What is the Kirkbride Plan?

What is the Kirkbride Plan?

Posted September 17th, 2014

In short, the Kirkbride Plan was a system integrated into the architecture of mental hospitals during the 1800s that provided better patient care. It was devised by a psychiatrist from Philadelphia named Tomas Story Kirkbride (1809-1883), the plan’s namesake and superintendent.

The Key People

Thomas Story Kirkbride

Born in 1809, Thomas Story Kirkbride was a pioneer in the psychiatric field, starting the idea of “moral architecture”. This idea later came to be known as the Kirkbride Plan. The Philadelphian doctor died in 1883, but his plan lived on long after his death.

Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Dix was a reformist who, in 1844, testified to the New Jersey legislature that the treatment of those with mental illness was rather poor, as in most cases, they were being kept in private homes, county jails, or the basements of buildings. It is because of her that the U.S. established mental hospitals. Because of her tireless efforts, the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum was built.

The History

The first asylum to be part of the Kirkbride Plan was the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum. The requirements of a Kirkbride Plan were based on Moral Treatment, and featured a floor plan with wings arranged in a staggered fashion so that they would each receive sunlight and fresh air. This would also help give the patients both comfort and privacy.

In general, the asylums featured farmland so the patients could work them for physical exercise and therapy. A few asylums in Canada and Australia were inspired by Kirkbride’s ideals. In the decades to follow 1900, many of the mammoth facilities had to be shut down due to their high maintenance costs.

While a vast number of the asylums still stand today, most of them were abandoned, neglected, and vandalized. Several are still in use, while others are being renovated for other uses.

Kirkbride Hospitals

Hospital Status
Athens State Hospital Standing
Bryce Hospital Standing
Buffalo State Hospital Standing
Cherokee State Hospital Standing
Clarinda State Hospital Standing
Danvers State Hospital Partially demolished in 2006
Dixmont State Hospital Demolished in 2006
Fergus Falls State Hospital Standing
Greystone Park State Hospital Demolished in 2015
Hudson River State Hospital Standing
Independence State Hospital Standing
Northampton State Hospital Demolished in 2007
Saint Elizabeths Hospital Standing
Taunton State Hospital Demolished in 2006/2009
Weston State Hospital (Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum) Standing
Worcester State Hospital Mostly demolished in 1991/2008

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