Thomas Story Kirkbride

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Thomas Story Kirkbride
Thomas Story Kirkbride 001.jpg
Born(1809-07-31)July 31, 1809
DiedDecember 16, 1883(1883-12-16) (aged 74)
Alma materUniversity of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Known forKirkbride Plan

Thomas Story Kirkbride (July 31, 1809 – December 16, 1883) was a physician, advocate for the mentally ill, and founder of the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane (AMSAII), a precursor to the American Psychiatric Association.[1][2][3]

Early career[edit]

Thomas Story Kirkbride was born on July 31, 1809 on a farm in Morrisville, Pennsylvania into a wealthy Quaker family.[4][5][6] When he was 18 years old, he started studying medicine under Dr. Nicholas Belleville of Trenton, New Jersey in 1828.[7][8] After receiving a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1832, he became the youngest resident at a Quaker mental institution in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[5][6] This mental institution was called Friends Asylum (also called Friends Hospital, The Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason, and the Frankford Asylum).[5][6] After his one-year residency at Friends Asylum, he spend two years as a resident physician at the Pennsylvania Hospital.[5] Kirkbride then operated his own practice from 1835 to 1840 that focused mainly on surgery.[5][7][8]


In October 1840, Kirkbride became superintendent of the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane.[1][5][7][8] Before he became superintendent, the hospital had struggled from a low recovery rate and temporarily closed. In January 1841, he was able to reopen it.[6] On January 9, 1841, the first patient was admitted with subsequent patients being transferred from other facilities.[5]

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during October 1844, Kirkbride helped found the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane (AMSAII). He held the position of secretary for seven years, treasurer, vice president for two years, and president for eight years between 1862 and 1870.[2][5][9] Kirkbride pioneered what would be known as the Kirkbride Plan, which aimed to improve medical care for the insane, through standardization of buildings that housed patients.[10]

Kirkbride's influential work, On the Construction, Organization, and General Arrangements of Hospitals for the Insane with Some Remarks on Insanity and Its Treatment,[11] was published in 1854, and again in 1880 as a book.[6][7]

Lafayette College awarded him an LL.D "in recognition of his eminent ability and the remarkable services rendered to suffering humanity"(Curwen, 1885, p. 220).[5]

Kirkbride's ideas brought about mixed feelings in both patients and peers.[2][7] Some in the medical community saw his theories and ideas as stubbornly clinging to ideals that hindered medical progress,[2] while others supported his ideas, and saw them change the treatment philosophy for the mentally insane.[10] He sometimes inspired fear and anger in his patients, even to the point that one attempted to murder him,[2] but he also believed that the mentally ill could be treated, and possibly cured. In fact, after the death of his first wife, Kirkbride married a former patient.[2][7]

Kirkbride architecture[edit]

Kirkbride was an advocate of building hospitals for the mentally ill in a style which he believed promoted recovery and healing. This style was used on many late 19th century hospitals, including St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C.[12] Many of these buildings, designed by leading architects of the time, are in ruins or decay.[13] An estate, now known as "The Village",[14] previously Traverse City State Hospital, was saved from destruction and restored.[12]

Personal life[edit]

Kirkbride married Ann West Jenks (1812-1862)[6] in 1839. Together, they had two children: Ann, who was born in 1840, and Joseph John, who was born in 1842.[15] After Ann died, he married Eliza Ogden Butler (1835-?), one of his former patients.[6]


Kirkbride died of pneumonia on December 16, 1883, at his home at the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane.[2]


  1. ^ a b Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania (2008). "Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride". University of Pennsylvania Health System. Retrieved November 28, 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g (2008). "Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride". Kirkbride Buildings. Retrieved November 28, 2008.
  3. ^ Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania (2008). "The Story of the Magic Lantern". University of Pennsylvania Health System. Retrieved November 28, 2008.
  4. ^ The American Journal of Insanity Vol. 55 p. 120 (1898)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Curwen, John (1885). "Obituary notice of Thomas S. Kirkbride, M. D." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 22 (120): 217–227. JSTOR 982980 – via JSTOR.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Pérez-Fernández, Francisco; López-Muñoz, Francisco (2019). "The Kirkbride buildings in contemporary culture (1850–2015): from 'moral management' to horror films". History of Psychiatry. 30 (3): 336–351. doi:10.1177/0957154X19839912. PMID 30995127. S2CID 122341862.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Tomes, Nancy (1994). The Art of Asylum-Keeping: Thomas Story Kirkbride and the origins of American Psychiatry. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 387. ISBN 0-8122-1539-7.
  8. ^ a b c Richard E. Greenwood (1975). "Kirkbride's Hospital". University City Historical Society. Retrieved November 28, 2008.
  9. ^ Kelly, Howard A.; Burrage, Walter L. (eds.). "Kirkbride, Thomas Story" . American Medical Biographies . Baltimore: The Norman, Remington Company.
  10. ^ a b TALA (2008). "Building as Cure". Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. Retrieved November 28, 2008.
  11. ^ On the Construction, Organization, and General Arrangements of Hospitals for the Insane with Some Remarks on Insanity and Its Treatment,
  12. ^ a b "The Kirkbride Connection" (Nov-Dec 2007) Old-House Journal p.45
  13. ^ "Adventures in the Forbidden Zone" (Mar 2007) Popular Photography Vol.71, No.3 p.75
  14. ^ The Village, Grand Traverse Commons
  15. ^ Anne West Kirkbride

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