Last updated: September 7, 2017
The construction of the Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital was begun in 1854 and completed in 1859. The movement to improve the treatment of the “insane” during the nineteenth century is an outstanding chapter in the history of American social and humanitarian developments. Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride occupies a prominent position in that story, for “his” hospital influenced the construction of similar institutions in thirty-one other states. Furthermore, the concept behind Kirkbride's hospital, that patients should be treated with humanely and with dignity, motivated a new understanding of and regard for people with disabilities.
His hospital, constructed from 1856-59 at 49th and Market Streets in Philadelphia, introduced many innovations for the day, primarily in terms of spaciousness, airiness, and light. The hospital was composed primarily of wings extending off from the main central building. Despite modern additions, the original structure remains much as it was when built.
Kirkbride initiated a campaign for a new institution, one which would be based on his philosophy, individual treatment. Finally, on July 7, 1856, the cornerstone for a new hospital was laid, and by 1859 the structure had been completed. This new hospital introduced innumerable innovations for its day. Essentially, his program endeavored to handle the patients as any sick people would be. In order to aid recovery he encouraged them to work in the gardens or shops; he organized a museum and library; and he provided lectures on a variety of subjects.
As healthcare advocate and nurse Dorothea Dix waged her struggle to stimulate the humane treatment of people living in almshouses and psychiatric hospitals, state after state adopted Kirkbride's basic plan. Those states were helped in that respect by Kirkbride's volume, On the Construction, Organization, and General Arrangements of Hospitals For the Insane With Some Remarks on Insanity and Its Treatment. Published in 1854, and again in 1880, it enjoyed a remarkably influential career. Even today, the volume is of great interest.
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