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Where can i find old archived patient records from 19th century psychiatric hospitals?

Where can i find old archived patient records from 19th century psychiatric hospitals?



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I do not have university access and do not want to spend money on protected documents. I am looking for free access. (Possibly I would spend money for original documents which should then be sent to me. ;) )


A Google search for patient records from 19th century psychiatric hospitals (no quotes) turns up relevant results, though not for free access.

For example, here's a service from The National Archives (UK) that looks like exactly what you're talking about. And another one from New Zealand. I'm sure there are more.


Records available only at The National Archives in Kew

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research ( £ ) or, where you can identify a specific record reference , order a copy ( £ ).

Some of the broad range of records of disability at The National Archives are listed below. Find others by searching Discovery ( £ ), our catalogue. Use a wide variety of search terms, including combinations of words, historical terms, place names and institutions. Sometimes search terms only broadly connected to the subject matter can be the key to uncovering files. For example:

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Records of the Disabled Persons Employment Corporation and Remploy Ltd 1945�

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War pensions from First World War

Use our catalogue to search PIN 26 by nature of injury (for example, amputation or deafness) or by injured body part (for example, head or hip) for details of individuals awarded war disability pensions following the First World War. See the PIN 26 series arrangement for abbreviations used to describe some of these records. For more information see our guide to Disability and dependents’ pensions in the First World War.

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Use our catalogue to search or browse the Ministry of Labour’s files on disabled persons (19191978) in LAB 20 and training schemes for the rehabilitation of the disabled (19221980) in LAB 18.

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Click on the series reference to search by charity name for charities which relate to disabilities in the Charity Commission files in CHAR 7 (17502002) and the files relating to public health services in MH 55 (1853–1970). Some charities have changed their names since the files were created and you will need to search by the old name.

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Search our catalogue by the title of individual government acts relevant to disability issues in MH 55, T 161 and AST amongst others. One of the first pieces of legislation passed specifically for a disability was the Blind Persons Act of 1920. For a useful timeline, see the English Heritage website.

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54 thoughts on &ldquo Researching Ancestors Who Were Committed to Asylums, Using Old Newspapers &rdquo

Putting an elderly relative in an asylum was still happening in the mid 1960s, at least in Massachusetts. I was part of a group from area colleges that provided crafts and entertainment once a week. It was a shocking revelation to see elderly women in what appeared to me to be clear minds committed by relatives unable or unwilling to care for them there were some dangerous women in there with them. The last year I participated marked a turning point, and it’s my understanding that things got better after that, though I was no longer around to see for myself.

Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

I know I was shocked when I first learned this happened and have since found so many instances of the elderly being institutionalized in the past. In some cases, when they died, they may have been buried in graves on the property that were either unmarked or markers that have been destroyed by the elements.

I wonder about the Fernald School and a patient named Sandra______ Bouchard who was at the school in the 60s and 70s. Ever hear of her or the institution? Please contact me at: [email protected]

Gena, this was fascinating! I, too, have an aunt that was labeled an “idiot” in the census records, and lived with siblings following her parents’ deaths. I haven’t been able to find a death certificate for her, and I don’t think she was in an asylum. But, she’s always been in the back of my mind. Plus, her name was America…

Thanks for your kind words. You may be interested in Steve Luxenberg’s book, Annie’s Ghosts about his aunt who was institutionalized. It provides some great ideas for genealogical research.

I hope that you are able to uncover more of your aunt’s story.

My grandmother and aunt were both in state hospitals (asylums). My grandmother in 1910 and she died in 1911 my aunt from about 1923 to 1970. The Minnesota History Center had records from the state hospitals they were in so I was able to find out admission records for both of them. I didn’t know either of them so while I was sad they were in the hospitals, I was glad for the insight into their lives and why they were put into the hospitals.

Thank your for your article. It gave me even more clarity about the lives of those admitted to the asylums.

Thank you for your comment. With my 2nd great-grandmother her name was on an admitting record at the Oregon State Archives. It’s good to know that the Minnesota History Center has some records as well. Thanks so much for sharing that.

Thank you for this. We actually have a similar situation in the mid to late 1800’s. The rest of the family listed the date he disappeared into the asylum as his death date. I found through newspapers that he had actually been arrested with another man also listed as insane and the two transported to the local Insane Asylum. I have researched the history of that asylum to get a feel for what may have happened. It is all very interesting.

That’s a good point that someone could be listed as dead, or considered so by the family, but actually be institutionalized. It’s a good example of how things may not be as they seem. That’s where newspapers can really make a difference in our research.

Thanks for commenting about your family research.

My grandfather died in the state hospital in the early 1960’s. When I called the hospital about his records they not only found them but mailed them to me immediately! I was astonished at how easy it was! So you never know…..

Thanks for sharing your experience. You are definitely right, it’s always worth trying to see if you can get the records. You never know until you try!

Thank you so much for this article. I found out that a distant relative was institutionalized in an asylum and ended up living there for a very long time. She was still there when she passed away. Since reading your article, I did some reading in newspapers about this asylum, and found some interesting information.

I’m so glad to hear that you found the information helpful to your own research.

Thanks for the shout out on your Fab Finds. Your list is always great and I appreciate your mentioning the post.

Glad you wrote this article. I have a great-grandmother who spent time in a couple of state hospitals – one in Alabama and one in Arkansas. Family lore indicates she had some mental health problems. Is it possible to find documentation on who had her committed (through a court or whatever)?

Yes, you may be able to find this information through court records. I would start there and then try contacting the individual hospital and ask about the possibility of obtaining patient records. However, access to patient records may not be allowed except under a few circumstances. Also, look in the card catalog for the state archive and see if any records were archived there.

Good luck with your search
–Gena

I really appreciate this discussion as, while doing research on my husband’s great grandmothers, we discovered both died in asylums in New York City circa 1900-1910. John’s maternal grandmother told us her mother died from scalding herself with an overturned pot on the stove where she was cooking. At the time she had three small children, the youngest being 18 months old. Her death certificate said she died of a “epilepsy, insanity and cerebral hemmorage” while a patient at Lebanon Hospital and was buried in an unmarked grave in Flushing Cemetery. We followed the trail to the cemetery and found the spot where she was buried. Her husband, a New York City policeman for 25 years, remarried and was decorated as one of the heros of the “Slocum Disaster.” I have tried to understand this family tragedy and the decision made by John’s grandmother to have his wife committed. Your article made me realize I need to do more research in local papers from 1905. It occurred to me that John’s great grandmother might possibly have had postpartum syndrome, something unheard of then, and the resulting behavior might have not been considered “normal.” I can’t help but feel sad as I’m writing this on Mother’s Day…

Unfortunately, it was not unusual for women to be committed for mental health issues that could easily be treated in today’s world. Depression, alcoholism, etc may have been reasons for a husband or father to commit a female family member. Women were even committed if they did not meet the expectations of the way women should behave.

Try searching court records as well as newspapers to see if they yield the answers you are looking for. There’s no doubt about it, that this case is sad but by remembering her and telling the story of her life you are helping keep her memory alive for future generations.

Good luck with your search and thanks for sharing your research.

Thank you for writing this. I have a relative, my mother’s cousin, who was also in the Oregon State Mental Hospital. From what I can gather, it must have been for treatment of depression. She was there in 1942 and died in the “rat poison” incident you mentioned.

I’m so sorry to hear that. What a terrible tragedy for a health condition that now can be treated. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable are usually the ones who are at the most risk for abuse, even from the people who are supposed to help them.

You may be interested in the Oregon State Hospital Museum, http://oshmuseum.org/. They also have a Facebook page.

Thanks for sharing your story.

Many thanks for writing this story and keeping alive this very important issue. My g grandmother an Italian immigrant who could barely read or write lived in Marlboro State Mental Hospital in New Jersey for 13 years. A mother of 5 beautiful children and a wife. I really have no answers. This is what started my obsession with genealogy …to find out more about Emila. Door were slammed very quickly by the State of New Jersey and it took me 6 months of battling for just her death certificate because she died there. The hospital is closed and newspaper article told me that records lay in boxes in a basement. Between my mom and I we must have called and emailed the people in charge about 10 times and NO RESPONSE at all. Talked with others and they told me the records were probably destroyed. Some state workers were helpful but most could not even return a phone call or email message. To this day I find it hard to talk about what the state put me thru. Family members know nothing and its talked about in hushed tones that she never got over losing a child at birth. On Dec 26, 1946 she died alone in the hospital. I know family went to see her but still no one will talk about it. I decided I needed to focus on other things in genealogy because of the strain on me personally. The sadness and hurt I felt FOR Emila. When the 1940 census came out it was a wealth of info. It had the hospital and her name with 30 roommates of all color, backgrounds and different languages. It has put me to ease knowing she had others there just like her. It was strangely comforting. Lets keep this subject alive! Many thanks Gena! Maybe we should start our own group? We can all storm the state offices demanding our ancestors papers! We can start with New Jersey!!

I had an uncle who also lived at Marlboro state hospital in NJ. I’ve done a lot of research and was able to find out that he died there in 1941. There is a small cemetery on-site and I was able to visit his grave. My family never spoke of him and now they’re all dead so there isn’t even anyone to ask. From my understanding, those buried there were not claimed by their families. So sad. I believe I am the only person who has ever visited his final resting place.

I have reached out to the state and was told that they only keep records for ten years and that they may have something called a “card code x” which is simply an index card with the date of arrival/departure and possibly a diagnosis. I’m going to complete the paperwork and hope they’re able to send me the information and that it will provide more details.

I wish New Jersey would post all of their public records on line.

I’m in!my great grandmother also died there and family was given til the end of day to pick her up or she’d be cremated and buried across the street. A few phone calls and you was able to get her admission date but nothing for her cause of death. I’d love to know more…deplorable horrific conditions and treatment. The patients deserve a properly maintained resting place.

Thanks so much for sharing your story.

I know how frustrating it can be. My cousin’s grandmother was also an immigrant and the mother of small children when she was admitted to a state hospital. Once there, she never left. My cousin was eventually able to receive a few records detailing her grandmother’s stay there. Those records tell a terrible story of assumptions made about her mental status because she could not speak English and her treatment in that facility. The hospital provided little help in my cousin’s quest to learn more, even refusing to let her know where their own cemetery had been decades earlier. A janitor finally pointed to the patchy dirt lot that was the final resting place for her grandmother.

I agree with you, these family stories need to be remembered and told.

This is a great article and provides some insight as to where certain people can find their information.
I found a census record of a great grandmother who was barely even spoken about who was a “patient” at the Worcester Insane Asylum in Massachusetts in 1920. She was about 54 but she had gotten out and ended up getting hit by a driver and passed away. No one knows much about her, and I would love to find out more about her- she had my great grandfather out of wedlock who is also bi-racial. I think this is so interesting!

Thanks for sharing the story of your great-grandmother.

Make sure to utilize newspapers for additional clues. You may want to search for histories and archival collections for the asylum. Also look to see if there are others who are researching that asylum, they may be a good resource for you.

Thanks for this artice! I have five women in my ancestry who were patients at state hospitals. Fortunately for me, four of them (including my grandmother) were at Norwich State Hospital in Connecticut. The State Archives have some of the patient records, and because I was able to prove I was a direct descendent, they gave me copies of all four patient records. What a wealth of information, which solved several family mysteries and revealed shocking secrets. I’ve written a book (looking for a publisher) that shares what I learned about what happened to all of them, and how it has affected the present generation of our family. This is the first in a series of posts about my family’s connection to Norwich State Hospital: https://juliannemangin.com/2017/11/08/norwich-state-hospital/

Thank you for sharing your blog. Your ancestor’s stories are fascinating and offer an important look at female patients in state hospitals in the early 1900s. Perhaps you should self-publish your book?

I am looking for a great uncle. I would like to know why he was committed to Camarillo State Hospital. I was about 5 or 6 years old and I remember going there on weekends to visit him. His mother, my great grandmother, said his name was either Forentino or Florencio Asencio. I would like to know why my grandmother put him in there, and what happened to him. I am now 70 years old.

The Camarillo State Hospital closed in 1997. It is now CSU Channel Islands. I took classes there and I used to live in Camarillo, CA.
I hope you find the information you are looking for!

Camarillo State Hospital records are at the Archives Office in the library of CSU Channel Islands campus.

Unfortunately, most likely that information would not be available to you because of privacy laws.

Have you tried to order his death certificate? Did he die at Camarillo? His death certificate might provide a clue to his diagnosis. I’m assuming you mean Camarillo State Hospital in California. If that is where he died, Camarillo is in Ventura County and you could order his death certificate from the county. –Gena

Where can you find death certificates on the patients of Marlboro State Hospital? And where did all the patients go at the time of closing?

Lee, Here’s a link to New Jersey and information about ordering vital records copies, https://www.state.nj.us/health/vital/order-vital/genealogical-records/ .

The patients were most likely transferred to another facility. There appears to be quite a bit about the hospital online. Searching online for histories or in the newspaper for the time around the closing might reveal which facility or facilities they were transferred to.

Good luck with your research–Gena

I have visited the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia, where my great grandmother died. In doing the tour, my sisters and I realized that the simplest thing could have you committed back in the day. Reading a novel, depression, allergies, etc. There is a poster there decribing stupid things. My great grandmother died in 1900 and the facility has gotten rid of their records, I’d like to know when she was committed, when she died, and how she died. She was 35 years old at the time. My sister and I are making another trip there in May, to clean her grave (in a private cemetery) and do more research. Where can I go to get this information?

Nina, have you contacted local archives to see what records they may have? It’s possible they have records from the asylum. Have you gone to the county to get a copy of her death certificate? The death certificate would answer when and what she died from. Don’t forget to look for articles in the newspaper about the asylum as well as a possible obituary. Good luck with your research!

I had a great grandmother who was judged insane in Kansas in 1893. Is there any way to get records from any of the institutions serving around Marysville, Kansas, at that time? I would suspect she might have been in the area of Topeka, but am not sure.
Her name was Mary Jane (Hart) Hale, widow of Hoyt G. Hale, who died Dec. 19, 1894, and is buried in Marysville, Kansas.
We are seeking to find records of Mary Jane and would appreciate any help we can get.

Betty, you may want to try the local courthouse. My friend had an ancestor committed in Kansas and he found some records for her commitment at the local county courthouse, in their archives. You may also want to contact the Kansas State Historical Society (https://www.kshs.org/) and ask if they have any records. Good luck!

My great grandmother was in the Little Rock state hospital and died there around 1935. Her name was Mary Jane (Harrell) Koontz. Is there any way to find records back that far? I’m not even sure where she is buried. Any info would be appreciated.

FamilySearch has some death indexes for Arkansas that might be of help. See the Arkansas Genealogy page on the FamilySearch Research Wiki and then click on the Vital Records link under Records Types for more information.

You’ll want to find her death certificate so you can learn her death date and where she was buried. If she died in the state hospital it’s possible that she was buried there (especially if there were no family to claim her body). Arkansas State Archives might have some records. Also, http://michaelminn.com/privett/arkansas_state_hospital/ has some information about the hospital’s cemetery.

My great great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Nailor) McDaniel (1862-1913) supposedly had a breakdown after losing several babies. Her husband dumped her in an asylum and moved from Missouri to Oregon with the children, leaving her to die on her own. We think it was the Nevada Asylum in Missouri, but it was closed in 1991, then demolished in 1999, and records are missing so she’s a dead end which is frustrating. Her daughter, my great grandmother, never forgave her father.

Jenny, have you tried to search for a death certificate in Missouri? There are a few online indexes that might be of help. See the list at the FamilySearch Research Wiki, https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Missouri_Vital_Records. –Gena

I am researching an inmate in what is now St. Elizabeth in D.C. How could I find or could I find the commitment records and a death record? I’m hoping I can find next of kin and a cause of death. I contacted St. Elizabeth but I never got an answer. I have the date of commitment, patient number and a date of death and that’s it. The inmate died in 1861.

Peter, normally I would recommend checking local archives. Because most likely if those records exist they are a court record or were donated to an archive. Even a court record, due to that age, may be in an archive. However, if this is the facility I think it was, it was a federal facility. Federal records are with the National Archives. I did a search on the National Archives Catalog and did find some records. However, you need to contact an archvist or a researcher to learn more about these records and what they contain. Take a look at https://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/418.html and https://catalog.archives.gov/search?q=St.%20Elizabeth&rows=20.

Also, see what histories have been written about St. Elizabeth and/or people who were institutionalized there. That might provide footnotes with potential sources. Good luck! Gena

Interested in learning more. My grandfather was in Big Spring State Hospital in Texas and died there. Not sure of the year but do know my father said he was 15 years old and he is 84 now (1951)? My younger brother was admitted recently for 3 months in “psych ward” but I do not know his diagnosis. I would love to know my grandfather’s history for hereditary purposes. I remember asking my grandmother and she just said “he went crazy and died” she never elaborated. Anything I can do to find out? Thanks.

Sissie,
Because your grandfather would have been institutionalized fairly recently (1950s), chances are you may not be able to find much without going through the courts. However, you mentioned that your grandmother stated “he went crazy and died.” Do you have his death certificate? Does that provide clues? What about a funeral home record?

I am interested in learning about what happened to my mother’s brother, Bertram Harold Markle. He was institutionalized after his mother’s death in 1943. Maybe in Nebraska — not really sure where. He would often say that the staff would make him go get the patients because they were somewhat scared of them. They institutionalized him because he was born with Parkinson’s and at the time had no knowledge as to what it was. He was born in 1936 or 1938 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
His father took the family to Nebraska to be near his ageing mother. His father was Eugene Harold Markle, his mother was Sylvia Hoffman, his sister was Maxine Hoffman Markle. My uncle Bertram Harold Markle left the asylum or institution when he became age eighteen or twenty-one.
I would just like to know what happened to him and what institution he was taken to.

Candice, Have you tried looking in the 1940 census to start with? Do you have the name of the cities the family lived in so you can see what records exist? Do you have his death certificate?

I’ve been reading through a lot of these stories, and I saw you recommended “Annie’s Ghosts.” Funny, I’ve just started reading it! It was a gift from my sister years ago, and since I was looking to read something, I took it from my bookshelf (only on page 37!). It made me go back to my previous extensive research on a great aunt that was institutionalized at Metropolitan Hospital in Waltham, Mass. I’ve been doing a ton of “looking” online and cannot find any death record or a record of any sort. Any suggestions on where I can find an obit or anything else? I did try the vital records, but perhaps I wasn’t utilizing it correctly.

I want so much to find out about Francis and to honor her life, as she, too, was not spoken of. Thank you so much.

Gina, what a great article. I have 4 people from various branches that were all sent to asylums. My husband’s aunt and his great aunt were both in Norman Oklahoma’s State Mental Hospital. (They were aunt and niece, not mother and daughter.)

I found his aunt buried on the grounds of the hospital, but no trace of the great aunt. No family left to tell their stories, so I have no idea why they were there. So sad!

My husband’s great aunt on his dad’s side was diagnosed with “Female Hysteria” at age 16. I found Female Hysteria was a common diagnosis. Apparently back then women received “bad humors” from their uteruses (they traveled around the abdominal cavity you know) which caused ill humors if they were too high.

My father was married to a woman who I understand was committed to an asylum a couple times during their marriage. This was his first wife. I believe she may have had electric shock therapy. And it may have been after the birth of one or both of my two half-sisters — born in Jan. of 1925 and Jan. 1926. They lived in Cambria/Marshfield, Wisconsin. They also lived in South Milwaukee. Is there any way to find out about this hospitalization?

Barbara, the short answer is probably not because of confidentiality laws. However, you could check out the Wisconsin State Archives and search their catalog for possible records (maybe even an admitting log). Also, court records might be available in the county that your father and his wife lived in. Good luck with your research–Gena

I am seeking information about my Grandfather, John H. Lingerman, who was admitted to Allentown State Hospital for Tuberculosis and died June 2, 1913. I have the death certificate but that is all. Any information would be helpful. Thanks.

Jay, it appears that some records might be at the Pennsylvania State Archives. Check out the information on this web page and then scroll down for the link: https://www.asylumprojects.org/index.php/Allentown_State_Hospital . Good luck–Gena

My grandmother was an epileptic. I found her on the NY census as an inmate at Central Islip State Hospital, Long Island, NY, in 1920. She was divorced from my grandfather prior to her admittance. She died at the facility in April 1921. I was able to obtain the cause of death and to whom she was released. Died of epilepsy. She was only 38 years old. It was an RN who sent me the death card. I believe I wrote to Pilgrim State Hospital on Long Island where the records were transferred. Neither hospital is there any longer. For years I’ve tried to obtain records pertaining to her stay, but to no avail. As you’ve said, protected information. Would you have any idea of how records could be obtained? It is so frustrating! Thank you!

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Preventing Tuberculosis

The Provincial Board of Health carried out a concerted public awareness and prevention campaign against tuberculosis, producing and distributing printed pamphlets, lectures, displays and travelling exhibitions. The picture below shows a travelling exhibit in a railway car.


Tuberculosis Exhibit in a railway car, [ca. 1905]
Public Health Nursing photographs
Reference Code: RG 10-30-2, 3.05.1
Archives of Ontario, I0005199

The Provincial Board of Health also sponsored a 1921 silent film entitled “Her Own Fault”, in which “the girl who fails in life’s struggle” meets her downfall because of poor diet, late hours, and a penchant for fashion sales. She is soon hospitalized with tuberculosis, while her opposite, “the girl who succeeds,” is promoted to forewoman at the factory.

The pamphlets below, produced by the Canadian Tuberculosis Association, informed the public about many aspects of the disease.


Pamphlets published by the Canadian Tuberculosis Association, [ca. 1940-1944]
Scrapbook re mass x-ray surveys 1944
Reference Code: RG 10-145-2-2
Archives of Ontario


Auckland and Tokanui holdings

These records are held in our Auckland archive but relate to institutions all over the broader region.

Where records are marked restricted in Archway access permission is to be obtained from:

Patients & Visitors

Register of Admissions ‘B’ 1853, 1869-1879 [YCAA 1017/1]

Casebooks 1853-1916 (some gaps indexed some include photographs) YCAA 1048/1-17

Registers of Committed Patient Admissions 1853, 1879-1968 (indexed to 1916) [YCAA 1021/1-11]

Committed Patients Case Files 1855-1877, 1889-1964 (indexed to 1917) [YCAA 1026/1-1001]

Committed Patients Case Files 1856-1869 [YCAA 1025/1-2]

Registers of Discharge, Removal and Death 1889-1917 [YCAA 1036/1-4]

Registers of Patients absent on trial 1878-1967 [YCAA 1024/1-10]

Maintenance Payment Ledger 1885-1910 [YCAA 1045/1-3]

Record Book of Investigations into Relatives’ Ability to Pay Maintenance 1890-1899 [YCAA 1044/1]

Casebook of Patients at Motuihi Island 1895 [YCAA 1049/1]

Official Visitors Books 1897-1973 [YCAA 1049/1 YCAA 1099/1-2]

Post-mortem Record Books 1905-1951 [YCAA 1040/1-3]

Register of Voluntary Boarders 1912-1968 [YCAA 1020/1-9]

Voluntary Boarder Case Files 1912-1964 [YCAA 1028/1-420]

Register of World War I Soldier Patients 1914-1919 [YCAA 1020/1]

Remanded Patient Case Files 1914-1964 [YCAA 1027/1-43]

Registers of Remanded Patients Admissions 1912-1929, 1948-1968 [YCAA 1023/1, 6-8]

Index Books of Daily Patient Admissions 1954-1968 [YCAA 1022/1-2]

Index Books of Chronic Patients 1962, 1965 [YCAA 1041/1-2]

Registers of Discharge and Transfer 1918-1968 [YCAA 1037/1-8]

Register of Patient Deaths 1918-1968 [YCAA 1029/1-3]

Registers of Mechanical Restraint and Seclusion 1921-1965 [YCAA 1038/1-9]

Registers of Escapes 1936-1963 [YCAA 1039/1]

Psychological Clinic Record Book 1938-1947 [YCAA 1043/1]

Register of World War II Soldier Patients 1941-1954 [YCAA 1042/1]

Mortuary Register 1948-1965 [YCAA 4263/1a]

Registers of Voluntary Boarder Discharges and Transfers 1956-1968 [YCAA 1088/1-3]

Carrington patient files 1963-1975 [YCAA 4486/1-2341]

Staff

Staff Cards c1880s-1950s A-Z [YCAA 4268/1-6]

Attendants’ Duty/Leave Book 1896-1915 (chronological) [YCAA 1073/1]

Staff Service Books 1905-1909, 1911-1913 [YCAA 1072/1-2]

Staff Appointment Registers 1908-1965 [YCBQ 15444/1a-2a]

Staff Salary Record Book 1913-1922 [YCAA 1071/1]

Staff Sickness & Accident Report Book 1935-1940 [YCAA 1070/1]

Staff and Patient Work Books 1938-1953 (chronological: staff and their duties) [YCAA 1074/1-6]

Nursing Records of Duty 1974-1991 [ZABV 5483/1-18]

Where records are marked restricted in Archway access permission is to be obtained from:

First year admission register 1932-1945 [YCBR 5163/1a]

Anniversary date admission register 1932-c1943 [YCBR 5162/1a]

Registers of Admission – committed & remand Patients 1932-1969 [YCBR 4987/1a, 2a]

Admission books (looseleaf) 1972, 1976, 1982-1984 [YCBR 5174/1a-1c]

Register of discharges and transfers 1932-1965 [YCBR 5131/1a, 2a]

Register of discharges, transfers, deaths 1968-1986 [YCBR 5136/1a-3c]

Register of escapes, 1936-1969 [YCBR 5164/1a]

Register of patients absent on trial 1932-1969 [YCBR 5132/1a-3a]

Register of mechanical restraint and seclusion 1937-1969 [YCBR 5135/1a-3b]

Committed patient files c1932-1964 [YCBR 4644/1-253]

Remand patient files c1934-1966 [YCBR 4642/1-10]

Voluntary Boarder Files c1933-1968 [YCBR 4643/1-188]

Registers of death 1934-1970 [YCBR 5137/1a-2a]

Staff and Patients’ Work Books 1949-1963 [YCBR 5893/1a-3a]

Kingseat/Raventhorpe Hospital Staff Cards A-Z c1953-1976 [YCBR 5130/1-5]

Where records are marked restricted in Archway access permission is to be obtained from:

Register of Admissions 1946-1966 [YCBR 5151/1a]

Admission Book (looseleaf) 1979-1988 [YCBR 5173/1a]

Register of Voluntary Boarders 1946-1969 [YCBR 5150/1a]

Register of Patients Absent on Trial 1946-1969 [YCBR 5149/1a]

Out-Patient Files c1949-1979 [YCBR 4645/1-212]

Register of deaths 1946-1970 [YCBR 5138/1a]

Where records are marked restricted in Archway access permission is to be obtained from:

The Manager, Medical Records

Waikato Hospital

Private Bag 3200

Hamilton 3240.

Waikato DHB Website

Registers of Admissions, male & female 1912-1969 [YCBG 5930/1a-4a]

Registers of Death 1913-1921 [YCBG 5921/1a-1b]

Registers of Discharge and Transfers 1920-1969 [YCBG 5933/1a-5b]

Registers of Admission: Voluntary Boarders/inpatients 1920-1969 [YCBG 5908/1a-4a]

Registers of Mechanical Restraint and Seclusion 1926-1941 1959-1969 [YCBG 5922/1a-1b]

Registers of Patients on Leave 1930-1950, 1962-1969 [YCBG 5934/1a-4a]

Register of Escapes 1936-1969 [YCBG 5923/19]

Committed Patient Files 1956-1968 [YCBG 5905/1-288]

Committed & Voluntary Boarders: Patient Files 1957-1972 [YCBG 5906/1-626]

Staff and Patient Work Books 1939-1959 (7 volumes, chronological) [YCBG 5935/1a-6a]

Access permission is required from the Manager, Auckland District Court. Email: [email protected]

Auckland Supreme Court

Lunacy Files (8-80), Auckland 1871-1920 (indexed) [BBAE 5525]

Auckland Magistrates Court

Auckland Mental Defect Files 1960-1973 [BADW 10271 (Boxes 1-138)]


Lunatic Asylum Records

Records such as admission and discharge registers as well as administrative records from institutions established to house the mentally ill. Before the establishment of specialist places, those classified as lunatics were housed in hospitals, jails and workhouses whilst the wealthier used the services of private asylums. The first specialist asylum was called Bethlem Hospital (also known as Bedlam) which began operations in the 13th century. The majority of public or county asylums (sometimes run by Quarter Sessions) were built in the 19th century. This mass building programme began with the 1808 County Asylums Act which saw the building of asylums in many areas but not every county. National coverage was achieved with the passing of the 1845 County Asylum Act which oversaw the compulsory construction of at least one asylum for every county. Although provision now existed for sufferers, many were still sent to the workhouse.

Probably the most useful and widely available asylum records are the admission registers which show that patients were often admitted and discharged within a short space of time. Asylum records are closed to the general public for 100 years but may be accessed by family members however it is not uncommon to only find that a first name is given in the institution registers. Also be aware that the crown took custody of lands belonging to those classified as lunatics. Some county asylum patient lists can be found in the TNA series of records which mainly deal with the administration of asylums and the poor law.

For the 1851 census, the returns covering asylums only supplied the patient’s initial (s) and not the surname but this was not always the case. From 1861, the census returns made special provision for enumerating those with mental health problems by describing patients as either ‘idiots’, ‘imbeciles’ or ‘lunatics’. The distinctions are somewhat vague and overlapping but those suffering from dementia were mostly described as ‘imbeciles’.


Catalogue description Middlewood Hospital, Sheffield

Four plans: ground plan of laundry residence by B[ernard] H[artley], 1870 sections through central (administrative) block, 19th century ground plan of men& aposs detached block with plan and elevation of proposed solarium by W.E.H. Burton, 1927 printed site plan (damaged), early 20th century (2004/78)

Plans, sections and elevations of laundry residence, 1870 copy site plan of the West Riding Asylum estate, 20th century (2006/96)

Site plans, c.1900-1931 (1998/141)

Bill to constitute a Lunatic Asylums Board for the West Riding of Yorkshire, 1912 (CA455)

Mentally Defective Committee, Sheffield, minutes, 1914 - 1926 (CA137/15-16)

Mental Defectives/Mental Health Subcommittee minutes noted in: Sheffield Health Committee minutes 1927 - 1968 (CA112/28-36)

Postcard view of Wharncliffe War Hospital, c.1920 (SY216/Z10/2)

Bill and papers relating to transfer of administration of South Yorkshire Mental Hospital from West Riding Mental Hospitals Board to Sheffield City Council, 1936-1937 (CA649/1-2 CA582/1-6)

Sheffield No 2 Hospital Management Committee records, 1948 - 1974 (NHS36: formerly SY297/H1-7)

Service records of male and female nursing staff as returned to Sheffield No 2 HMC, 1946 - 1956 (Acc. 2007/126)

Copies of two photographs of staff nativity production, ? c. 1960 (2000/56)

File on provision of Special School in Sheffield for mentally subnormal, handicapped and disturbed children, 1968-1971 (CA630/193)

Thundercliffe Grange Sanatorium, Kimberworth: illustrative brochure, c. 1905 (SY736/Z1)

Wadsley parish baptism registers (PR 78)

Information in staff and patient records may be subject to access restrictions under the Data Protection Act, or may be subject to exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act. For further information please refer to a member of staff.

A store to house patients& apos case sheets was erected at Middlewood Hospital in c. 1956, at a cost of £656.

& aposHospital Survey: Sheffield and East Midlands area& apos, Ministry of Health, 1945 (Sheffield Local Studies 362 SQ)

& aposThe Middlewood Hospital, Sheffield: one hundred years 1872-1972& apos by F T Thorpe (Sheffield Archives HEALTH/THO Sheffield Local Studies 362.209 S)

& aposMental Illness in a Northern City& apos by the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association, 1971 (Sheffield Local Studies 362.2 SQ)

  • Wadsley Mental Hospital South Yorkshire Mental Hospital South Yorkshire Asylum, Wadsley (1911) Wadsley Pauper Lunatic Asylum (1917) South Yorkshire Asylum County Lunatic Asylum at Wadsley Wadsley Asylum

South Yorkshire Lunatic Asylum, 1872-1888

West Riding Asylum, Wadsley South Yorkshire Asylum Wadsley Pauper Lunatic Asylum, County Lunatic Asylum at Wadsley Wadsley Asylum, 1888-1915, 1920-1923

Wharncliffe War Hospital, 1915-1920

Wharncliffe Ministry of Pensions Hospital, 1920-1922

West Riding Mental Hospital, Wadsley Wadsley Mental Hospital South Yorkshire Mental Hospital, 1923-1948

Wharncliffe Emergency Hospital, 1939-1945

Wharncliffe Hospital, 1946-1978

Middlewood Hospital, 1948-1996 (closed)

The hospital first known as the South Yorkshire Lunatic Asylum was declared open for the reception of patients on 21 August 1872, and the first six were admitted on 27 August. It had its origins in the County Asylum Act of 1808, which permitted local Justices of the Peace to build asylums financed by the county rate and which resulted in the West Riding of Yorkshire building its first asylum at Wakefield in 1818. The general response to this permissive legislation was, however, poor and for a long time the workhouse in Sheffield provided the main local accommodation for pauper lunatics, with only the more difficult cases being transferred to Wakefield. (As early as 1797, at the establishment of Sheffield General Infirmary, the need to provide an asylum or lunatic hospital in Sheffield had actually been first suggested).

Public concern about the apparent increase in insanity and the overcrowding in the Wakefield asylum grew and under this pressure for action, a Select Committee of Justices, under the chairmanship of Lord Wharncliffe, was appointed to explore the possibility of finding a suitable location for a new asylum in South Yorkshire. A site was identified, adjacent to the Wharncliffe estate, between Middlewood and Wadsley, and permission was sought from the Commissioners in Lunacy for sanction to purchase it. Plans were prepared by the West Riding surveyor for an asylum of 750 beds and building work started in the summer of 1869. The official opening ceremony, presided over by Lord Wharncliffe, chairman of the Building Committee, was the occasion for a dinner for 80 people, held on 7 September 1872.

South Yorkshire Asylum took in patients from the temporary asylum Mount Pleasant House at Sharrow, from Wakefield Asylum and from a number of Poor Law Unions, its catchment area comprising Sheffield, Ecclesall Bierlow, Rotherham, Doncaster, Thorne, Penistone, Wortley and part of Worksop. Expansion was soon found necessary and this was put in hand, carefully preserving some 250 million year old fossilised tree roots found in the course of the work. By 1906 its accommodation had more than doubled, and provided beds for 1,600 inmates.

In January 1915 the central government Board of Control for Lunacy and Mental Deficiency set aside 15,000 asylum beds to be used for sick and wounded soldiers. The asylum, by then known as Wadsley Asylum, was one of the locations thus selected as a war hospital. During March 1915 the mental patients were evacuated, mainly to the West Riding Asylums in Wakefield, Storthes Hall near Huddersfield, and Menston. A small number were maintained at the Asylum& aposs farm residence. Wadsley Asylum was adapted for military use under the name of the & aposWharncliffe War Hospital& apos with, at its largest, 2039 beds including 112 & aposshake-downs& apos. It was placed under the general supervision of the Officer in Command of the 3rd Northern General Hospital in Sheffield, with the asylum& aposs medical superintendent, with the rank of lieutenant colonel, appointed by the War Office in local command. A number of Wharncliffe Hospital& aposs convoy patients were accommodated at Auxiliary Hospitals at Worksop and Darfield. Wharncliffe War Hospital finally closed on 31 July 1920, having treated nearly 37,000 patients since opening on 1 April 1915. The asylum buildings were reinstated and the mental patients were thereafter readmitted. Between 1920 and 1922 the male detached block was loaned by the Visiting Committee to the Ministry of Pensions, to be used as a hospital providing 300 beds for the treatment of ex-soldier pensioner cases.

After the war several forms of name were used for the institution, and & aposasylum& apos was phased out in favour of & aposmental hospital& apos in around 1923. The site and facilities developed: outdoor tuberculosis wards for males and females were opened in 1926 and a new Admission Hospital, with convalescent villas, was opened on 13 February 1935, named & aposMiddlewood Hospital& apos to distinguish it from the main institution. Set up under the 1930 Mental Treatment Act, it was to receive, study and treat all newly appointed patients with a view to separating those who could be readily cured and returned home from those whose prospects were less favourable.

After the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the Emergency Medical Services took over part of the hospital, with many existing patients being temporarily accommodated in other wards or being transferred to Storthes Hall. Five more wards were built and the accommodation was named the & aposWharncliffe Emergency Hospital& apos it was equipped to treat medical, surgical and neurosis casualties. At the end of the war it was selected to become a & aposDispersal Hospital& apos under Army Demobilization Regulations. Some 31,000 convoy patients passed through the hospital altogether.

A general medical unit was continued as & aposWharncliffe Hospital& apos, providing medical and surgical facilities not only for the mental hospital patients. In 1953 premises were converted to provide accommodation for 26 female tuberculous patients from the Doncaster and Barnsley areas. The hospital also provided plastic surgery, particularly after burns, following on from its treatment of aircrew during the war. In 1954 all cases of spinal injury were transferred to Lodge Moor Hospital in Sheffield and other facilities were phased down. Wharncliffe Hospital closed in October 1978 by which time its 129-bed unit had only 11 patients, who were then transferred to the Royal Infirmary and Hallamshire Hospital.

The mental hospital continued its services during World War II and in fact extended its catchment area to include Doncaster County Borough when Pinderfields Emergency Hospital was established at the Wakefield Mental Hospital. Following the National Health Service Act 1946 the hospital from 1948 became known as & aposMiddlewood Hospital and expansion was proposed: in 1949 Sheffield Regional Hospital Board recommended the provision of 1,000 additional beds to address the need for increased institutional accommodation for the region& aposs mentally ill. In the mid-1950s some geriatric patients were accommodated in Moorgate Hospital and later at Swallownest Hospital (the second-line smallpox hospital), both in Rotherham. Following reorganisation of psychiatric services in 1956, male patients under observation in accordance with Section 20 of the Lunacy Act 1890 were transferred to Middlewood from Sheffield& aposs Fir Vale Infirmary and Moorgate Hospital male mental defectives were transferred from Middlewood to Grenoside Hospital 20 male and 30 female patients were transferred to Fir Vale Infirmary and 20 female patients were transferred to Swallownest Hospital. Also in 1956, Middlewood Hospital farm, which had long since provided farming activities and employment for patients and staff alike, was disposed of. In 1957 & aposThe Yews& apos at Worrall was adapted as a psychiatric Day Hospital it opened in October 1958 in association with Middlewood Hospital. Extensive plans for the modernisation of Middlewood Hospital were put forward in 1958 and some upgrading took place over the next few years despite plans mooted in 1959 to develop Aughton Court, Grenoside and Thundercliffe Grange Hospitals to permit Hollow Meadows and Middlewood Hospitals to close.

The 1971 memorandum (Circular HM(71) 97) & aposHospital Services for the Mentally Ill& apos set out the principle that future psychiatric treatment should be based on general hospital units. There would also be day care facilities and other services would be provided by local authorities. Although significant costs were incurred when Middlewood& aposs Kingswood block was upgraded in 1972-1973, services began to be scaled down. Patient numbers were reduced: some were transferred to the Psychiatric Unit of the Northern General Hospital. By 1984 Middlewood& aposs Psychiatric Services Management Team was planning the running down of the hospital altogether and the development of a community oriented service for the mentally ill in conjunction with Sheffield City Council. In 1986 there remained just over 600 patients (at its height the hospital had accommodated 2,200). Alternative provisions were made in the community, jointly provided by the NHS and the local authority, such as the unit for mentally handicapped adults at Norton. In early 1990 Middlewood Hospital was listed for closure within five years it finally closed down in 1996 and the land sold for development.

The South Yorkshire Lunatic Asylum was administered by the Justices of the Peace for the West Riding of the County of York until the Local Government Act of 1888 thereafter the new West Riding County Council took over the responsibility for administering the asylums in West Riding including the then renamed West Riding Asylum, Wadsley. The asylum administrator reported to the Wadsley Asylum Visiting Committee of the West Riding of York, later the West Riding Asylums Board, which was the controlling body for the four asylums of the West Riding. It came into operation in October 1912, following the West Riding of Yorkshire Asylums Act, and was later renamed the West Riding Mental Hospitals Board.

The central government department responsible for the overall monitoring and regulating of county asylums and the treatment, admission and discharge of their inmates was the Commissioners in Lunacy, established under the Lunacy and County Asylums Act 1845. It was replaced following the Mental Deficiency Act in 1913 by the Board of Control for Lunacy and Mental Deficiency. The Board of Control was brought under the supervision of the Ministry of Health in 1920 and the term & aposasylum& apos was generally dropped in favour of & aposmental hospital& apos (though the old term was still used to some extent for several years). Most of the functions of the Board of Control passed to the Ministry of Health in 1948, after the National Health Service Act 1946, and it was finally dissolved in 1960.

Following the National Health Service Act 1946 (in force 5 July 1948) mental health services were integrated with the general health services. Mental hospitals were vested in the Minister of Health, financed and controlled by the Ministry through the Regional Hospital Boards and Hospital Management Committees. Thus management of the newly named Middlewood Hospital fell to the Sheffield No 2 Hospital Management Committee of Sheffield Regional Hospital Board.

On the reorganisation of the National Health Service in 1974 Hospital Management Committees were abolished and the administration of Middlewood Hospital came under the Southern District of the Sheffield Area Health Authority (Teaching), within Trent Regional Health Authority. In summer 1978 Sheffield AHA was & aposredistricted& apos and Middlewood Hospital was transferred to the newly drawn up Northern District.

Simplification of the NHS took place in 1982, resulting in district health authorities taking over the responsibilities of the old Area Health Authorities: Middlewood Hospital was thus moved into management by Sheffield Health Authority which, two years later, committed itself to devolved management at Unit level. This change in the NHS was effected in 1986 when general management by Unit General Managers with a complex array of committees and responsible bodies was introduced. Middlewood Hospital, then under an Assistant Unit General Manager, was one of the three localities in Sheffield& aposs Mental Illness Unit. The National Health Service and Community Care Act, 1990, implemented on 1 April 1991, reinforced the joint community-based provision of mental health care by the NHS and the local authority.


History of Psychiatric Hospitals

Philadelphia Hospital for the Insane, Philadelphia, PA c. 1900 The history of psychiatric hospitals was once tied tightly to that of all American hospitals. Those who supported the creation of the first early-eighteenth-century public and private hospitals recognized that one important mission would be the care and treatment of those with severe symptoms of mental illnesses. Like most physically sick men and women, such individuals remained with their families and received treatment in their homes. Their communities showed significant tolerance for what they saw as strange thoughts and behaviors.  But some such individuals seemed too violent or disruptive to remain at home or in their communities. In East Coast cities, both public almshouses and private hospitals set aside separate wards for the mentally ill. Private hospitals, in fact, depended on the money paid by wealthier families to care for their mentally ill husbands, wives, sons, and daughters to support their main charitable mission of caring for the physically sick poor.  

But the opening decades of the nineteenth-century brought to the United States new European ideas about the care and treatment of the mentally ill. These ideas, soon to be called “moral treatment,” promised a cure for mental illnesses to those who sought treatment in a very new kind of institution𠅊n 𠇊sylum.” The moral treatment of the insane was built on the assumption that those suffering from mental illness could find their way to recovery and an eventual cure if treated kindly and in ways that appealed to the parts of their minds that remained rational. It repudiated the use of harsh restraints and long periods of isolation that had been used to manage the most destructive behaviors of mentally ill individuals. It depended instead on specially constructed hospitals that provided quiet, secluded, and peaceful country settings opportunities for meaningful work and recreation a system of privileges and rewards for rational behaviors and gentler kinds of restraints used for shorter periods.

Many of the more prestigious private hospitals tried to implement some parts of moral treatment on the wards that held mentally ill patients. But the Friends Asylum, established by Philadelphia’s Quaker community in 1814, was the first institution specially built to implement the full program of moral treatment. The Friends Asylum remained unique in that it was run by a lay staff rather than by medical men and women. The private institutions that quickly followed, by contrast, chose physicians as administrators. But they all chose quiet and secluded sites for these new hospitals to which they would transfer their insane patients. Massachusetts General Hospital built the McLean Hospital outside of Boston in 1811 the New York Hospital built the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum in Morningside Heights in upper Manhattan in 1816 and the Pennsylvania Hospital established the Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital across the river from the city in 1841. Thomas Kirkbride, the influential medical superintendent of the Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital, developed what quickly became known as the “Kirkbride Plan” for how hospitals devoted to moral treatment should be built and organized. This plan, the prototype for many future private and public insane asylums, called for no more than 250 patients living in a building with a central core and long, rambling wings arranged to provide sunshine and fresh air as well as privacy and comfort. 

Occupational Therapy Group, Philadelphia Hospital for Mental Diseases, Thirty-fourth and Pine Streets With both the ideas and the structures established, reformers throughout the United States urged that the treatment available to those who could afford private care now be provided to poorer insane men and women. Dorothea Dix, a New England school teacher, became the most prominent voice and the most visible presence in this campaign. Dix travelled throughout the country in the 1850s and 1860s testifying in state after state about the plight of their mentally ill citizens and the cures that a newly created state asylum, built along the Kirkbride plan and practicing moral treatment, promised. By the 1870s virtually all states had one or more such asylums funded by state tax dollars.  

By the 1890s, however, these institutions were all under siege. Economic considerations played a substantial role in this assault. Local governments could avoid the costs of caring for the elderly residents in almshouses or public hospitals by redefining what was then termed “senility” as a psychiatric problem and sending these men and women to state-supported asylums. Not surprisingly, the numbers of patients in the asylums grew exponentially, well beyond both available capacity and the willingness of states to provide the financial resources necessary to provide acceptable care. But therapeutic considerations also played a role. The promise of moral treatment confronted the reality that many patients, particularly if they experienced some form of dementia, either could not or did not respond when placed in an asylum environment.  

Philadelphia Hospital for the Insane, Philadelphia, PA c. 1900 The medical superintendents of asylums took such critiques seriously. Their most significant effort to improve the quality of the care of their patients was the establishment of nurses’ training schools within their institutions. Nurses’ training schools, first established in American general hospitals in the 1860s and 1870s, had already proved critical to the success of these particular hospitals, and asylum superintendents hoped they would do the same for their institutions. These administrators took an unusual step. Rather than following an accepted European model in which those who trained as nurses in psychiatric institutions sat for a separate credentialing exam and carried a different title, they insisted that all nurses who trained in their psychiatric institutions sit for the same exam as those who trained in general hospitals and carry the same title of “registered nurse.” Leaders of the nascent American Nurses Association fought hard to prevent this, arguing that those who trained in asylums lacked the necessary medical, surgical, and obstetric experiences common to general-hospital-trained nurses. But they could not prevail politically. It would be decades before American nursing leaders had the necessary social and political weight to ensure that all training school graduates—irrespective of the site of their training—had comparable clinical and classroom experiences.  

Byberry State Hospital, Philadelphia, PA c. 1920 It is, at present, hard to assess the impact of nurses’ training schools on the actual care of patients in psychiatric institutions. In some larger public institutions, the students worked only on particular wards. It does seem that they had a more substantive impact on the care of patients in much smaller and private psychiatric hospitals where they had more contact with more patients. Still, it may be that their most enduring contribution was opening the practice of professional nursing to men. Training schools in asylums, unlike those in general hospitals, actively welcomed men. Male students found places either in schools that also accepted women or in separate schools formed just for them. 

Training schools for nurses, however, could not stop the assault on psychiatric asylums. The economic crisis of the 1930s drastically cut state appropriations, and World War II created acute shortages of personnel. Psychiatrists, themselves, began looking for other practice opportunities by more closely identifying with general, more reductionistic, medicine. Some established separate programs—often called “psychopathic hospitals”—within general hospitals to treat patients suffering from acute mental illnesses. Others turned to the early-twentieth-century’s new Mental Hygiene Movement and created outpatient clinics and new forms of private practice focused on actively preventing the disorders that might result in a psychiatric hospitalization. And still others experimented with new forms of therapies that posited brain pathology as a cause of mental illness in the same way that medical doctors posited pathology in other body organs as the cause of physical symptoms: they tried insulin and electric shock therapies, psychosurgery, and different kinds of medications.  

By the 1950s, the death knell for psychiatric asylums had sounded. A new system of nursing homes would meet the needs of vulnerable elders. A new medication, chlorpromazine, offered hopes of curing the most persistent and severe psychiatric symptoms. And a new system of mental health care, the community mental health system, would return those suffering from mental illnesses to their families and their communities.  

Today, only a small number of the historic public and private psychiatric hospitals exist. Psychiatric care and treatment are now delivered through a web of services including crisis services, short-term and general-hospital-based acute psychiatric care units, and outpatient services ranging from twenty-four-hour assisted living environments to clinics and clinicians’ offices offering a range of psychopharmacological and psychotherapeutic treatments. The quality and availability of these outpatient services vary widely, leading some historians and policy experts to wonder if 𠇊sylums,” in the true sense of the word, might be still needed for the most vulnerable individuals who need supportive living environments.

Patricia D𠆚ntonio is Carol E. Ware Professor in Mental Health Nursing, Chair, Department of Family and Community Health, Director, Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing, and Senior Fellow, Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics.


Early Psychiatric Hospitals & Asylums

The mentally ill in early American communities were generally cared for by family members, however, in severe cases they sometimes ended up in almshouses or jails. Because mental illness was generally thought to be caused by a moral or spiritual failing, punishment and shame were often handed down to the mentally ill and sometimes their families as well. As the population grew and certain areas became more densely settled, mental illness became one of a number of social issues for which community institutions were created in order to handle the needs of such individuals collectively.

1752. The Quakers in Philadelphia were the first in America to make an organized effort to care for the mentally ill. The newly-opened Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia provided rooms in the basement complete with shackles attached to the walls to house a small number of mentally ill patients. Within a year or two, the press for admissions required additional space, and a ward was opened beside the hospital. Eventually, a new Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane was opened in a suburb in 1856 and remained open under different names until 1998.

Code of rules and regulations for the government of those employed in the care of the patients of the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane, near Philadelphia. (Philadelphia, 1850). //resource.nlm.nih.gov/101560452

An appeal to the citizens of Pennsylvania for means to provide additional accomodations for the insane. (Philadelphia, 1854). //resource.nlm.nih.gov/101560453

George B. Wood. Proceedings on the occasion of laying the corner stone of the new Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane at Philadelphia. (Philadelphia, 1856). //resource.nlm.nih.gov/68131220R

1773. To deal with mentally disturbed people who were causing problems in the community, the Virginia legislature provided funds to build a small hospital in Williamsburg. Over the years, the hospital grew in size as needs arose but remained within the historic area of the city until the mid-20th century, when a new hospital was built in a suburb. Today it is the Eastern State Hospital.

1792. The New York Hospital opened a ward for "curable" insane patients. In 1808, a free-standing medical facility was built nearby for the humane treatment of the mentally ill, and in 1821 a larger facility called the Bloomingdale Asylum was built in what is now the Upper West Side. In 1894, it was moved further away, to the suburb of White Plains and is currently under operation as the Payne-Whitney Westchester Hospital, a Division of the New York Hospital-Cornell Weill Medical Center.

Address of the Governors of the New-York Hospital, to the public relative to the Asylum for the Insane at Bloomingdale (New York, 1821). //resource.nlm.nih.gov/68130900R

1817. In Philadelphia, The Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of their Reason was opened under Quaker auspices as a private mental hospital. It continues to serve this function to this day as the Friends Hospital.

Account of the present state of the Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of their Reason. (Philadelphia, 1816). //resource.nlm.nih.gov/2546074R

Further information of the progress of the Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of their Reason. (Philadelphia, 1818). //resource.nlm.nih.gov/2554041R

1824. The Eastern Lunatic Asylum was opened in Lexington, Kentucky, as the first mental institution west of the Appalachian Mountains. It still operates today under the name, Eastern State Hospital.

By 1890, every state had built one or more publicly supported mental hospitals, which all expanded in size as the country’s population increased. By mid-20th century, the hospitals housed over 500,000 patients but began to diminish in size as new methods of treatment became available.

Last reviewed: 24 March 2015
Last updated: 18 January 2017
First published: 21 September 2006


Catalogue description Local Government Board and predecessors: Correspondence with Poor Law Unions and Other Local Authorities

This series consists of correspondence of the Poor Law Commission, the Poor Law Board and the Local Government Board with Poor Law Unions and other Local Authorities. It covers the years 1834 to 1900.

Poor law unions were collections or groups of parishes brought together to administer poor relief. Earlier 'unions' were refered to as 'incorporations' and some of these existed until the 1860s (which is why for some areas there are no correspondence until the old incorporation was dissolved and the new union organised).

The Victorian poor law was predicated on the 'workhouse test'. This is where poor relief would be offered via the 'deterrent workhouse', designed to be an institution of last resort. Most Victorian workhouses were built in the late 1830s/early 1840s. However, a small number were built later and many additions were made to existing workhouses throughout the ninteenth and twentieth centuries.

The papers range through the whole field of poor law and (after 1871) local government and public health administration. The material will refer to all aspects of poor relief workhouse administration, finance, indoor- and outdoor poor relief, information on individual paupers etc.

Digital copies of selected 19th Century Poor Law Union and Workhouse records from MH 12 can be searched and downloaded. The research guide Poverty and the Poor Laws lists the poor law unions which have been digitised and are available through Discovery.

The arrangement of the papers is an alphabetical one under counties and unions. This arrangement, originated by the Poor Law Commissioners, continued after the advent of the Local Government Board so that it is necessary in seeking papers on a Municipal Borough, or other such Authority, to know in which Union Area that Authority is situated. The Census Indexes of Names and Places provide an easy means of reference.

Each union also has an identifying number, with one series of numbers being used throughout England and Wales. These are quoted in the catalogue. However the registers of correspondence that used these numbers have not survived.

Most of the papers after 1900 were destroyed by enemy action in 1941 or fire in 1944 those which have survived have been incorporated in various MH or HLG series.

Local Government Board, 1871-1919

Poor Law Commission, 1834-1847

In addition to its specialised duties the Poor Law Department of the Local Government Board was responsible for a long period for business not carried out by other departments and was soon known as the General Correspondence Department. These general duties were later taken over by the Chief Clerk's Department, the General Correspondence Department then becoming known as the Poor Law Administration Department. The main work of the department was the supervision of poor law administration by the poor law unions outside London and, after 1873, of related medical services for the poor.

In this work the administrative staff were aided by a number of inspectorates responsible for the maintenance of direct contact with the poor law unions and the inspection of poor law institutions from 1886 to 1913 the assistant secretary in charge of the department also held the post of chief general inspector. Poor law matters in London were dealt with by the Metropolitan Department until 1884, when that aspect of its work was taken over by the General Correspondence Department.

The Metropolitan Common Poor Fund was administered by the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund and Loans Department, the Architect's Department dealt with poor law buildings, the Order Department with legal matters relating to poor law authorities, the Audit Department with the audit of the accounts of those authorities, and the Paid Officers Department with the employment of poor law officials.

The department was originally formed by the Poor Law Board to deal with correspondence and accounts in connection with the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund established by the Metropolitan Poor Act of 1867 to equalise the burden of the poor rate between the richer and poorer districts of London. At this stage it was called the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund and Loans Department. In 1878 it took over from the Sanitary Department the supervision of the management, use and repayment of loans advanced to local authorities by the Public Works Loan Board, and included an inspector of loans and local acts who undertook enquiries into loan appropriation and the exercise of powers under local acts.

The department was not concerned with loan sanction, which was dealt with by the Sanitary Department, except in cases of appropriation of existing loans. It also considered the form of local acts and, after 1894, Metropolis Water Acts, which the board had power to vary. After 1882 work relating to the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund was undertaken by the retired permanent secretary and ceased to concern the department. In 1884 it was absorbed by the Audit Department but was again separated in 1892 under the title Local Loans and Local Acts Department.


The Inmates of Willard 1870 to 1900

This blog contains the History of The Willard Asylum for the Insane (Willard State Hospital), Former New York State Insane Asylums (State Hospitals), Custodial Institutions, County Poor Houses, and Mental Illness of the 19th Century. Current Information on Anonymous Graves, Historical Articles, Laws, Eugenics, Patient Names, and Helpful Links Abound! The Blog is an Extension of My Book and Was Created for Descendants of Former Patients, Genealogy Geeks, and History Buffs. Hopefully, This Blog Will Make People Aware of the Thousands of People Who Were Buried in Anonymous Graves in Former New York State Hospital & Custodial Institution Cemeteries. The Book and Blog Have Been Researched, Written, and Developed by Linda S. Stuhler.

This blog has 11 PAGE TABS (located at the top of each page), 213 POSTS and many PDF files. PLEASE CLICK ON THE RED & BLUE LINKS.

I started this blog on July 10, 2011, thinking that maybe 5 people would actually read it and find the posts interesting. I self-published The Inmates of Willard 1870 to 1900: A Genealogy Resource, on December 17, 2011, with my own money, to further the cause of restoring dignity to the forgotten people who lived and died at New York State Hospitals (Insane Asylums), who had been buried on New York State property in anonymous, unmarked cemeteries and graves for over a century. New York State Senate Bill S840A-2015 became a law on August 18, 2016, but it did not include provisions for a searchable online database available to the public as New York State lawmakers and the Office of Mental Health believed that if they did so, they would be sued. I believe that the New York State Office of Mental Health did not want to disclose the names of deceased patients because the burial ledgers may have been stolen, carelessly lost or destroyed. They would also have to explain why these cemeteries had never been marked in over 150 years, why they fell into such a state of neglect and disrepair in the first place, and why Kings Park State Hospital Cemetery is being used as a youth baseball field. The following states took a different approach and put searchable databases on the internet available to the public: Kansas Minnesota Nebraska Ohio Texas Maryland Florida Washington and even Binghamton State Hospital of New York.

Monument For The Forgotten-Museum of disABILITY History, Buffalo, NY.

The reason why New York State Hospitals / Insane Asylums, Feeble-Minded and Epileptic Custodial Institutions are so important to the world is because there were 26 of them, possibly more. These institutions housed many newly arrived immigrants during the mid 19th and early 20th centuries from all over the world, especially Western Europe. I’m sure that there are plenty of people who would like to know the final resting place of their long, lost ancestor. It just doesn’t seem fair to me that this one stigmatized group of people are being denied the one and only thing that we really have to be remembered by our name. Even though I initiated the original bill in August 2011 and it was introduced to the New York State Senate by Senator Joseph E. Robach in March 2012, I didn’t write it. This is the bill that I would have written:

“This bill is important and necessary in order to restore the dignity and personhood of the thousands of people who were incarcerated and died at former New York State Insane Asylums, (later renamed State Hospitals), Feeble-Minded and Epileptic Custodial Institutions. When the bodies of the inmates were not claimed by family members, they were buried in anonymous, unmarked graves, or, their bodies and brains were given to medical colleges for research. These forgotten souls deserve to have their names remembered and available to the public by means of a searchable internet database. Some of these deceased patients were undoubtedly United States Veterans who served during the Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam, who suffered from PTSD and Shell Shock. Their graves deserve to be marked with the American Flag and honored like any other veteran’s grave.

There is no good reason why these long deceased souls need to be punished and stigmatized in death for an illness or intellectual disability that they lived with in life. The great majority of these former state hospitals closed in favor of smaller group home settings or changed their names to Psychiatric Centers in the early 1970s. This in turn led to many patients being thrown onto the streets to live in cardboard boxes, or thrown into jail with no psychiatric services, just as they did 150 years ago. I do not understand why anyone would need to have their name withheld from any cemetery list until 50 years had passed after their death. This requirement in the bill only serves to feed the stigma.”


Watch the video: Victorian Asylum Patient and UK. How our ancestors who had mental illness were treated. (August 2022).