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Peter Bryce collection

Identifier: MSS-0226

Scope and Contents

The collection contains a small miscellany of materials including Bryce's appointment as medical officer of the ship "Yorkshire," clippings about Bryce, among them his obituary, and copy of his "Moral and Criminal Responsibility," 1888.


  • 1859-1888


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection. Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Due to the nature of certain archival formats, including digital and audio-visual materials, access to certain materials may require additional advance notice.

Biographical / Historical

Peter Bryce (1834-92) was a pioneering figure in the field of mental health. Practicing in the post–Civil War era, he championed more humane therapeutic treatments for the mentally ill. He held important offices in both state and national organizations relating to the health professions and was the first superintendent of the state mental hospital that now bears his name.

Bryce was born in Columbia, South Carolina, to Peter and Martha Smith Bryce. He graduated with distinction from The Citadel in 1855 and New York's Medical College (now New York University School of Medicine) in 1859. After graduating, Bryce traveled in Europe, where his developing interest in mental health was enhanced during visits to psychiatric hospitals. Upon his return, he worked at psychiatric hospitals in New Jersey and South Carolina.

In late 1859, Dorothea Dix, a teacher and nationally renowned advocate for the mentally ill, brought Bryce to the attention of the trustees of the Alabama Insane Hospital (AIH). Located in Tuscaloosa, the institution had been created by the state legislature in 1852 but remained under construction for most of the decade. Despite his youth, Bryce's training and southern roots were viewed favorably by the trustees, and in July 1860 they selected him to be the hospital's first superintendent. Bryce accepted and moved to Tuscaloosa soon after marrying Ellen Clarkson, also of Columbia. The childless couple would devote all of their attention to AIH for the next 30 years. As construction was completed, Bryce developed the institutional policies and procedures by which the hospital was governed.

The idea of "moral treatment" of the insane, discarding the use of shackles, jackets and other medical restraints was 70 years old but still virtually unknown in this country when the first patient was admitted by Bryce in 1861. The young physician enforced strict discipline among his attendants, requiring nothing short of absolute courtesy, kindness and respect toward the patients. This conscientious nursing bore fruit in the form of warm relationships and by 1882 a policy of absolute non-restraint could be initiated. Bryce set up programs of work - farming, sewing, maintenance - and of amusement for his patients; programs valuable both as therapy and as a means of making ends meet. The very survival of the hospital during its early years, when the state's interest and finances were directed to other needs, must be listed as one of the superintendent's greatest accomplishments.

Bryce created a mental institution recognized as one of the best managed in the country. An understatement, but nonetheless true, is Bryce's own assessment, written just before his death: "I feel that I have done my work, and hope, without self-praise, to be permitted to say I have done it well."


1.05 Linear Feet (5 items, 5 pieces; partially photocopies)

Language of Materials



A small miscellany of materials including Bryce's appointment as medical officer of ship "Yorkshire," clippings about Bryce, among them his obituary, and copy of his "Moral and Criminal Responsibility," 1888




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Processed by

unknown, 2008; updated by Martha Bace, 2012


Guide to the Peter Bryce collection
February 2008
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the The University of Alabama Libraries Special Collections Repository

Box 870266
Tuscaloosa AL 35487-0266