In 1852, the State of Alabama began planning to build a state mental hospital that would be part of the Kirkbride Plan. Behind the hospital’s construction were Dorothea Dix and Thomas Story Kirkbride, advocates for the plan. The construction began in 1853 based on designs by Samuel Sloan. The project was not finished until 1859. The hospital became the first building in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to feature gas lighting and a central head.
The asylum opened under the name of Alabama Insane Hospital in 1861, close to ten years later. The hospital was later renamed Bryce Hospital in honor of Peter Bryce, a 27-year-old psychiatric doctor and the hospital’s first superintendent. Originally from South Carolina, Bryce had studied psychiatry in Europe, worked in New Jersey, and later Alabama.
At the time, Bryce was revolutionary in the world of psychiatry. He wanted to treat patients with kindness, respect, and courtesy, morals that most psychiatric doctors didn’t do. Bryce also refused to use shackles, straitjackets, and any other restraints, and abolished them in the asylum completely by 1882. Patients wrote and edited their own newspaper, The Meteor, from 1872 to the early 1880s. Nowadays, these papers provide information on life in a 19th century mental institution.