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Nebraska Psychiatric Institute Records

Identifier: UNMC-024

Scope and Contents

The collection documents the treatment, training, and research operations of the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute (NPI) from 1947 to 2012, with a bulk of the 4.17 linear feet of material dating from 1956-1982. NPI facilitated medical teaching and research between the University of Nebraska College of Medicine and Nebraska state hospitals often located in rural areas of the state. Some of the significant topics represented in the collection are mental health treatment and education practices during the second half of the 20th century, the first large-scale application of Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) for medical treatment, and psychiatric treatment facility architecture. Found within the collection are administrative records, materials pertaining to NPI’s CCTV program, library records, conference proceedings, printed materials, photographs, and news clippings. Important names in this collection include Reba Ann Benschoter, Van Lear Johnson, and Cecil L. Wittson. Select items, primarily photographs, have restricted access due to the HIPAA Privacy Rule or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Administrative records consist of materials relating to NPI operations, including a copy of the contract establishing the unit, biennial reports, meeting and program agendas, educational programming brochures, internally published newsletters, architectural plans, and an operational manual. Materials also include overviews of NPI history and documents regarding the “Mental Retardation Clinical Research Center” grant.

The Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) series consists of materials relating to CCTV at NPI, including progress reports of the CCTV project between NPI and the Nebraska Veterans Administration hospitals, correspondence on CCTV specifications and equipment, informational brochures about CCTV, reports around the “Modern communications to assist a state hospital” grant, and an award from the Western Electric Fund recognizing the University of Nebraska’s contributions to establishing mental health training and treatment using CCTV.

NPI Library Committee consists of materials relating to the operations of NPI’s on-site library. This series is largely comprised of committee minutes detailing book requests, library activities, and library needs. Financial notes such as book acquisition lists, statistical reports, the library’s rare book inventories, correspondence, memorandums, and library notes are also included. Conferences and workshops is comprised of program pamphlets and conference proceedings hosted by NPI during 1955-1962. These events hosted were local, statewide, or regional in scale. Arranged chronologically.

Printed materials consist of mental health services documents. Brochures offer overviews on mental health career paths, NPI services, outpatient treatment, and general mental health topics. Journal articles, mostly published in Mental Health, describe NPI’s pioneering architecture and CCTV program. Publications include books, papers, and booklets largely focused on mental health in Nebraska and psychiatric topics, such as “behavior in the classroom” and “the clergy and psychiatry.” Arranged chronologically.

Photographs and slides contains back-and-white photographs of NPI and two sets of color slides about CCTV training and education. Photograph subjects include staff, patient services, meetings and classes, and the use of CCTV. There are additional photographs of the NPI building, including renderings, models and construction. While the photographs are undated, the images most likely date from 1950 to 1970. There is one folder that contains documents about NPI photographs. Arranged by subject.

News clippings contains news articles about NPI from 1948-1983. Almost all clippings are printouts or copies of news articles from regional newspapers, including but not limited to the Omaha World-Herald, The Daily Nonpareil from Council Bluffs, and the Lincoln Journal Star. Arranged chronologically.


  • Majority of material found within 1956-1982


Conditions Governing Access

Some material in this collection is subject to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) restrictions of seventy-five years from the date of creation of the record. Such material is noted on the container list Some material in this collection subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) restrictions of the life of the patient plus 50 years. Such material is noted on the container list

Conditions Governing Use

This collection contains copyrighted published material

Biographical / Historical

In 1948, the state of Nebraska authorized an interchange of facilities among the state hospitals and the University of Nebraska College of Medicine for teaching and treatment purposes. This authorization resulted in the Nebraska Psychiatric Unit at Douglas County Hospital at 42nd and Woolworth streets, Omaha, NE. The Board of Control appointed Cecil L. Wittson the Director of the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute (NPI) as Director of Mental Health in 1950, charging him with the responsibility of coordinating psychiatric treatment, training, and research in state operated facilities.

Due to space pressures, in 1951, Douglas County Hospital administrators gave notice that Nebraska Psychiatric Unit would have to vacate the hospital. Fundraising and planning for a new building began in 1952. The $1,500,000 structure, paid for by the State Board of Control and federal funds, was a cooperative project of the University and state Board of Control. The new contract expanded the program and changed its name to the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute (NPI) in January 1955. The completed building was dedicated on April 30, 1955.

Designed by architect John Latenser, Jr., NPI was the first area on the campus to focus on a pleasant environment, with plenty of light, open spaces, and nice furniture. The new building [NPI] had facilities for inpatients, outpatients, and day patients in the treatment areas. The original 96 inpatient beds included 60 for adults, 10 for geriatric research, and 26 for children. The activity areas included an occupational therapy shop, lounge and music room, gymnasium, beauty shop, and outdoor patio.  NPI offered training programs for psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric aides, psychiatric social workers, nurses on the graduate level, occupational therapists, group and recreational workers, and EEG technicians.  NPI faculty pioneered the use of closed-circuit television (CCTV) in mental health treatment and teaching.   

The Board of Control appointed Cecil L. Wittson, the Director of the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute, as Director of Mental Health, charging him to coordinate psychiatric treatment, training, and research in state-operated facilities.   In April 1956, the medical profession's first system of CCTV for teaching psychiatry through patient observation was installed at the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute. The circuit was developed by General Precision Laboratory, Inc. of Pleasantville, N.Y. The new system allowed 150 people to see and hear inside the interview and treatment rooms.   

"Unfortunately, with few exceptions, state hospitals are some distance from the medical school...This is neither effective, practical, nor economical...We are piloting a realistic way of partly overcoming this geographical separation. This week we are installing (maybe I can hear them hammering now) a specially devised two-way audio communication system with the Norfolk State Hospital. This will permit the staff at Norfolk to listen to and question our visiting lecturers and to actively participate in joint staff meetings. In certain types of difficult cases we will call in other members of the medical college faculty - internists, surgeons, etc. - for a two-way consultation on the case. As those in the field know, there are relatively few instructors capable of supervising psychotherapy. This too can be done over the two-way phone." -Cecil L. Wittson, January 1955 

A research wing was added to NPI in 1960, and the following year the College of Medicine received the largest single grant ever received by the University of Nebraska. The National Institute of Mental Health awarded the COM $1,745,000 to NPI to continue and expand "mental retardation" projects underway.  Dr. Wittson's success and creativity led the University Board of Regents to appoint him dean of the College of Medicine in 1964. With Dr. Wittson's promotion, Dr. LaVern C. Strough became acting director, succeeded in 1968 by Dr. Merrill T. Eaton. Recognizing changes in the delivery of mental health services and the needs of the state, the Nebraska legislature placed the Institute entirely under the Board of Regents of the University in 1975. The end of NPI came on July 1, 1985, when responsibility for the patient care services was taken over by University Hospital.


5.23 Linear Feet (3-Gaylord TC1215 [16.6d, 10h, 13w] extent measured by width, 1.25 linear feet 1-OS Box 17x11 [11.75d, 3.25h, 17.75w inches] extent measured by width)

Language of Materials



In 1948, the state of Nebraska authorized an interchange of facilities among the state hospitals and the University of Nebraska College of Medicine for teaching and treatment purposes. This authorization resulted in the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute (NPI) a teaching, research and intensive treatment hospital, operated jointly by the Nebraska Board of Control and the University of Nebraska Board of Regents. NPI was the principal neuropsychiatric facility of the Department of Neurology and Psychiatry of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Medicine. The facility, designed for healing, emphasized natural light, open spaces and patient amenities. NPI staff provided in-patient, out-patient and day-patient treatment along with clinical teaching and research. NPI made history with the installation and use of the medical profession's first system of closed-circuit television.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

This collection contains slides that are not viewable in the library. Contact the library for details.


This material is part of the institutional record of UNMC. It documents an era in mental health treatment and educational practices during the second half of the 20th century. The collection is an example of UNMC’s cooperation with the state of Nebraska, and outreach efforts across the state. Such efforts included innovative educational technology such as closed-circuit television, and the precursor to modern-day telemedicine through consultation with doctors in state hospitals across Nebraska.

Related Materials

2002-03 Manuscript and artifact collections -- Cecil L. Wittson 2018-05, 2019-11 Manuscript collections -- Wolf Wolfensberger 2018-00 Manuscript collections -- Thaddeus P. Krush MS-110_Reba A. Benschoter Papers UNMC-027 Biomedical Communications Records

Separated Materials

OS State of Nebraska Program Implementation Facilities Evaluation: Mental Health – Mental Retardation, volume II, 1968 July; stored separately as [Nebraska Psychiatric Institute-OS1-UNMC-024]


Series List

Series 1, Administrative records, 1947-2012, bulk 1956-1984  

Subseries 1, Meetings and program agendas, 1956-1982  Subseries 2, Bylaws, rules, and regulations, 1966, 1981   Subseries 3, Contracts and agreements, circa 1947   Subseries 4, Biennial reports, 1947-1975 Subseries 5, Correspondence, 1981 Subseries 6, Operating manual, circa 1956 Subseries 7, Brochures, circa 1969-1981, Undated Subseries 8, Newsletters, 1958-1984 Subseries 9, Center for Research in Mental Retardation, 1961-1969 Subseries 10, Histories, 1951-2012 Subseries 11, Architectural plans, 1959, 1982  

Series 2, Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV), 1963-1980, Undated  

Subseries 1, NPI - Veterans Administration Hospitals, 1973, 1976, 1980 Subseries 2, Correspondence, 1954-1967, Undated   Subseries 3, Brochures, 1965, Undated   Subseries 4, Grants and awards, 1963-1970, Undated  

Series 3, NPI Library Committee, circa 1947-1985, Undated

Subseries 1, Minutes, 1956-1984 Subseries 2, Finances, 1954-1985, Undated Subseries 3, Reports, circa 1947-1985 Subseries 4, Correspondence, 1954-1984 Subseries 5, Miscellaneous library notes, 1959-1978, Undated

Series 4, Conferences and workshops, 1955-1967  

Series 5, Printed materials, circa 1955-1979, Undated

Subseries 1, Brochures, circa 1957-1979, Undated Subseries 2, Journal articles, 1955-1971 Subseries 3, Publications, 1958-1979, Undated

Series 6, Photographs and slides, circa 1970-1980, 2011, Undated

Series 7, News clippings, 1948-2005, Undated 

Processing Information

The provenance of this collection is unknown. Records may have been reorganized by staff over the years. Order was imposed by the archivist.

Guide to the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute Records
Nebraska Psychiatric Institute Records
DiAnna Hemsath, Maria Shellman
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Edition statement
First Edition of Finding Aid

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nebraska Medical Center Robert S. Wigton Department of Special Collections and Archives Repository

Robert S. Wigton Department of Special Collections and Archives
986705 Nebraska Medical Center
Omaha NE 68198-6705 USA