The Growth of American Asylums in the Nineteenth Century. A Comparison of the State Lunatic Asylums in New Jersey and New York, 1840-1890

  • Molly-May Hornshaw

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


The aim of this thesis is to contribute to the historiography of the treatment of the mentally ill, in the United States of America in the nineteenth century. Numerous historians, sociologists and psychiatrists analysed and questioned the quality of care in some asylums, as mental health awareness has increased significantly over previous decades. Despite this, these histories are still relatively new in the field. Therefore, the comparison between institutions is uncommon, particularly asylums which were located outside of the United Kingdom. This thesis aims to achieve this in the comparison between the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum and the New York State Lunatic Asylum. This will be explored upon with the division of various factors, between three chapters, which will discuss patient admissions, the treatment of these patients and the architecture of the asylum buildings.
This will be achieved with the use of numerous sources including annual reports, newspaper articles, from both within these two states and further afield, and map segments. Collectively, these factors will demonstrate how these institutions shared very little similarities. Although both asylums experienced issues of overpopulation and negative attention from publishing companies, this was not to the same extent. This thesis will argue that these institutions significantly differed, despite the status they shared as lunatic asylums, and early representatives of American mental health care. This could be seen with nationwide documentation which highlighted the questionable treatment of the patients and the use of physical restraints, particularly within the New York State Lunatic Asylum. As well as this, the map segments noted the appearance of the buildings and how it changed over time. The expansion of the institution in New Jersey, and the incomplete construction of the New York institution, demonstrated the architectural differences between the two asylums.
Date of Award21 Nov 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorRob Ellis (Main Supervisor)

Cite this