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drawing of Friends Asylum
J. Sartain, Friends’ Asylum for the Insane, near Frankford. Undated, Print. Collection 850, Quaker and Special Collections, Haverford College, Haverford, PA.

About The Project

The Quakers & Mental Health portal launched in the summer of 2015 as an interactive website to hold scholarship about the history of mental health in Philadelphia, in the 19th and 20 centuries, and in particular of Friends Hospital, the first private mental health institution in the United States. This multi-year project combines archival research and writing with digital scholarship to create and support scholarship on the history of mental health, to analyze data and create visualizations from that research. The Friends Hospital records, which are on loan to Haverford College Quaker & Special Collections, offer a wealth of information on Quakerism, the treatment of the mentally ill, and the development of American psychiatric hospitals in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Friends Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of their Reason was founded in 1813 by a group of Philadelphia Quakers who were concerned about the state of mentally ill Quakers. The Asylum was established upon the Quaker idea that there is that of God in every person, and that mental illness does not change that fact. Under the leadership of Isaac Bonsall as the first superintendent, and a group of other influential, soon-to-be Orthodox Quakers, the Asylum started accepting patients in 1817. The touchstones of life at the Asylum were community and religious life, and these were to become part of its unique take on moral treatment.

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