Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Legacy Department

Historic Preservation

Committee Chair/Advisor

Amalia Leifeste

Committee Member

Carter Hudgins

Committee Member

Barry Stiefel


State and federal government purpose-built asylums constructed in the 'moral treatment' era of mental healthcare, here defined as 1835 to 1900, mark a period of great change in the nation. Establishment of moral treatment asylums occurred between two very different eras. The eighteenth century, in which mental illness was seen as a punishment from God, precedes the moral treatment asylums. Twentieth-century thinking favored a medical view in which mental illness can be treated or controlled with medical drugs. Asylums built in the nineteenth century relied on 'moral' treatments--treatments that utilized no restraints unless absolutely necessary and used the environment and architecture to influence the human mind. Changes in both the roles of the government in American society as well as the advancement of medical knowledge and humane treatment mark this era. Because asylums emerged in a period of significant change in the nation, they represent an important era in American history and many appear on the National Register of Historic Places and several on the National Historical Landmark listing in recognition of their significance. Complications surrounding the reuse of these buildings, however, continue to threaten both designated and non-designated structures alike. Affected by a negative image, asylums have found themselves on the periphery of preservation efforts. In an effort to bring awareness to the significance of asylums, this thesis examines the differences between designated and non-designated mental-health facilities to illustrate patterns within the asylum type as well as the way in which asylums fit into the larger narrative of American history.



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