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Asylums: Topics in Chronicling America

During the 19th century, asylums were used to rehabilitate the insane with questionable methods and results. This guide provides access to materials related to "Asylums" in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.


"Lincoln Hospital for the Insane. New woman's ward in the foreground." December 14, 1901. The Courier (Lincoln, NE), Image 1. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

Established as benevolent institutions to cure the insane, lunatic asylums became widespread in the United States throughout the nineteenth century. Accounts of these institutions range from stories of success in curing the insane to tales of abusive caretakers to outbreaks of infectious disease. How successful were these institutions at caring for the insane? Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.


1840Account of a state-run asylum in Vermont professed successfully curing many of the insane.
1888Asylum employees are accused of abuse in New York City.
1900Baby is committed to an asylum for showing “murderous tendencies.”
1906Woman and daughter are kept in an asylum even though they were sane.
1908Infectious diseases such as tuberculosis are reported as threats to the well-being of those interned at the asylum.
1920Poisoned candy is sent to an asylum in Tennessee, killing one inmate and injuring several others.