Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Ask a Librarian

New York Inebriate Asylum on Ward's Island, 1868-75: Home

Marble Plaque 1867

inebriate asylum plaque


Marble plaque. 24.5" by 48.25".

Inscription:  "Inebriate Asylum, Erected AD1867, By the Commissioners of Public Charities & Corrections, James Nicholson, James Bowen, Owen Brennan, Isaac Bell."

Purchased at auction and donated to NYMC by Dr. Jay Tartell, 2014.

Image Source:

"Chapel of the Asylum, Now Used as a Hospital"

asylum chapel used as an asylum

"Inebriate Asylum, Ward's Island." 

Image Source: NYPL Digital Gallery

Map of Ward's Island


map of wards island

Map of Ward's Island showing the Homeopathic Hospital on the east side.

Image Source:  Asylum Projects. Manhattan Psychiatric Center

History of Ward's Island Inebriate Asylum

inebriate asylum

"Exterior View of the New Inebriate Asylum, Ward's Island"

Image Source: National Library of Medicine

In the late nineteenth century the belief that alcoholism could be cured by confinement led to the establishment of inebriate asylums. In 1864 judges were granted the power to commit alcoholics to asylums. ¹  In the Textbook of Temperance (1869), Lees proclaims, “At last physiologists and statesmen have begun to acknowledge that the drinker's appetite is a true mania and must be treated as such. Hence the establishment of ‘Inebriate Asylums’ in various parts of the States.” ² The Asylum on Ward’s Island was opened in 1868 by the Commissioners of Public Charities and Correction, becoming the third in New York State.  In New York and its Institutions, 1609-1871 (1872), Richmond chronicles its opening, “On the 21st of July 1868 the Asylum was formally opened to the public with appropriate services and on the 31st of December the resident physician reported 339 admissions. During 1869 1,490 were received and during 1870 1,270 more were admitted.” ³

While most patients were transferred from the Workhouse, there were also three classes of paying patients, with voluntary attendance of some. ³ However, the Commissioners and the Attending Physician of the Inebriate Asylum came to agree with prevailing expert opinion that stricter confinement was necessary. Richmond explains, “The rules of the Institution were at first exceedingly mild. The patients were relieved from all irksome restraints, paroles very liberally granted and every inmate supposed intent on reformation. But this excessive kindness was subject to such continual abuse that to save the Institution from utter demoralization a stricter discipline was very properly introduced.” ³

As forcible detention came to lose favor as a means of treating alcoholism, the Inebriate Asylum closed in 1875.  The building temporarily housed the overflow of patients from the Insane Asylum, also located on Ward’s Island, before becoming the Homeopathic Hospital the same year. 4 The Homeopathic Hospital was renamed Metropolitan Hospital in 1894 when it moved to Blackwell’s Island, marking the beginning of Metropolitan’s affiliation with New York Homeopathic Medical College (now New York Medical College). 5


1. Brown, EM. "What shall we do with the inebriate?" Asylum treatment and the disease concept of alcoholism in the late nineteenth century. J Hist Behav Sci. 1985 Jan;21(1):48-59.

2.Lees, FR. Textbook of Temperance. Rockland, ME: Z. P. Vose & Company; 1869. Accessed May 2, 2014. 

3. Richmond, JF. New York and Its Institutions, 1609-1871. New York, NY: E.B.Treat; 1872. Accessed May 3, 2014. 

4. Asylum Projects. Manhattan Psychiatric Center. Accessed May 12, 2014. 

5. Mills, WS. History of the First Twenty-five Years of the Ward's Island and Metropolitan Hospital 1875-1900. New York, NY: Rooney & Otten Print Company; 1900. Accessed May 13, 2014.