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Fountain House: The First Clubhouse (1948)

Fountain House, the first “Clubhouse,” opened in New York City in 1948. Fountain House was established as an intentional community for men and women who had histories of psychiatric illness. It was unique in the world of mental health in many important ways. Unlike other programs for men and women with mental illness, Fountain House was founded on the premise that Clubhouse “members” could work productively and have socially satisfying lives in spite of their mental illness.

For nearly thirty years, Fountain House was unique in its way of working, distinguishing itself from other mental health programs by its insistence that members and staff work together, side-by-side, as peers and partners, in every function of the Clubhouse operation. In contrast, the mental health establishment continued to base mental health programs on the medical model, which casts people into the role of patient and makes it difficult for them to view themselves as whole human beings who are more than simply “mentally ill.”

In its early days, Fountain House was considered to operate on the basis of the naïve, if not radical notion that people with mental illness could benefit from a program based on rehabilitation, community and mutually reciprocal relationships with staff.

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Beginning of Clubhouse Training; Expansion of Clubhouses (1977)

In 1977, Fountain House was awarded a multi-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to establish a national training program for the Clubhouse Model. The training has become a three-week immersion into the Clubhouse culture, with daily discussions to clarify Clubhouse practice. By 1987, there were 220 Clubhouses in the United States. In addition, Clubhouses had been developed in Canada, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Pakistan, Sweden and South Africa. During this time, it became clear that the Clubhouse model could be replicated anywhere, and that the culture of Clubhouse communities transcended national, ethnic, and cultural boundaries because it was based on universal human values.

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National Clubhouse Expansion Project  (1987)

The NIMH grant came to an end in 1987, with NIMH officials stating that, in terms of successful replication, this had been the most successful grant they had ever funded. At the end of the grant period, Fountain House became aware of several important issues for the future growth of the Clubhouse movement:

  • The growing movement needed standards of practice.
  • Three-week training was not sufficient. There was a need for on-site training and consultation once the Clubhouse was up and running.
  • More training bases were needed in order to cope with the growing demand for training worldwide.
  • Clubhouse transitional employment programs needed to be strengthened.
  • The Clubhouse model could be introduced into states that currently had no Clubhouses.

To meet these needs, Fountain House applied for and was awarded a major grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Public Welfare Foundation and the Pew Charitable trust provided additional support for this ambitious project, which became known as the National Clubhouse Expansion Project.

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Establishment of the Faculty for Clubhouse Development (1988)

Although the three-week Clubhouse training was enormously successful, it was clear that it simply was not enough. Groups would return from training, and have no way to assess their success at building a Clubhouse and no access to on-site assistance and consultation. As part of the National Clubhouse Expansion Program, the Faculty for Clubhouse Development was established to address this need. The Faculty was created by drawing both staff and members from strong Clubhouses, who would be charged with going out in member/staff teams to visit and consult with Clubhouses. This consultation process was greatly strengthened by the completion of a Self-Study, which the Clubhouse prepared prior to the arrival of the consulting team.

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Development of the International Standards for Clubhouse Programs (1989)

Rudyard Propst joined Fountain House in 1981 as Director of Training. “I had begun to accumulate experiences,” Rudyard later wrote, “that led to an overwhelming conviction that every strong Clubhouse is very much like every other strong Clubhouse and every weak Clubhouse is weak in predictable ways and for predictable reasons.” He continued, “I must admit that I had also grown tired of the standard Fountain House answer to the question ‘what is a Clubhouse?’ The standard answer of ‘Oh, it can’t really be described. You just have to experience it. It is all a matter of feeling. It is a way of life’ was true, but to the intent of the questioner, not helpful. By 1987, I was absolutely certain that we were creating Clubhouse communities with enough internal consistency to warrant codification into standards of practice.”

As a result of this conviction, Rudyard and the training unit at Fountain House set out to involve the entire Clubhouse movement in the creation of Clubhouse Standards. First, twelve very strong Clubhouses were asked to draft standards describing the essentials of a successful Clubhouse community. With these twelve drafts, a group of members and staff from Fountain House and several other strong Clubhouses met for a long weekend to merge, amend, and clarify the twelve drafts. By the end of that weekend, the group reached consensus on a set of draft standards.

At the Fifth International Seminar on the Clubhouse Model, held in St. Louis in 1989, the draft document was distributed to all 600 participants who had the opportunity to discuss and debate the proposed standards. Changes were made to the document based on these discussions, and the revised draft was then sent out to all of the Clubhouses in the directory for comment. Agreement about the proposed 35 standards was virtually universal, and the International Standards for Clubhouse Programs were promulgated at the end of 1989.

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Creation of Clubhouse International (1994)

The funding for the National Clubhouse Expansion Program came to an end in the fall of 1992. Every one of the goals of the Project had been successfully achieved. However, once again, the Fountain House training group had uncovered some critical new challenges:

  • A written report was not sufficient from the consultation visits. To be truly helpful, and to ensure that repeat visits could be made, a formal Accreditation status needed to accompany the consultation report.
  • The consultation process had to be broadened. It had only been available within the United States (as a result of funding restrictions), and now needed to be extended to the international community.
  • The Clubhouse community had grown to the point where it needed a separate, formal organization to act as a central resource for the rapidly growing worldwide Clubhouse community. Governance of this body had to be both diverse and international.

It was also clear that the work of the National Clubhouse Expansion Project must continue, and that some sort of international organization of Clubhouses was needed to pursue this work. At its annual meeting in August of 1993, the Faculty for Clubhouse Development appointed a Steering Committee comprised of members, staff, and Board members from the Clubhouse community to formulate how this new organization would be structured and what its responsibilities would be. In the spring of 1994, Clubhouses around the world received a document detailing the proposed structures and functions of the new International Center for Clubhouse Development (ICCD). The Steering Committee acted as the Nominating Committee for the first Board of Directors of ICCD. On June 2, 1994, the newly elected ICCD Board met for the first time and appointed Rudyard Propst as its first Executive Director. Funded by dues from member Clubhouses and support from the Public Welfare Foundation and the van Ameringen Foundation, ICCD sprang to life.

With the retirement of Rudyard Propst in 1997, Joel Corcoran (who had chaired the Steering Committee) became ICCD’s second Executive Director.

In January 2013, ICCD created a new "doing business as" name, Clubhouse International, to better communicate our vision and mission.

Today, Clubhouse International is a rapidly-growing organization, helping Accredited Clubhouses throughout the world help one another. Clubhouse consultation and Accreditation is fully international, and the Faculty for Clubhouse Development has been expanded to include members and staff from Clubhouses around the globe. All of the structures and working groups that had been outlined by the Steering Committee have been realized.

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