Psychiatric services delivered in general hospitals may appear to be a
20th-century innovation, but the practice began in 1752, when the Pennsylvania
Hospital in Philadelphia provided for mental patients. In New York City, the
New York Hospital, which received a royal charter in 1771, also admitted
mental patients when it opened in 1792. Curable patients were preferred, and
public patients, whose care was paid for by their townships, were admitted
along with private patients.
The demand for admission led to construction of an adjacent building in
1808 known as the New York Lunatic Asylum. The state legislature provided an
annuity to the hospital (1816-1849) to help defray the costs for public
patients. (The first state mental hospital in New York opened in 1843 in
Thomas Eddy, a Quaker member of the hospital Board of Governors of New York
Hospital, had corresponded with Samuel Tuke of the Quaker York Retreat in
England, where a new approach to treating mentally ill people, known as moral
treatment, had been instituted. It consisted of kindly treatment, occupational
and recreational activities, minimal or no restraint, and medication as
needed. Eddy successfully pressed the Board of Governors to use the moral
treatment approach at the New York Lunatic Asylum.
In 1816 the need for a larger asylum led to the purchase of land around
120th Street, and in 1821 the Bloomingdale Asylum was opened. Administration
of the asylum was under a lay superintendent or warden, and visiting
physicians provided medical services. The Asylum and Inspection committees of
the Board of Governors provided supervision.
In 1825 James McDonald, M.D., was appointed "resident
physician" and in 1831 was sent to study mental hospitals in Europe.
McDonald was dissatisfied with his limited authority and urged the Board of
Governors to give the resident physician more authority over patient
treatment. Gradually this was accomplished, and after mid-century the resident
physician became superintendent, while a warden oversaw tasks not related to
The asylum had been named Bloomingdale after the main road alongside the
property, and this name maintained until well into the 20th century.
The press for admission continued as the city's population increased, and
in 1868 the Board of Governors bought farm land north of the city in White
Plains, Westchester County. In 1894 a large hospital was opened with the name
of Society of the New York Hospital, Bloomingdale, White Plains. In the early
1900s Payne Whitney, a member of the Board of Governors, left a fund to New
York Hospital for "neurologic and psychiatric work." To provide
these services, a building known as the Payne Whitney Clinic was constructed
at the New York Hospital site. In 1936 the name Bloomingdale disappeared, and
the psychiatric hospital is now named Payne Whitney Westchester.
Three histories of Bloomingdale have been written. In 1848 Pliny Earle,
M.D., a founding father of the predecessor of the American Psychiatric
Association and superintendent of the hospital, published A History,
Description, and Statistics of the Bloomingdale Hospital for the Insane.
in 1921 the Society of the New York Hospital produced A Psychiatric
Milestone to mark the hospital's centenary. In 1945 William L. Russell,
M.D., superintendent of Bloomingdale from 1911-1936 published the New York
Hospital, A History of the Psychiatric Service, 1721-1936. Preserved
hospital records provide a treasure trove of information about 19th- and early
The history of Bloomingdale also portrays its contributions to American
psychiatry. Seven APA presidents have been superintendent or on the staff of
the hospital: Charles Nichols, M.D. (1873-74), Pliny Earle, M.D. (1884-85),
William Russell, M.D. (1931-32), Clarence Cheney, M.D. (1935-36), Macfie
Campbell, M.D. (1936-37), Karl Bowman, M.D. (1941-46), and Samuel Hamilton,
M.D. (1946-47). ▪