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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.

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Courtesy of Freeman's
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History
For Sale: More Than 150 Items of Victorian Mourning Art, Clothing, and Jewelry
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Courtesy of Freeman's

Funeral fashion hasn't always been reserved for memorial services, judging from a massive memento mori auction that's being billed as perhaps the largest collection of mourning art ever offered for sale. Spotted by Atlas Obscura and sponsored by Philadelphia-based Freeman’s auction house, the online sale—which kicks off on Wednesday, November 15—features more than 150 works from a renowned private collection, ranging from clothing and jewelry to artworks.

During the Victorian era, people paid tribute to their loved ones by wearing black mourning garb and symbolic accessories. (The latter often featured jet or real locks of hair, according to a 2008 article published in the academic journal Omega.) They also commissioned death-themed artworks and objects, including paintings, as exhibited by Angus Trumble's 2007 book Love & Death: Art in the Age of Queen Victoria.

These items have long since fallen out of fashion, but some historic preservationists amassed their own macabre private collections. Anita Schorsch, who’s arguably the most famous collector of memento mori, used her historic treasures to launch the Museum of Mourning Art back in 1990. Located in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, the museum is—as its name suggests—the only institution in the nation devoted exclusively to mourning art. The museum has been closed since Schorsch's death in 2015, and the items featured in Freeman's auction are from her collection.

Check out some of its memento mori below, or view the online catalogue here.

Hairwork choker, 19th century-mori, from the Collection of Irvin and Anita Schorsch
Hairwork choker, 19th century-mori, from the Collection of Irvin and Anita Schorsch
Courtesy OF Freeman's


Hairwork shroud pin, 19th century, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

Gold, enamel and pearl "Stuart crystal" mourning slide, made in late 17th century England and part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Gold, enamel and pearl "Stuart crystal" mourning slide, made in late 17th century England and part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

Group of 19th century ladies and gentleman's mourning costumes, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Group of 19th century ladies and gentleman's mourning costumes, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's


18th century iron and brass cemetery padlock from London, England, part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Christie's Images Ltd. 2017
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History
Abraham Lincoln Letter About Slavery Could Fetch $700,000 at Auction
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Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, in which future president Abraham Lincoln spent seven debates discussing the issue of slavery with incumbent U.S. senator Stephen Douglas, paved the way for Lincoln’s eventual ascent to the presidency. Now part of that history can be yours, as the AP reports.

A signed letter from Lincoln to his friend Henry Asbury dated July 31, 1858 explores the “Freeport Question” he would later pose to Douglas during the debates, forcing the senator to publicly choose between two contrasting views related to slavery’s expansion in U.S. territories: whether it should be up to the people or the courts to decide where slavery was legal. (Douglas supported the popular choice argument, but that position was directly counter to the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision.)

The first page of a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Henry Asbury
Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

In the letter, Lincoln was responding to advice Asbury had sent him on preparing for his next debate with Douglas. Asbury essentially framed the Freeport Question for the politician. In his reply, Lincoln wrote that it was a great question, but would be difficult to get Douglas to answer:

"You shall have hard work to get him directly to the point whether a territorial Legislature has or has not the power to exclude slavery. But if you succeed in bringing him to it, though he will be compelled to say it possesses no such power; he will instantly take ground that slavery can not actually exist in the territories, unless the people desire it, and so give it protective territorial legislation."

Asbury's influence didn't end with the debates. A founder of Illinois's Republican Party, he was the first to suggest that Lincoln should run for president in 1860, and secured him the support of the local party.

The letter, valued at $500,000 to $700,000, is up for sale as part of a books and manuscripts auction that Christie’s will hold on December 5.

[h/t Associated Press]

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