Manteno State Hospital

“Gennie” Setting the Record Straight

Many people ask me about “Gennie” and the brave, noble, photography project, The Gennie Messages, created by Kristyn Vinikour on my site. The tragic truth is that she was a real person, who lived and died as a ward of the State of Illinois.

Born: September 29, 1919
Died: September 23, 1998
Last Residence: 60633 (Burnham, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois)
Last Benefit: (none specified)
SSN: Issued by the State of Illinois

Here’s the scoop on Geneveive “Gennie” Pilarski…

“Gennie” was committed to MSH, by her parents in 1944 at the age of 25 when she had a “disagreement about where she would live“.  She had previously completed 3 years of college at the University of Illinois, majoring in chemistry and suffered from episodes of manic-depressive disorder.

By 1950, “Gennie” was placed in a research ward at MSH where she was “experimented on” involuntarily.  This was not uncommon at MSH even though I find nothing stating that it was ever officially proclaimed a “research hospital”.  (At Elgin State Hospital, they conducted “human radiation experiments“.)

According to the *Tribune article, in 1955 she was lobotomized:
On February 18, 1955, the chart noted: “Has had extensive neurosurgery with bilateral extirpation of most of frontal and temporal lobes. . . . Now mute, totally dependent on commands for functioning of everything from toilet urges on up. To be given an experimental course of (electric convulsive therapy) to see if any affective change can be brought about.

For the rest of Ms. Pilarski’s life, she was schlepped about from ward to ward and nursing home to nursing home.  It was at one of these nursing homes, at the age of 80, that she died, a ward of the state.  For the last 20 years of her life she was “incapable of any kind of human interaction” and spent her last days “buried under her bedclothes or roaming the halls of her nursing home, drooling and babbling“.

This is really all we know about “Gennie”.  To think of her as just an  “urban legend” or fantasy that someone conjured up, would not be correct, and in my opinion woefully disrespectful.  She was a real person who suffered the same treatments that many patients were subjected to at the time.  She was tossed into “hydrotherapy”, where she was “plunged in and out of ice water“.  She was given 40 insulin shock therapies, around 200 electroshock therapies, and a  frontal lobotomy.

This is the sad tale of Ms. Geneveive “Gennie” Pilarski.  There is nothing mysterious about it.  It’s a true story of one woman who unfortunately suffered through the “therapies” of the time, just as many others did.  Though she did not physically die at MSH, her brain was scrambled there by therapists and doctors who were only doing what they thought would help people at the time, (or so I would like to think).

I sincerely hope this will help others understand the story of “Gennie” and it’s importance.  One might even say that those like “Gennie” suffered so those of us living in this day and age, don’t have to.  Perhaps, twenty years from now, someone will say the same thing about all those who committed suicide while taking Prozac.  I don’t know, but one always likes to think that something good came out of someone else’s or even their own life.  We owe a debt of gratitute to Ms. Geneveive “Gennie” Pilarski, and Kristyn too for making sure that anyone who finds out about “Gennie”, will probably never forget her.

* DRIVING HER CRAZY IT’S TOO LATE TO HELP GENNIE PILARSKI. BUT WE CAN MAKE SURE THAT NO ONE NOW UNDER OUR CARE WILL SUFFER HER FATE, by Patrick T. Murphy, Cook County public guardian.. Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Ill.: Nov 15, 1998. pg. 1


1 Comment so far
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I think the story/life of Gennie or Genevieve Pilarski is an interesting one. It shows the kind of treatment patients received. It seems she was somewhat normal in the beginning, and from the therapies etc, she got alot worse. I think her life was tragic and sad. She could’ve had better, had it not been for her parents. I’m sure something else could’ve been done. I’m currently trying to find out as much as I can about her. I got most of everything above already, before I read it. If anyone knows where she’s buried and who her parents were, can you respond? Would deeply appreciate it or any help offered.

Comment by J. D. Arment

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