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Lexington's Eastern State Hospital is the second oldest public psychiatric hospital in America, being founded in 1824. Created from the public demand that there should be a place for the mentally ill, poor, and disabled citizens of Lexington and the rest of the state. The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky passed the “Act to Establish a Lunatic Asylum" in 1822 to officially begin construction on this new facility. The hospital grounds, as well as the old administration building, are now in the hands of BCTC.


  • 1933 Sun Porch Addition Plaque by the Department of Public Welfare

Lexington's Eastern State Hospital is the second oldest public psychiatric hospital in America, being founded in 1824. Created from the public demand that there should be a place for the mentally ill, poor, and disabled citizens of Lexington and the rest of the state. The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky passed the “Act to Establish a Lunatic Asylum" in 1822 to officially begin construction on this new facility. The hospital grounds, as well as the old administration building, are now in the hands of BCTC. According to a report written in 1886 by the Administrative staff of the hospital, it often found itself with a high number of patients staying in the hospital towards the end of the year and less patients being released, resulting in overcrowding.

Before the nineteenth century, the treatment options for those who suffered mental health problems were limited to say the least. Those who were assigned to treat those with mental problems saw their diagnoses as something that resulted form nature itself and was viewed as hereditary and permanent affliction. During this time, those with mental health problems were often restrained and removed from normal society. For those who didn't have support from their family to take care of them or were too poor for treatment, they were sent away to live in institutions designed solely for keeping them locked away and away from the general public. Depending on the condition that the individual was suffering from, this restrictive environment would often exacerbate their symptoms. The environments that these institutions, or "madhouses" as they were referred to, created were often chaotic and dangerous for those staying within their walls.

American Physician, Benjamin Rush, was one of the earliest practitioners to observe that not only could mental illnesses be cured but that it could be controlled. As well meaning as this sentiment was, in practice Benjamin Rush wrote in his 1812 treatise; Medical Inquiries and Observations upon the Diseases of the Mind; that the only real cure for those suffering from mental health problems was to fully restrain them. as the years went on, Asylum Directors in the early 1800's saw that the practice of restraining your patients often caused more harm than good. What they proposed instead were "moral therapies" where the patients were to perform simple jobs and to practice self control. As the years went on, physicians specializing in mental illnesses began to organize and began to publish their own medical journals as well as encouraging professional training.

According to a journal written in 1837 by the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, that those who lived in the west were more prone to mental health problems. It claimed that the lives of a western citizen of the US when compared to those living n the coast were more readily exposed to diseases and had a much poorer living condition to deal with. The journal cites that the poor diets, irregular lifestyles, and exposure to dangerous diseases on a regular basis has created a situation where the constitution of your average individual in this environment was weakened compared to their eastern counterpart. The journal applauds the opening of this new hospital as a way of protecting the general public from those who were suffering from these mental illnesses. However this journal calls into question the effectiveness of its "moral therapies" and claims that the only real way of helping those whop suffer mental health problems is by restraining them and not letting them roam about the commons.

De Leon, Jose, Shane Shoemaker, and Allen Brenzel. "The Old and the New Eastern State Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky." American Journal of Psychiatry 171, no. 2 (2014): 149-50.

Kentucky, Eastern State Hospital, Lexington. Annual Report, 1885, C.1 V.62 1885/86.

Cawthon, Elisabeth A. Medicine on Trial : A Sourcebook with Cases, Laws, and Documents. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2004.: 40-41

INSANITY IN KENTUCKY. 1841. The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal (1828-1851) 24, (11) (Apr 21): 7, http://ezproxy.uky.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.uky.edu/docview/127888988?accountid=11836 (accessed December 10, 2019).

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https://exploreuk.uky.edu/catalog/xt7sf7664q86_5333_1