psychiatry with 98 beds and research laboratories was headed by Dr. Francis J. Gerty (after Dr. Singer died in 1940). Oldberg, primarily a neurosurgeon, who had trained with the renowned founder of modern neurosurgery Harvey Cushing in Boston at the Brigham Hospital before coming to UIC in 1931, also recruited neurosurgeon and neuropathologist Percival Bailey from the University of Chicago to work in his division at the NPI.