Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine History Article November 2007.
Remembering Napa State Hospital from 1948
By Kathleen Dreessen
Jackie Hoyle is 81. She retired at the age of 50 after working for almost 30 years at Napa State Hospital. Jackie shares her memories of the many years she worked there.
“I came to Napa when I was 20 years old because my dad worked at Mare Island,” says Hoyle. “In 1948 I married Robert Hoyle. My husband was in the Navy at sea, so I lived with my parents.”
In 1948, First Class postage was three cents (Air Mail was five cents), popular movies included The Red Shoes, Road to Rio and Easter Parade, Arthur Miller wrote “Death of a Salesman,” President Harry Truman signed the Marshall Plan and only one in 10 Americans had seen a television set.
“At the time, I was working at Parks Victory Hospital, but I heard that you got paid $50 more at the State Hospital so I thought I’d go out and see,” says Hoyle. “My father forbade me to work at the ‘insane asylum,’ but I took the test along with a friend of mine. When the results were mailed to my home, my father flung the letter at me.”
Hoyle said she was young and naïve, as well as “scared to death” and feels she was hired because she was refreshing. They offered her day or evening work and she took days, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
“The first day I was led to a room with rocking chairs and told to take one. I sat and rocked with patients. At lunchtime, I helped serve ladies lunch. I was in charge of the match to light the stove. Afterward I helped serve soup to patients strapped to their beds in the corridor.”
Her supervisor took one look at Hoyle and said she was sure the young woman was not returning the next day.
“But I did. Because I was strong, they tried me on the electric shock team. I was told to stand close. The next thing I knew I saw my breakfast on the doctor’s shoes. He told me I was not cut out for this.”
She volunteered for night duty.
“The first night a lady on the ward threw a chair at me. I asked her why she was angry and she told me she wanted to see what I was made of.”
Working at various tasks, including answering the phone and tending to the “violent ward,” Hoyle found she enjoyed working at the “experimental ward,” where the doctors were seeking cures for ailments such as yellow fever.
“I was given a promotion and was in charge of the census of five units. If peple got sick, I evaluated them.”
Times were primitive. Technicians with whom she worked were often illiterate. Foot-long rats ran through the courtyard.
“We were the new breed,” recalls Hoyle. “We treated patients with respect. I was there for three years and my husband came home on a 30-day leave. I resigned and was told that I wouldn’t be hired back.”
But she knew the personnel manager and was rehired at a higher salary. She was soon sent to school to become a technician.
“I trained three months, passed the test and was put on wards. It was ironic, but because I’d worked there before, they gave me the keys. When you were assigned to a ward, you bathed the patients, took them to the dining room and went into the yard in the afternoons. I’d sit by the gatekeeper. The matron thought I liked it too much; she put me back cleaning the ward. We’d have to wash the windows in our full uniform.”
The uniforms were another story. White, with fabric like cardboard, the uniforms were stiff reminders of where the technicians worked.
“I was sent to Albertson’s Department Store for my uniform. I was told to go to the back room, which was the rule. I was given a brown paper sack with my uniform, hose and white shoes. Napa didn’t like the state hospital. My mother used to iron my uniform.”
She was also told to cash her check the minute she received it.
“We’d rush to the bank on Friday because we were afraid if the State ran out of money, they wouldn’t pay us. It never happened to me.”
Hoyle stayed for 30 years. She declined offers of promotion and stayed a technician.
“I didn’t believe in all the rules (that management had to abide). At first, they didn’t give medication. On the weekdays when patients misbehaved they’d give them a time out in their rooms. I was one of the last ones to work on an open ward. When they were turned out into the streets, that was a terrible change.”
Still, she enjoyed her time there.
“I had fun and a lot of friends. People worked very hard and were good to the patients. I enjoyed it when they were sent home. I regretted when (the administration) made it so complicated, we spent more time on charts than with the patients. That was supposed to be progress but I didn’t like that. I wanted to help the patients.”
After celebrating their golden 50-year anniversary, Hoyle’s husband died two days later.
“We never had children, but my sister had six children, so I spend time with them. The best memory I have of working at Napa State Hospital was in the dining room. A patient needed a tracheotomy and the doctor told me to hold the patient. Afterward, the doctor said I had guts and I’d saved the patient’s life.”
According to its website, the current “Napa State Hospital staff are dedicated and committed to delivering high quality, cost-effective, professional services and specialized programs in an environment that promotes continuous improvements in treatment for individuals with mental disabilities… The hospital offers a broad range of diagnostic, treatment, habilitation, and rehabilitation services. Depending on the assessed needs of the individual, several treatment modalities may be utilized to enable individuals to achieve their optimum personal and social functioning, both in the hospital and in the community. Such treatment may involve pharmacological therapy, individual and group psychotherapy, educational, vocational and competency training, as well as other therapies such as independent living skills development, physical medical service, habilitation services such as supportive and cognitive skills development, and leisure time activities.”
“I was really lucky at Napa State Hospital,” says Hoyle. “I had a guardian angel that took care of me.”
Hoyle now lives at Concordia Manor in Napa.