Anna (Hunt) Marsh

1769 - 1834


First woman to establish a mental health hospital, founder of the Brattleboro Retreat.

Anna Hunt was born in Vermont around 1769. Her parents are believed to be Lovinah Swan and Jonathan Hunt, the first Lieutenant Governor of Vermont. Anna had two younger sisters and two younger brothers, one of whom went on to serve as a Congressman for Vermont. 

Anna married Perley Marsh, a doctor. In 1789, they moved to Hinsdale, New Hampshire, and bought a home on the Connecticut River. The house, now known as the Ebenezer Hinsdale House, was built in 1759 by the namesake of the town. It is now a historical site, and the addition to the house that the Marshes made in 1801 is known as the Anna Marsh Music Room. 

During her life, Anna was a very social and charitable person. In 1823, she donated a 910-pound bell to the town of Hinsdale to hang in the first church. For 50 years, the bell passed through various denominations in the town until it was no longer usable, at which time it was melted down and sold for the benefit of the town. Anna always tried to help others and better her community. So, in 1806, when Richard Whitney, a friend, and local lawyer, died while being treated for mental illness, a new cause presented itself.

Until the early 19th century, people with mental illness were not considered sick, and therefore could not be treated. The burden of their care fell to families. By the time Richard Whitney was treated in 1806, society had begun to treat the causes of mental illness in an effort to cure patients.  

Perley Marsh, Anna’s husband, thought that he could cure their friend Whitney by immersing him in water until he became unconscious. He theorized that when Whitney woke up he would be free from “the chain of unhappy circumstances”. When this did not work, Perley gave him a large dose of Opium, which proved fatal.

In 1834, Anna called upon a local lawyer, Asa Keyes, to write her will. Her husband had died 27 years prior, leaving her the house and numerous other assets. Anna told Asa that she wanted to leave $10,000 to open an Insane Asylum in Windham County, Vermont. He tried to dissuade her and suggested other causes she could support.  Later he recalled Anna’s reasoning.  To her “Everybody gave to missionary objects, and educational interests belonged to those who had children, but nobody cared for the poor insane; they were neglected and shifted about, and she wanted to provide a home for them.” 

On October 14th, 1834, Anna Hunt Marsh died, leaving $10,000 to Samuel Clarke, John Holbrook, Epaphroditus Seymour, and John C. Holbrook to open an Insane Asylum in Vermont. They immediately sought incorporation by the Vermont General Assembly and bought 51 acres in Brattleboro. In December 1836, they opened the Brattleboro Retreat and are still in operation today with the purpose of helping the community.

Points of Interest

  • Anna H Marsh gravesite. Pine Grove Cemetery, Depot Street, Hinsdale, New Hampshire
  • Ebenezer Hinsdale House, 609 Brattleboro Road, Hinsdale, New Hampshire. Purchased in 1789 by Marshes. Today, the Hinsdale Historical Society. - History of Hinsdale House
  • Brattleboro Retreat, 1 Anna Marsh Lane, Brattleboro, Vermont - Brattleboro Retreat
  • The Anna Marsh Bridge, Bridge Street, Brattleboro, Vermont—Brattleboro Road, Hinsdale, New Hampshire