Historical Collections Historical Timeline Stories Virtual Tour

The Creation of the Nation's First Hospital

Benjamin Franklin

Dr. Thomas Bond

Patient Admission and Regulation

Caring for Some Very Colorful Characters

Pennsylvania Hospital's Influence on the Field of Psychiatry

Dr. Benjamin Rush: "Father of American Psychiatry"

Thomas Story Kirkbride and the Magic Lantern

The Story of the Magic Lantern

In 1841, the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane, later the Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital, opened its doors headed by Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride. Mental illness was not viewed in the same way as physical illness; difficult to treat at home, even the affluent sought institutionalization for mentally ill family members. Until the mid-1800s, confinement, not a cure, was the purpose. Physicians during the mid-nineteenth century no longer viewed mental illness as a spiritual possession, or demonic in nature; instead, insanity was understood as a clinical disease and could be cured.

A Quaker, Kirkbride practiced what was popularly known at the time as "moral treatment." At around the same time, the field of photography was on the rise, and provided Kirkbride with an innovative technique to assist patients in returning to society. Kirkbride believed images would provide stability for patients by providing a rational perception. As the audience, patients were part of "normal" social life and this allowed for rational patterns of brain activity to be exercised, supposedly bringing the patient back to mental health.

Using the new technology of the time, Kirkbride began his "magic lantern" shows to serve as both therapy and entertainment for patients. The magic lantern was an early form of slide projector, lit by candles initially, with slides manually inserted. Topics ranged from astronomy to history, religion to temperance. Travelogues were popular shows, taking individuals on trips to far away places such as Paris or London, or around the corner to Philadelphia.

Slide shows took place in a specially designed room, with benches for visitors and a podium for the lantern. Guest lecturers would speak on various topics while images were projected. Two restrictions were made: patients were not allowed to be photographed, and "ghost" images were prohibited.

The magic lantern slide shows aided Kirkbride's view that an active, daily routine, consisting of mental employment, would bring about restored mental health. In reality, they were just plain fun.

More information on Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride

Back to Stories from Pennsylvania Hospital's Past


About Penn Medicine   Contact Us   Site Map   Privacy Statement   Legal Disclaimer   Terms of Use

Penn Medicine, Philadelphia, PA 800-789-PENN © 2017, The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania