This graph illustrates the frequency of admissions per month in the 19th century, with darker red indicating more patients. There was an influx of patients in the 1830s, likely due to the Asylum’s decision to admit non-Quakers. Prior to 1834, the Asylum had allowed only Quakers, limiting the pool of potential patients.1 After remaining at a fairly steady level for the next few decades, admissions suddenly dropped off in the 1860s and ‘70s. During this period, Friends Asylum faced severe overcrowding leading to pauses on admissions, which accounts for the drops in admitted patients.2 There were several reasons for this overcrowding: the Asylum had been designed to produce high cure rates, and when chronic and incurable patients required longer stays, the Asylum’s capacity was pushed to the brink.3 Additionally, the prevalence of mental illness increased nationwide following the Civil War, likely due to the enormous emotional tolls incurred by wartime violence and its accompanying social and financial difficulties.4 Friends Asylum was not alone in dealing with these issues; overcrowding and underfunding affected asylums across America in the years after the Civil War, and many institutions had to drastically reshape their entire structure and operation to attempt to accommodate the new patients. Thankfully, Friends Asylum was able to successfully raise funds for additional patient wards, and did not have to lower standards of care as many other asylums did.5 Following the construction of these wards, admissions returned to prewar levels in the 1880s.
1. Annual Reports, 1836 Box 1, Friends Hospital Records, Quaker and Special Collections, Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania.
2. Minutes of the Board of Managers, Sixth Month 1871, Item 5, Friends Hospital Records, Quaker and Special Collections, Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania.
3. Mab Segrest, Administrations of Lunacy:Racism and the Haunting of American Psychiatry at the Milledgeville Asylum, (New York: The New Press, 2020), 145.
4. Segrest, Administrations of Lunacy, 165.
5. Superintendent Daybook Volume 9, (1867-1875), Friends Hospital Records, Quaker and Special Collections, Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania.