America’s First Private Mental Hospital Is Still Open Today

Two centuries ago, people with mental illnesses were viewed as socially deviant and even possessed. Often incarcerated, homeless, or otherwise cast out, there was little sympathy—let alone medical treatment—for people suffering from depression, mood disorders, or other psychiatric conditions.

But in Pennsylvania, people dealing with mental illness could find help at the Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason, or the Friends Hospital, which opened its doors May 15, 1817. Although the name of America’s first private mental hospital wasn’t exactly sensitive (at least by today’s standards), the “friends” part was real—it was a reference to the Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends.

Quakers had a different perspective on people with mental illness. The Quaker religion recognizes what they call the Inner Light—a divine spirit that they believe inhabits every person, sick or well. As a result, people are seen as deserving of dignity no matter what their mental health condition. After all, Quakers themselves knew what it was like to be treated as outcasts: After fleeing England for the sake of religious freedom, they faced persecution from Puritan colonists who saw them as threats to the social order. Only after William Penn founded his own colony—Pennsylvania—in 1681 did Quakers find a place of their own.

But mental illness affected the tight-knit Quaker community in both America and England. In the 1790s, a young Quaker woman named Hannah Mills was placed in a York, England lunatic asylum and died soon after. Appalled by her treatment, her fellow Quakers decided to set up an asylum of their own in York, one that was run on Quaker principles and that would treat people with mental illnesses “as much in the manner of a rational being as the state of his mind will possibly allow," according to an early history of the asylum.

The York Retreat, as it was called, was an inspiration to an American Quaker minister named Thomas Scattergood, who was no stranger to depression. He decided to call for a similar institution in Philadelphia, and in 1813, local Quakers organized the Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason.

Philadelphia already had a lunatic asylum—the country’s first hospital, which cared for the physically sick as well as those suffering from mental illness. But the Pennsylvania Hospital was crowded, and even though it was a pioneer of psychiatric treatment in that it saw mental illness as a disease, mental patients were often treated as curiosities. Visitors could pay money for a glimpse of the “lunaticks” inside, turning both their suffering and their treatment into entertainment.

The new asylum was different. Instead of putting patients on display or dishing out corporal punishment, it offered what Quakers called “moral treatment.” Patients lived in bright, airy rooms and the windows’ iron bars were disguised as wood. Caretakers treated patients as calmly and respectfully as possible and practiced early forms of talk and occupational therapy. Patients helped run the farm and participated in leisure activities. The hospital’s mission statement focused on both body and mind, pledging to provide patients the “requisite medical aid, [and] such tender, sympathetic attention as may soothe their agitated minds, and under the Divine Blessing, facilitate their recovery.”

Its philosophies were ahead of its time, but the hospital’s practices also reflected the medical beliefs of its era. Freezing shower baths, “blisters” designed to swell the skin and distract patients, and bleeding—common treatments for physical ailments among patients without mental illness—were used at the hospital, too [PDF]. But by treating its patients as humans, not inmates, the hospital set a new standard for psychiatric care.

As the years passed, the hospital began to admit non-Quaker patients and even incorporated pet therapy and a gym. Today, the hospital treats adolescents, adults, and seniors and includes a long-term residential program designed to give patients access to permanent housing and psychiatric resources without confining them to the hospital.

The hospital now admits over 5000 patients per year. It’s dropped its old-fashioned name, but it’s still run by Quakers, and the stately Scattergood Hall—a National Historic Landmark—is the first thing new patients see as they’re welcomed to the hospital. The hospital’s 1813 mission statement is still in effect, too. The definition of “tender, sympathetic attention” for people with mental illness may have shifted, but the purpose of America’s first private mental hospital has not.

A Letter Written by Albert Einstein in 1922 Predicted the Rise of the Nazis

Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As a Jew living in Germany in the 1920s, Albert Einstein had an up-close view of the Nazis’ rise to power. As early as 1922, he could see turbulent political times ahead, as a letter to his sister reveals. The handwritten, signed letter recently sold at auction for $39,360, Live Science reports.

The letter, offered by the Jerusalem-based Kedem Auction House, is addressed to Einstein’s younger sister Maja. Einstein wrote it from an undisclosed location—probably Kiel, Germany, according to the auction house—after he fled Berlin in 1922 in the wake of the assassination of Germany’s Jewish foreign minister, Walther Rathenau, by a right-wing terrorist group. Police had warned Einstein that as a prominent Jew his life could be in danger, too. “Nobody knows where I am, and I'm believed to be missing,” he writes in the letter.

He remained upbeat while at the same time acknowledging the seriousness of the political situation that he and other German Jews were facing. “I am doing quite well, in spite of all the anti-Semites among my German colleagues,” he assured Maja. "Here are brewing economically and politically dark times, so I'm happy to be able to get away from everything for half a year,” he wrote, alluding to his upcoming six-month trip to Asia, during which he would learn that he had won the Nobel Prize. He was right—Adolf Hitler's failed coup in Bavaria would take place the next year, in November 1923.

Einstein goes on to say “Don't worry about me, I myself don't worry either, even if it's not quite kosher; people are very upset. In Italy, it seems to be at least as bad, by the way."

After his Asian tour, he returned to Germany before setting out on new travels, including a tour of the United States. He was in the U.S. when Adolf Hitler became Germany’s chancellor, and decided to renounce his German citizenship. He eventually settled in Princeton, New Jersey.

See the full details of the letter at the Kedem Auction House’s website.

[h/t Live Science]

No Joe: The Time Coffee Was Banned in Prussia

iStock.com/NickS
iStock.com/NickS

In the late 18th century, Prussia's King Frederick the Great (officially Frederick II) blacklisted coffee and encouraged his royal subjects to drink something far more wholesome—beer. According to William Harrison Ukers's classic 1922 book All About Coffee, Frederick issued this decree on September 13, 1777:

"It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects, and the amount of money that goes out of the country in consequence. Everybody is using coffee. If possible, this must be prevented. My people must drink beer. His Majesty was brought up on beer, and so were his ancestors, and his officers. Many battles have been fought and won by soldiers nourished on beer; and the King does not believe that coffee-drinking soldiers can be depended upon to endure hardship or to beat his enemies in case of the occurrence of another war."

Though the authenticity of the above quotation cannot be confirmed, it certainly jibes with King Freddie's other opinions on the matter, according to Robert Liberles, a scholar of German-Jewish history. In a 1779 letter, Frederick wrote, "It is despicable to see how extensive the consumption of coffee is … if this is limited a bit, people will have to get used to beer again … His Royal Majesty was raised eating beer-soup, so these people can also be brought up nurtured with beer-soup. This is much healthier than coffee."

So Old Fritz, as he was called, loved beer. But why was he so opposed to coffee?

For one, Frederick was terrified that excessive imports could ruin his kingdom's economy, and he much preferred to restrict commerce than engage in trade. Since coffee, unlike beer, was brought in from across the border, Frederick regularly griped that "at least 700,000 thaler leave the country annually just for coffee"—money, he believed, that could be funneled into well-taxed Prussian businesses instead.

In other words, into Fritz's own pockets.

To redirect the people's spending patterns, Frederick ordered a number of steep restrictions, demanding that coffee roasters obtain a license from the government. This sounds like a reasonable regulation until you learn that Frederick summarily rejected nearly all of the applications, granting exceptions only to people who were already cozy with his court.

If that sounds elitist, it was. Frederick was adamant about keeping coffee out of the hands and mouths of poor people, writing, "this foreign product [has] extended into the lowest classes of human society and caused great contraband activities." To stop them, he hired approximately 400 disabled soldiers to work as coffee spies, or "sniffers," to roam city streets "following the smell of roasting coffee whenever detected, in order to seek out those who might be found without roasting permits," Ukers writes.

But none of these tactics worked. Rather, they just increased coffee smuggling and exacerbated the "contraband activities" that Frederick claimed he was trying to prevent in the first place. So shortly after the king died in 1786, many of these restrictions were lifted, proving yet again that it's always a mistake to get between someone and their java.

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