The Lebanon Hospital for the Insane, Asfuriyeh, was founded in 1898 by Dr Theophilus Waldmeir (1832-1915), a Swiss Quaker, to provide care for the mentally afflicted of the Lebanon, Syria and the Middle East.
On 17 April 1896, a public meeting was held at Dr Henry Jessup's house in Beirut, to announce the plan for founding 'the first Home for the insane in Bible Lands'. The campaign was launched, Waldmeier travelled to Europe and the USA to collect funds, and the Beirut Executive Committee was founded. The first meeting of the London General Committee (LGC) was held at the Bethlem Royal Asylum on 11 March 1897 and its Medical Superintendent, Dr Percy Smith, was elected as Chairman. The Asfuriyeh estate was purchased in April 1898, six miles from the centre of Beirut. The Hospital opened on 6 August 1900 with 10 patients. The Hospital's Constitution and Rules were formally drawn up in 1907. Under the Constitution, the Beirut Committee officially became the local executive committee in Beirut of the London General Committee, which retained overall authority over the Hospital.
In 1912 the property became a 'Wakf' , i.e. it was dedicated as a religious foundation under the code of law prevailing in the Lebanon, to be held by the Chairman of the London General Committee (who became the 'Trustee' or 'Mutawalli'). This set down the responsibilities of the 'Trustee' and his agents (in this case the Beirut Executive Committee) for managing the property. It was made a condition that the Hospital should be international and interdenominational.
The Lebanon Hospital for the Insane gradually expanded, and there was reportedly accommodation for 150 people by 1924; 350 by 1935; and 410 by 1936. By 1949, 14,000 patients had been treated since the opening of the Hospital. In 1938 the Hospital was renamed the Lebanon Hospital for Mental and Nervous Disorders.
In addition to clinical work, the Hospital contributed to training in the field of psychiatry. In 1922 it was affiliated with the American University of Beirut and became the Psychiatric Division of the University Hospital. In 1939 it was recognised by the Royal Medical/Psychological Association as a Training Centre for the Mental Nursing Certificate. In 1948, it opened a School of Psychiatric Nursing, the first of its kind in the Middle East, and which was subsequently used by the World Health Organisation for the training of specialised personnel. Treatment at the Hospital followed world-wide medical advances, and included Insulin Coma Therapy, Cardiazol Convulsion Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Electric Convulsion Therapy. Chemotherapy was introduced in 1952.
Between 1941 and 1946, a large part of the Hospital had to be handed over to the British Military Authorities, then in occupation of the Lebanon, to house their 43rd General Hospital. In the post-war climate, the Hospital's financial status never fully recovered, and by 1972 the Hospital was experiencing real financial difficulties. It was decided to sell the existing site and buildings and to re-build the Hospital on a more modern plan. A new site was chosen at Aramoun, near Beirut Airport. Asfuriyeh was sold in April 1973. The building programme was brought to a halt by the Lebanese Civil War (April 1975 - November 1976), and construction did not resume until summer 1977. The need for replacement materials and inflated prices meant that by the end of 1977, the Hospital was on the point of bankruptcy.
Despite appeals for funds, by early 1981 negotiations had commenced between the London General Committee and the Beirut Executive Committee to close the Hospital and to dispose of the property in accordance with the legal terms of the 'Wakf'. The Hospital at Asfuriyeh was officially closed on 10 April 1982. Aramoun continued to operate, although extensively damaged during the Civil War and occupied by the Israeli Army until 17 October 1982.
The LGC eventually resigned control of the Hospital itself to the Beirut Committee. However, in accordance with its continued responsibilities for trust funds established in the Hospital's name and held in the UK, it retained several of its members as London Trustees of the Lebanon Hospital for Nervous and Mental Disorders and established a scheme for the administration of these funds under charitable status. The Trustees continue to operate.
The Hospital's founder, Theophilus Waldmeier, was born in 1832 in Basle, Switzerland. He attended the missionary college of St Crischona, near Basle, and went to Abyssinia as a missionary in 1858. He left in 1868 and went to Syria, settling at Beirut in connection with the British Syrian Mission founded in 1860. In 1873, he started the Friends' Syrian Mission at Brummana, where he was superintendent, and founded Brummana High School. He relinquished his position in 1896 in order to promote his plan of providing a home for the insane. He travelled extensively to appeal for funds. Returning to Beirut in 1898, he purchased the site at Asfuriyeh. He became business superintendent at the Lebanon Hospital and retired in 1915, the year of his death. He published The Autobiography of Theophilus Waldmeier, Missionary, being an account of Ten Years' Life in Abyssinia and Sixteen Years in Syria(1886).