Non-Fiction Friday Book Talk: ASYLUM ON THE HILL by Katherine Ziff

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won’t find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could’ve been better or what worked or didn’t work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it’s here I probably think it won’t injure your brain if you read it.

ASYLUM ON THE HILL: HISTORY OF A HEALING LANDSCAPE by Katherine Ziff explores the past of a piece of Ohio history – the Athens Insane Asylum, popularly called the Ridges. Built during a revolutionary period in the treatment of the insane, the Kirkbride architecture was designed with the health of the patients in mind. Beautiful views, no fences, and zero locks on doors made the patients feel more like people and less like prisoners.
The moral treatment at the heyday of the asylum focused on exercise, independence, and duties such as gardening, baking, sewing and other activities in order to give the patients a sense of purpose. As their productivity increased, the asylum was able to produce most of their own food, and make their own clothes, even selling excess in the town below. 
But as patient intake increased and loss of funds meant less staff, living conditions began to decline. In the 1900’s the courts ruled that the patients should not be performing jobs without pay, and without the the funds to pay the patients for their work they sat, bored and listless, mentally declining.
The asylum officially closed its doors in 1993. The site and buildings are now owned by Ohio University. The administration building now houses an art museum, and many of the structures have been renovated for office space.

2 thoughts on “Non-Fiction Friday Book Talk: ASYLUM ON THE HILL by Katherine Ziff

  1. That sounds like a really inspirational story … with a really depressing ending, though I can't say I'm surprised well intentioned but ill informed legislation was a contributor. Still, the glimpse of architecture on the front cover looks beautiful.

  2. It's a gorgeous old place. Yes, unfortunately many people cite the decision that the insane needed to be paid for the labors as the downfall of asylum care. Part of the concept of making them feel like useful human beings was taken away from them by that piece of legislation.

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