History Notes
From N.Y. Lunatic Asylum to New York Hospital's Westchester Division
Psychiatric News
Volume 41 Number 14 page 29-30

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 Utica.)

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 patient care.

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 20th-century psychiatry.

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). ▪

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