An image of a building at Sonoma State Hospital

Sonoma State Hospital


A Map of the Sonoma Hospital

Dating back to the late 1800s, the Sonoma State Hospital was California’s main institution for the “feebleminded." It was one of two homes for the "feebleminded" that served as counterparts to the state's eight psychiatric hospitals. Over the years, thousands of patients, sometimes for a few months and sometimes for decades, lived there. Patients’ ages ranged from​ newborn to 102,​ and the facility housed​ ​​women, men, and children. From the 1920s to the 1950s, while under the medical superintendence of Fred O. Butler, Sonoma implemented the most far-reaching eugenic sterilization program in the country, sterilizing more over 5,400 people, many against their wishes.

This website offers a narrative and visual history of the Sonoma State Hospital, that juxtaposes the beauty of the location and the affirming aspects of custodial care with the harsh realities of an overcrowded institution characterized by medical paternalism, the warehousing of people with actual and perceived intellectual disabilities, and the implementation of an extensive sterilization program.