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Community News
Landmark Hospital Celebrates Birth of American Psychiatry
Psychiatric News
Volume 36 Number 13 page 18-18

Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation’s first hospital, is celebrating a unique milestone in the field of medicine and psychiatry in the United States—the 250th anniversary of the creation of the hospital, the birth of formalized American medicine, and the start of the field of psychiatry.

The Philadelphia institution was established on May 11, 1751, by Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Thomas Bond, who saw the need to "care for the sick-poor and insane who were wandering the streets of Philadelphia." A few months later, the first patients were admitted, and six were treated for psychiatric illness.

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The plan for a new mental hospital, known as the Kirkbride Building of the Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital, was devised by Thomas Kirkbride, M.D., and used as a model by all 30 states then in existence in constructing their state hospitals. (Photos: Pennsylvania Hospital)

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Dr. Benjamin Rush’s "tranquilizing chair" was used to restrict the blood flow to the patient’s brain.

From the time the hospital was established to 30 years later when Dr. Benjamin Rush came to Pennsylvania Hospital, psychiatric patients were treated as if they were possessed by demons. It was Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and an esteemed military physician, who first believed that mental illness was a disease of the mind. It was because of this and his writing of a now classic work, "Observations and Inquiries upon Diseases of the Mind," published in 1812, that he became known as the "father of American psychiatry."

"Although by today’s standards the care provided was horrific and usually ineffective, Rush and his colleagues truly believed they were providing the most appropriate and compassionate treatment possible," explained Foster.

In 1841 the hospital opened the doors of what became known as the Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital. By this time, Dr. Kirkbride was in charge, and treatment for the mentally ill took a new, enlightened direction.

Kirkbride practiced what was known as "moral treatment" and believed those with mental illness could be cured. Kirkbride strongly influenced the construction of the Institute and made sure it provided patients with many recreational and educational opportunities to help prepare them to return to society.

In 1844 Kirkbride hosted a meeting of the 13 superintendents of the U.S. hospitals for the insane, which led to the creation of what is now known as the American Psychiatric Association, the nation’s first specialty medical society.

During its 150-plus years in operation, the Institute gave rise to 12 APA presidents—more than any other hospital in the country.

"Although economic forces closed the doors of the Institute in 1997," explained Foster, "our Behavioral Health Service continues to thrive, and our recent merger with the University of Pennsylvania Health System has expanded our opportunities tremendously."

The hospital continues to provide unparalleled psychiatric care via both inpatient and outpatient programs, many of which are offered through the hospital’s Hall-Mercer Community Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center. The institution remains committed to teaching and trains psychiatry residents from the University of Pennsylvania and runs an independent psychology internship program.

"The strength behind the Penn system has only expanded the hospital’s opportunities for education, research, and the continued provision of superior care," said Foster. "Psychiatry is as important to Pennsylvania Hospital as it was in 1751 and 1841."

APA returns to the city of its birth next year to hold its 2002 annual meeting there. ▪

Ms. Dych is director of public affairs at Pennsylvania Hospital, Philadelphia.

Anchor for JumpAnchor for Jump

The plan for a new mental hospital, known as the Kirkbride Building of the Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital, was devised by Thomas Kirkbride, M.D., and used as a model by all 30 states then in existence in constructing their state hospitals. (Photos: Pennsylvania Hospital)

Anchor for JumpAnchor for Jump

Dr. Benjamin Rush’s "tranquilizing chair" was used to restrict the blood flow to the patient’s brain.

From the time the hospital was established to 30 years later when Dr. Benjamin Rush came to Pennsylvania Hospital, psychiatric patients were treated as if they were possessed by demons. It was Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and an esteemed military physician, who first believed that mental illness was a disease of the mind. It was because of this and his writing of a now classic work, "Observations and Inquiries upon Diseases of the Mind," published in 1812, that he became known as the "father of American psychiatry."

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