Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

Asylum on the Hill
History of a Healing Landscape

By Katherine Ziff
Foreword by Samuel T. Gladding
Afterword by Joseph Shields and Shawna Bolin

Asylum on the Hill
History of a Healing Landscape

By Katherine Ziff
Foreword by Samuel T. Gladding
Afterword by Joseph Shields and Shawna Bolin

2013 Ohioana Book Award Finalist

“Anyone who peruses Ziff’s work will not have an easy time putting it down. This book is more than a history of a time, a place, a movement, and a people. It is instead a sensitive and centered examination.… Her portraits of people who influenced the asylum are wonderfully rendered … alive and moving.”

Samuel T. Gladding, Wake Forest University

“This well-written, accurately researched historical work tells the story of the Athens Lunatic Asylum…. This is a work that brings the reader inside the life and times of patient care in Ohio. Asylum on the Hill is highly readable, enlightening, and for those who currently work in the field of psychiatry, the story is familiar and somewhat poignant…. Highly recommended.”


“People interested in the history of Ohio University’s Ridges property—and there are many such in this area—may think they’ve struck a gold mine if they open a new book issued by the OU Press.”

The Athens News

Asylum on the Hill provides a valuable contribution to nineteenth-century American history and to the history of medicine.”

Indiana Magazine of History

Asylum on the Hill is the story of a great American experiment in psychiatry, a revolution in care for those with mental illness, as seen through the example of the Athens Lunatic Asylum. Built in southeast Ohio after the Civil War, the asylum embodied the nineteenth-century “gold standard” specifications of moral treatment. Stories of patients and their families, politicians, caregivers, and community illustrate how a village in the coalfields of the Hocking River valley responded to a national movement to provide compassionate care based on a curative landscape, exposure to the arts, outdoor exercise, useful occupation, and personal attention from a physician.

Katherine Ziff’s compelling presentation of America’s nineteenth-century asylum movement shows how the Athens Lunatic Asylum accommodated political, economic, community, family, and individual needs and left an architectural legacy that has been uniquely renovated and repurposed. Incorporating rare photos, letters, maps, and records, Asylum on the Hill is a fascinating glimpse into psychiatric history.

Katherine Ziff is a mental health clinician, an exhibiting artist, and an adjunct professor in the counseling program at Ohio University. She has published in places such as the Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, the Journal for Specialists in Group Work, and History of Psychiatry. Ziff conducts workshops for counselors and educators, teaching the methods from her second book, ArtBreak.More info →


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To request instructor exam/desk copies, email Jeff Kallet at

To request media review copies, email Laura Andre at

Permission to reprint
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Retail price: $20.00, T.
Release date: July 2018
103 illus. · 242 pages · 7 × 10 in.
Rights:  World

Retail price: $35.00, T.
Release date: February 2012
204 pages · 7 × 10 in.
Rights:  World

Release date: February 2012
204 pages
Rights:  World

Additional Praise for Asylum on the Hill

“By telling the story of one institution, Ziff places in context the larger picture of how professionals and the lay public thought about and cared for less fortunate individuals. Readers with diverse interests such as the history of psychiatry, medico-sociological analysis, and mid-to-late nineteenth century politics will enjoy this book.”


“Katherine Ziff’s fascinating Asylum on the Hill concentrates on the first 20 years of the institution, from 1874 to 1893, when it was a cutting-edge example of progressive care for the mentally ill.… Ziff’s detailed research into patient records and letters yields tantalizing glimpses into the lives of those taken into the asylum, as well as those of staff members.… The volume is amply illustrated with period photographs, reproductions of letters, maps, tables and postcards.”

The Columbus Dispatch

“Ziff’s narrative—skillfully interwoven with period photos and excerpts from letters and reports—keeps the reader firmly rooted in the benevolent mindset of the time. While also covering negative aspects such as endemic political patronage and eventual overcrowding, it is, nevertheless, a lovely glimpse at a kinder and gentler time in Ohio’s treatment of its mentally ill.”

Thomas Walker, Ohio Today

Asylum on the Hill is a fascinating and poignant history of one hospital, its patients and staff. Accompanied by rare, never released photos and records, Ziff’s easy narrative weaves the personal accounts of daily life with the broader context of post-Civil War America. What’s truly remarkable about Ziff’s book is that it tells a parallel story of our nation’s history and the forces that shaped not only the asylums but also the many other fundamental public institutions that survive today. A highly engaging work that makes the past come alive.”

Christopher Payne, author of Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals

“This is a study of the efforts, trials, and successes of the first twenty years of the Athens Lunatic Asylum under the rubric of the concept of moral treatment. Ziff’s work is the first of its kind in looking at the earliest decades of this rural and cutting-edge asylum and she does a wonderful job of presenting the story in the broad context of the state of asylums in America as well as the specific context of this asylum in Athens, Ohio.”

Douglas McCabe, curator of manuscripts, Ohio University

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