Mclean Hospital
historical photo of lab

History & Progress

For over 200 years, McLean Hospital has been at the forefront of patient care, research, training, and education.

For 200 years McLean has led the way in humane psychiatric care, scientific discovery, professional training and public education.

Today McLean is the flagship mental health hospital of Harvard Medical School and Partners HealthCare, Boston’s leading health care system.


The hospital was founded through a charter granted by the Massachusetts legislature. Many private donors earmarked their contributions for treating mental illness.


The Asylum opened, a division of Massachusetts General Hospital. It was the first hospital in New England and the fourth in the US designed for treating people with mental illness. In its first three months McLean admitted 13 patients.

The Asylum was located in a tranquil setting in an area of Charlestown that is now part of Somerville. The hospital building had been designed and adapted by Charles Bulfinch, the renowned architect.

Rufus Wyman, MD, McLean’s first superintendent, was inspired by humane treatment reforms in France and England.


The Asylum was renamed in honor of John McLean, a Boston merchant who in 1823 bequeathed the hospital $25,000, payable on his widow’s passing. After she died in 1834 the hospital received a gift totaling nearly $120,000, owing to a residual legacy of more than $90,000.


Luther V. Bell, MD, McLean superintendent, and 12 other asylum superintendents from the eastern US, founded the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane—now known as the American Psychiatric Association.


Trustees for the Asylum commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted, the now famous landscape architect, and Joseph Curtis, a local civil engineer, to choose a new location for the hospital. The Charlestown setting of the McLean Asylum had been compromised by development and railroads.


John Tyler, MD, McLean Superintendent, became the first Professor of Mental Disease at Harvard Medical School.


The Trustees purchased 107 acres in Belmont. Working with Edward Cowles, MD, McLean Superintendent, they rejected an institutional design. Instead they planned a series of “cottages” that resembled private residences surrounding a large administration building.


McLean opened the first psychiatric school of nursing.


McLean was the first psychiatric hospital in the US that established basic and clinical laboratories to study the role of biological factors in mental illness.


The McLean Asylum was renamed the McLean Hospital. Construction began at the Belmont site.


The new McLean Hospital in Belmont opened on October 1, exactly 77 years from the date of the original Asylum opened.

Until 1944, McLean was an almost self-sustaining community, operating a farm, an upholstery shop and a blacksmith shop. All food was produced on the McLean grounds, apart from fish and some meat and dairy products bought at Quincy Market, Boston.


On February 25, the 200th birthday of McLean Hospital was celebrated in a historic charter renewal ceremony held at the State House, and reaffirmed its mission to improve the lives of individuals with psychiatric illness.


McLean admitted more than 9,000 children and adults to inpatient and residential care. In addition, the hospital provided 58,000 day treatment and outpatient visits. Seven satellite programs across the state extend McLean’s presence and support through our communities.

McLean has been a setting in many books and films and a central subject of many history texts.