Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis



First Advisor

Robert Weyeneth


Although many historians have acknowledged the importance of architecture in the treatment of the mentally ill during the nineteenth century, no historian has ever examined the rise and fall of the importance of architecture to the treatment of patients at the South Carolina Lunatic Asylum. By the late eighteenth century, physicians and laymen alike accepted the ideology of environmental determinism – that one’s environment exercised a direct influence over his or her behavior. In other words, mental illness was both caused and cured by the environment; thus, architecture played a key role in the treatment of mental illness. The South Carolina Lunatic Asylum offers a unique chance to examine the role of architecture in the treatment of the mentally ill because of two buildings. The Mills Building, constructed from 1821 to 1827, represented a systematic approach toward curing mental illness through architecture before any other public asylum in the United States did so. The Babcock Building, constructed in four campaigns from 1857 to 1858, 1870 to 1876, 1880 to 1882, and 1883 to 1885, was originally designed along the lines of the Kirkbride plan seen throughout the country. Because the structure was built over more than thirty years, it offers a chance to see how drastically the role of architecture evolved in promoting mental health. Originally designed to cure mental illness, purpose-built asylums became warehouses; the physicians in charge knew most patients who entered would only leave in death. Between the 1820s and the 1880s, the leaders of the South Carolina Lunatic Asylum constructed buildings that demonstrated the national ascendency and decline of the architectural treatment of insanity.