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Universitäre Psychiatrische Klinken Basel, “Friedmatt“

As in Zurich or Geneva, from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries Basel hospital included a ward for the mentally insane, which was known as the “almshouse.” As elsewhere, some mentally insane patients were also kept at the “Schellenwerk,” a local prison. In 1865, Basel University established a chair of psychiatry, to which the German psychiatrist Ludwig Wille (1834–1912) was appointed. Wille had been director of Münsterlingen asylum in 1864, as well as established asylums in Rheinau (1867) and St Urban (1973), which were all located in former monasteries. Friedmatt asylum was opened in 1886, where Wille served as director and forensic psychiatrist until 1904. Friedmatt consisted of pavillons providing accommodation for first-, second-, and third-class patients; first-class patients were offered drawing and music classes. While Wille was serving as director, a strong anti-psychiatric movement emerged around 1900: relatives complained about the restrictive visiting hours, citizens feared the non-observance of civil rights owing to arbitrary commitments to psychiatric wards; former patients published reports on lacking hygiene, substandard food, and violent nursing staff. Such fierce criticism was met with gradual reforms. Friedmatt asylum was expanded, staff received proper training, working hours were shortened, and outpatient status was permitted. Under Prof. Dr. John Staehelin (1891–1969), who was appointed director in 1929 and had received his training, among others, at the Burghölzli in Zurich, patient working opportunities were further diversified. An “arts and craft studio” was established (Staehelin 1933, Fig. 47) and the scientific laboratories expanded. Medical “cures” now became an important part of psychiatric treatment. The clinic archives contain a remarkable collection of several hundred pictures by patients since the 1960s. Presumably, the patient records held in the historical archive (covering the period 1886–1930) also include drawings. The archive was not accessible.


Staehelin, John, Die Erfahrungen der verkürzten Arbeitszeit beim Pflegepersonal der Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Friedmatt Basel, in: Personal- und Anstaltsfragen. Beiträge zur Kranken- und Irrenpflege, Heft 4, Bern, Berlin 1930

Staehelin, John, Kantonale Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Friedmatt, Basel, Eckhardt & Pesch, Zürich, 1933

Haenel, Thomas, Wille, Ludwig, im Historischen Lexikon der Schweiz

Tölle, Rainer, Ludwig Wille, Kliniker und Reformpsychiater, in: Schweizerisches Archiv für Neurologie und Psychiatrie, Vol. 156 (2005), pp. 29–34