Although Friends’ Asylum prioritized work over leisure during its first fifteen years, the institution did not shun recreation entirely. From the beginning, patients at the Asylum were in the habit of strolling a serpentine walk that wound through the grounds, going out on carriage rides with the superintendent, or playing ball. However, Friends’ Asylum began investing in patient recreation much more heavily in the 1830s, and many more leisure activities were available by the end of the decade. The appearance of other mental hospitals more successful in treating mental illness drove this push for amusements. When opened in 1817, Friends’ Asylum was one of only two institutions in the United States devoted exclusively to mentally ill people. By 1833, however, a number of other asylums had been founded, and many of them cured a far greater proportion of patients than Friends’ Asylum did (Spurzheim 151). The Asylum’s managers felt that their institution had not done all it could for its patients, and the board sought to reproduce the success of their peers by emulating those asylums’ focus on medical treatment and patient amusement (Third Month 1833). The board went so far as to write to several other asylums asking for advice on amusement and employment, and instituted many of the suggestions they received (Seventh Month 1835).
Outdoor diversions provided the same mental and physical benefits as work and received less resistance from patients, though they did not integrate the Asylum’s charges into a family structure in the same way employment did. Patients still walked about the Asylum’s grounds and took rides in the carriage, now driven by a coachman hired specifically for their excursions. They also played with lambs, rabbits, and poultry in their exercise yards, made use of a swing, and took part in quoits (a game similar to horseshoes). The physicians sometimes took patients fishing, and occasionally a manager would invite patients to his house for tea. If the weather was not suitable for going out of doors, patients stayed in their dayrooms and amused themselves by drawing, painting, or reading educational magazines. No matter the weather, convalescent patients went to the library to read books and examine specimens of natural history.
Friends’ Asylum also began encouraging its patients to engage in intellectual pursuits. By producing paintings or drawings, paying attention to lectures on chemistry, reading books of history, or practicing handwriting and arithmetic, patients demonstrated their ability to follow genteel social norms. In the eyes of physicians and managers, these activities helped patients recover by engaging them not with just any part of the world but with the rationality of nature as communicated through science or art.
Friends’ Asylum continued to introduce further leisure activities throughout the remainder of the century. The 1860s saw an interest in games such as cricket, croquet, and (European) football. The asylum constructed a gymnasium and lecture hall in 1871, and a greenhouse in 1880. Because Quakers saw dances and stage-plays as frivolous and immoral, Friends’ Asylum does not appear to have offered these diversions, though they were common at other asylums (Reiss 7, 97).