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The Bloomingdale Asylum: A New Vision

May 23, 2023 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm

19th-century asylums are often portrayed as sinister, but the Bloomingdale Asylum in upper Manhattan was different. Architectural historian Dr. Nina Harkrader reconstructs the site and buildings that from 1815 to nearly the end of that century were an important part of the treatment of thousands of troubled New Yorkers through the “Moral Treatment” approach to care.

Located on the current site of Columbia University, the Bloomingdale Asylum was a private hospital for the care of the mentally unstable. Surprisingly to many, everything from its architecture to its setting on more than 70 acres of beautiful landscape overlooking the Hudson was designed to support a new Quaker-inspired therapeutic approach: “Moral treatment.”

Dr. Harkrader shows us the real world of the time, introducing us to the lives of several women of the era and what their confinement in Bloomingdale might reflect about gender roles of the era. Unearthing historic records and documents, she has found fascinating clues to the envisioned ideals of a new approach to care as well as some very difficult realities.


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