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Asylum on the Hill

Katherine Ziff

Publication Year: 2012

Asylum on the Hill is the story of a great American experiment in psychiatry, a revolution in care for those with mental illness, as seen through the example of the Athens Lunatic Asylum. Built in Southeast Ohio after the Civil War, the asylum embodied the nineteenth-century “gold standard” specifications of moral treatment. Stories of patients and their families, politicians, caregivers, and community illustrate how a village in the coalfields of the Hocking River Valley responded to a national impulse to provide compassionate care based on a curative landscape, exposure to the arts, outdoor exercise, useful occupation, and personal attention from a physician. Although ultimately doomed by overcrowding and overshadowed by the rise of new models of psychiatry, for twenty years the therapeutic community at Athens pursued moral treatment therapy with energy and optimism. Ziff’s fresh presentation of America’s nineteenth-century asylum movement shows how the Athens Lunatic Asylum accommodated political, economic, community, family, and individual needs and left an architectural legacy that has been uniquely renovated and repurposed. 

Published by: Ohio University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

Some books are a joy to read. They are filled with information that is fascinating and informative. They entice you with their style, and before you know it you are into the text wholeheartedly and passionately. There is no logical explanation except that you are intrigued ...

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pp. ix-xii

In 1867 the Ohio legislature laid the foundation for a twenty-year experiment in moral treatment psychiatry at Athens, a small village in the rural southeastern corner of the state. Built to American psychiatry’s nineteenth-century gold standard, the Kirkbride ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

This is the first book published on the history of the Athens Lunatic Asylum. Until now, people seeking to learn about the asylum had to search in a variety of works scattered in many places. The general difficulty of gaining a coherent picture of especially the ...

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Chapter One: The Moral Treatment Experiment

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pp. 1-24

On a spring day in 1865, Dr. William Parker Johnson returned home to Athens, Ohio, from the Civil War. He had been mustered out from Camp Dennison in Columbus, Ohio. Three weeks earlier, General Robert E. Lee had surrendered the ...

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Chapter Two: Patients

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pp. 25-62

On a cold day in the middle of winter, a little girl from Athens County became the Athens Lunatic Asylum’s first patient. Her older brother accompanied her as, likely traveling by horse and wagon, they drove down the earthen road from town, across the Hockhocking River, and then up the great hill to ...

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Chapter Three: Architecture

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pp. 63-104

The brick masons paused in their work. It was time to change positions on the muddy site, where walls three bricks thick were rising off their stone foundations, nearly reaching the height of the bottom of the first-floor windows. It was April 1868, and the stone- and brickwork of the cellars and basement was complete ...

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Chapter Four: Politics

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pp. 105-124

The State of Ohio’s nineteenth-century commitment to free care for its citizens with mental illness resulted in a public investment in Athens to bricks and mortar, staff, families and patients, improvements, land acquisition, infrastructure, oversight, and research. Spending $621,000 in 1868 dollars1 on a building embodying ...

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Chapter Five: Landscape

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pp. 125-143

The landscape of the Athens Lunatic Asylum was a product of climate change, the religious and psychological significance attributed by Native Americans to the site, careful planning by German-born Cincinnati landscape designer Herman Haerlin, the life work of groundsman and landscaper George Link, the asylum’s trustees and superintendents, Ohio’s ...

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Chapter Six: Caregivers

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pp. 144-164

Chief Cook Elizabeth McCole walked through the empty kitchen on a Thursday night in 1887 checking the supplies she and her staff of five women would need for Friday morning. This was her thirteenth year of service at the asylum in Athens, having begun work there as a cook the year it opened. It was a big ...

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pp. 165-192

In the summer of 1894, asylum superintendents from all over America convened for their fiftieth annual meeting. They gathered in Philadelphia, where half a century earlier the American moral treatment experiment in psychiatry had begun with Dr. Thomas Kirkbride’s work at the Pennsylvania State Hospital. At ...


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pp. 193-208


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pp. 209-214


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pp. 215-220

E-ISBN-13: 9780821444269

Publication Year: 2012