Blackwell Insane Asylum was opened in 1839 as the first lunatic asylum in New York.
Located on Roosevelt Island and originally built to only hold no more than 1,000 patients, by the time that Nellie Bly arrived in 1887, Blackwell Asylum was so ovecrowded that even after moving its 400 male patients to Ward's Island, 400 patients still slept on the floor each night. Lack of funding, and proper management meant that many people were simply placed there to be put out of the way. Hospitals admitted patients at Blackwell so that Blackwell could deal with their custodial care. Women were placed in Blackwell by family members, and immigrants were placed there so they would be out of the way.
"What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment? Here is a class of women sent to be cured. I would like the expert physicians who are condemning me for my action, which has proven their ability, to take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane. Two months would make her a mental and physical wreck." -- Bly, Ten Days in a Mad-house
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Blackwell Asylum closed in April, 1894. Only part of the asylum still stands today.