Religious Diversity

“The indiscriminate mix, which must occur in large public establishments, of persons of opposite religious sentiments and practices … [is] calculated to fix, still deeper, the melancholy and misanthropic train of ideas.”

~Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason, 26




This mixing of different religions in public mental health institutions was thought to negatively affect the mental health of Quaker patients. Thus, the founders of Friends’ Asylum wanted a place “with the necessary medical assistance, and wholly under the care and notice of Friends, for the relief and accommodation of persons thus afflicted; including members and professors with us, of every description” (4). The original purpose of Friends’ Asylum was to treat only Quakers and, despite the many non-Quakers being treated there throughout the years, this goal did not appear to explicitly change in the early 19th century.

However, the Asylum did not exclusively serve Quaker patients. Beginning in 1834, the Asylum began admitting patients who belonged to other faiths. Explore each year's non-Quaker admissions with the graph below. This information comes from the Friends' Asylum collection's Casebooks, 1835-1894 records.

By the similarities between some religion names written in these casebooks, it seems as though recordkeepers at the Asylum were not necesarily concerned with precision when it came to recording religions. For example, some records note the admittance of Dunker patients, though this term in fact refers to the German Baptist religion, to which other patients are explicitly noted as belonging. Additionally, in some years, some patients are recorded as Roman Catholics, while in others they might simply be recorded as Catholics. In these two examples, the data have been combined under the German Baptist and broader Catholic terms, respectively. However, in other instances, similar terms might appear in the same year. One example of this is the year 1848, in which both "German Lutheran" and "Lutheran" appear. For cases like these, each religion's data have been left separate to preserve the original text of the Casebooks.


Jews at the Asylum

It is particularly interesting that Jews were admitted into the Asylum, as all other patients were Christians of some variety. In both 1897 and 1898 there were four Jews who were patients at the Asylum. In addition, many of the Jews migrated from Russia or Germany (Box 9 and 10). During this time Philadelphia “became home by 1905 to 100,000 Jews, two-thirds of them from Russia,” which could, in part, explain the increase of European Jews in the Asylum in the late 1800s (283). Unfortunately we do not know much about what their experiences were like because the Superintendent stopped keeping detailed records in 1894. Instead, the Daily Records used symbols to keep track of the patient’s activities and mental state. Based on the symbols, we do know that the Jews in the Asylum did not participate in religious activities within the asylum(1907-1909). This could mean that they primarily practiced religion privately or they simply were not able to observe any religion other than Quakerism in the Asylum. The differences in how each religion was treated in the Asylum were not as clear as the differences between the opportunities for and treatment of men and women.