My rating: 3 of 5 stars
While admittedly this book has a limited audience (people interested in psychiatric history, the history of the Kirkbride plan or the history of Athens), it was a very good look at those three things. The Athens Lunatic Asylum (now known as the Ridges) was a Kirkbride hospital emphasizing nature and natural light as part of the treatment plan for the mentally ill.
I met the author at a talk she was giving about the book. Both talk and book were very interesting. It’s laid out so it progresses naturally through time. It opens with a chapter on what the moral treatment experiment of Kirkbride’s actually was. The next chapter was on the patients and to me, this was the most interesting of the chapters. It’s apparent that just about anything could have gotten you committed back in the 1800’s. The chapter on the architecture was also very interesting as was the one of the landscape. I was less interested in the chapters on the politics of running such a massive establishment and on the caretakers, but I never do like politics.
The epilogue brings it all to a close right up to what’s going on with it now. Some of the outbuildings are offices for Ohio University and the main building, what is being used of it – asbestos and lead are costly to remove so who knows how much will truly be saved in the end – as the Kennedy art museum. I’ve been in there.
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