Religious Diversity | Quakers & Mental Health
Page from the admissions book of the Friends Asylum
Admission Records, 1817-1885. Friends Hospital records.
"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

The mental health of Quaker patients was thought to have been negatively affected by this mixing of different religions in public mental health institutions. 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 this foundational goal remained though the early 19th century, despite the many non-Quakers being treated there.

However, beginning in 1834, the Asylum made the decision to begin admitting patients who did not practice Quakerism. The graph below allows you to explore each year's non-Quaker admissions. This information comes from the Friends' Asylum collection's Casebooks, 1835-1894 records.

The similarities between some of the religions' names written in these casebooks reveal that the recordkeepers at the Asylum were not concerned with precision in regards to the non-Quaker religions. For example, some records note the admittance of Dunker patients and others state the admittance of German Baptist patients, though these two terms refer to the same religion. Additionally, some patients were recorded as Roman Catholics, while other patients were only recorded as Catholics. For both of these cases, the data has been combined under the German Baptist and broader Catholic term, 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). 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.

Religious Diversity

The majority of non-Quaker patients admitted between 1839 and 1856 were Episcopalian, Presbyterian, or Methodist, with 25, 21, and 19 patients respectively. However, these numbers pale in comparison to the Asylum’s admissions of Quaker patients. For example, in 1854, the year with the most non-Quaker admissions, there were 16 non-Quaker patients admitted. For the same year, 65 Quaker patients entered the Asylum. In 1852, there were 62 Quaker patients admitted and none of any other religion at all. This reflects the Asylum’s continuing commitment to serving members of the Society of Friends, as well as Pennsylvania’s proportionately high number of Quakers in relation to the rest of the country. The diversity of non-Quaker patients reflects the religious makeup of Philadelphia and the surrounding region: as a popular destination for immigrants and a city with a reputation for religious tolerance, Philadelphia attracted residents from a wide variety of religious backgrounds.1 Beginning in 1850, the Asylum saw a number of Catholic patients as well. It is not exactly clear what caused this influx of Catholic patients, but it could be due to the expansion of Catholic churches and services offered in Philadelphia during the 1840s and ‘50s.2 Overall, while the religious makeup of patients diversified significantly following the decision to admit non-Quakers, Friends Asylum remained a predominantly Quaker institution.

1. Alan Houston, “‘A Difference in Opinion Is Inevitable’: Franklin, Hemphill, and Modern Toleration.” Eighteenth-century studies 49, no. 3 (2016): 329–352.

2. “About – Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” accessed August 11, 2021,

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