In the cataloguing process last week we came across an interesting little leather-bound book with an ink scrawled title: “OSIA Invitations to Dances and Entertainments.” Inside the book are guest lists for dances held at the Oregon State Insane Asylum (OSIA) from 1900-1907.  While interesting to think about formal dances being held at the Asylum, some of the names listed caught my eye. Chauncey Bishop, future founding partner of the Pendleton Woolen Mills and the son of prominent Salem clothier C.P. Bishop and Fannie Kay (daughter of Thomas Lister Kay of Thomas Kay Woolen Mill renown) is listed as a guest for a “Special Dance” in April of 1900.  The register lists Bishop as the invited guest of a Miss Calbreath, who, a little bit of digging reveals, was the daughter of Dr. John Calbreath-Superintendent of OSIA (presumably the elder daughter Helen, as the younger daughter Eveline is listed a few lines later).¹  Another name listed, Miss Althea Lee, appears to be the daughter of J.D. Lee, a postmaster and store owner in Dallas, Oregon and Eliza Alice Witten Lee who prior to her marriage in 1872 taught courses at the University of Washington in Seattle.²     It is a fascinating look into a time where the community of Salem and the community (of staff at least) at the OSIA came together.  It is unclear whether patients were invited to these festivities, although patient dances and other entertainment programs have also been a part of life at the Oregon State Hospital. 

Interior of Invitations to Dances at OSIA ledger 1900-1907


Recreation Room at OSIA/OSH, Oregon State Archives Photo, OSH 0018


Images from OSIA around the turn of the century show a spacious entertainment venue in the auditorium.  This auditorium proved to be another connection point between the Salem and OSIA communities, as the scene of many performances.  A 1910 Oregon Statesman article tells of a performance given by Willamette University’s Glee Club for patients at the Asylum. 

The Glee club of the Willamette University gave a concert at the asylum last night for the benefit of the patients.  Besides the regular program, there were several new numbers, which will be given on the night when the Glee club appears at the opera house.  The entertainment was very well received; in fact, it was better received than at one or two points on the road, and that means a great deal.  After the concert the club was treated to a very excellent lunch, which was appreciated to the fullest extent by the students, who generally are not slow to appreciate such things. 

Included singing and a “laughing stunt” which as the paper describes was “one feature that puts the audience into good humor at once, and which has never failed yet…Luke

[Rader] has a laugh that would extract chuckles from the Sphinx, not to say anything about an ordinary man.  Luke was almost compelled to lay up a stock of buttons, needle and thread to supply those who bursted such things during his stunt.  So far, Rader’s stunt has never failed to warm up the house and bring a storm of applause, and it did so last night. Oregon Statesman, April 22, 1910³ 

Entertainment was also a part of the Junior Volunteers Program started by OSH in the 1960s (to read more about the program check out our past post).  One of the ways in which the high school students volunteered was putting on performances for patients.  This 1968 Oregon Statesman photograph by John Ericksen, shows a quartet from South Salem High School that came in once a week to perform. 

Oregon Statesman, July 1968. Photo by John Ericksen.


1.  Calbreath family papers are housed at the University of Oregon.  For more information about the family click here or here

2. Polk County Geneology Trails Article about the Lee family by Joseph D. Lee. 

3.  “Glee Club Appears at Insane Asylum” Oregon Statesman.  April 22, 1910.  A big thanks to the Capital Taps Blog for sending this article along.  The full article can be read here and also mentions performances by: Myrtle Mendenhall, Helen Mar Smith, Ross McIntyre, Wilford Booth, Pam Anderson, Luke Rader, James Oaks, and Perry Reigelman.