Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane
The Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane, opened in 1841 on a rural site on the west side of the Schuylkill River near Philadelphia, was considered one of the premiere mental asylums during the nineteenth century. In accordance with the institution’s “moral treatment” philosophy, many patients were granted daily access to the hospital’s pleasure grounds and working farm. The institution’s superintendent, Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, believed that regular access to the outdoors was an essential component of therapeutic treatment for his patients.
Alternate Names: Kirkbride’s Hospital; Pennsylvania Hospital for Mental and Nervous Diseases; The Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital
Site Dates: 1841–1997
Site Owner(s): Pennsylvania Hospital
Associated People: Thomas Story Kirkbride (superintendent and chief physician, 1841–1883); Isaac Holden (architect, c. 1835–1838); Samuel Sloan (construction manager and architect, 1838–1841 and 1856–1859)
Location: Philadelphia, PA
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The Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane was one of the premiere facilities for treating mental disorders during the nineteenth century, drawing residential patients from across the United States. It opened under the direction of the superintendent Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride (1809–1883), a Quaker physician who advocated for “moral treatment” therapeutic principles, arguing that patients should have regular schedules to encourage self-control, eat healthy food, exercise, and have frequent access to the outdoors. The facility’s surrounding landscape became an essential component of therapeutic treatment for patients at the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane, and the hospital’s design, which was popularized by Kirkbride’s 1854 treatise On the Construction, Organization and General Arrangements of Hospitals for the Insane, influenced the designs of asylums subsequently constructed across the United States
The original hospital building opened in 1841 on a 111-acre site near the village of Blockley, located on the west side of the Schuylkill River approximately two miles outside of the city of Philadelphia [Fig. 1]. This facility, located at the intersection of 44th and Market streets, took advantage of the inexpensive land, fertile soil, and increased privacy that the rural location afforded. It also provided more space and better conditions for treating mental health patients who were previously housed at the Pennsylvania Hospital in Center City Philadelphia.
- “Moral treatment” grew out of asylum reform movements in England and France during the late eighteenth century. It advocated “freeing chronic patients from physical restraint and treating them as capable of rational behavior.” Nancy Tomes, A Generous Confidence: Thomas Story Kirkbride and the Art of Asylum-Keeping, 1840–1883 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 21, View on Zotero. See also Carla Yanni, The Architecture of Madness: Insane Asylums in the United States (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 38, View on Zotero.
- Thomas Story Kirkbride, On the Construction, Organization and General Arrangements of Hospitals for the Insane (Philadelphia, 1854), View on Zotero.
- Tomes 1984, 1, 5–6, 19, View on Zotero; and Yanni 2007, 38, View on Zotero.