The mission of this site is to archive both historical and current information on asylums across the United States and around the world.
This site is dedicated to the history of asylums in all forms. The term of asylum is applied to not only what is commonly thought of: mental hospitals, but can also be applied to sanatoriums, state training schools, reform schools, almshouses, and orphanages. These institutions have and continue to play a major part in today's society.
Everyone throughout the United States and in many other countries has in one way or another felt the touch of these institutions. These places have both directly and indirectly affected people and their families. They have shaped lives and created many popular myths about them.
With all that in mind, this site was created to help in the historical research of any institutions that can be classified as an asylum. It was created for both serious researchers, those who are doing genealogical research, and people with an interest in asylums.
Norristown State Hospital
Norristown State Hospital received its first patient, a woman, on July 12, 1880 under the supervision of Dr. Robert H. Chase and Dr. Alice Bennett. Two more women arrived on July 13th followed by the first two men on July 17th. Very soon thereafter groups of individuals were admitted from other state hospitals and county almshouses. By September 30, 1880, there were 295 men and 251 women receiving inpatient care and treatment.
Norristown State Hospital was the first of the Pennsylvania state hospitals to construct its buildings deviating slightly from the "Kirkbride Plan", best known as "Transitional Plan". Instead of constructing a single monolithic building, the individual patient wards were separated and free-standing. These building were connected with a series of underground tunnels, including a central tunnel which stretches across the property. Norristown still maintains the schematics of Kirkbride's original plan, with it separation of male and female departments, as well as leveling the acuity of patients by ward.
There was a tremendous emphasis during the early period on a 'humane' approach to psychiatric treatment ("moral therapy") allowing the individual as much liberality as his/her condition would permit, which was common of the period. Several low-acuity wards were unlocked for periods of time, and grounds privileges was a common feature of daily life. Work assignments became a significant feature of a patient's daily routine, many focusing on the workings of the state farm. They were not limited to farm work, other occupational departments include: Administration, Bakery, Billiard room, Boiler room, Bric-a-brac shop, Brush shop, Butcher, Carpenter shop, Dispensary, Garden, Kitchen, Laundry, Machinists, Mattress shop, News-room, Out-door improvement, Painters, Plasterers, Plumbers, Printing office, Scroll saw shop, Shoemakers, Stables, Store-rooms, Tailors, Wards and dining rooms and Weavers. However, with the change in Pennsylvania State Law in the 1970's, hospital patients were no longer permitted to be involved in farm labor. Thereafter, the farmlands were employed by separates agencies of the city of Norristown, namely Norris-City and Norristown Farm Park. Click here for more...