Question of the Week
The first private psychiatric hospital in the country was founded by what group?
In 1813, members of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends established the Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason. They built the hospital on a 52-acre farm in the city’s Frankford section. When it first opened to patients on May 15, 1817, the hospital was the first private institution in America dedicated exclusively to the care of the mentally ill.
In addition to providing medical aid, the asylum’s constitution stated that the hospital would give “sympathetic attention and religious oversight” in order to “sooth [the patients’] agitated minds.” Listed among the early contributors were many prominent local Quakers such as Caleb Cresson, Robert Vaux, and Joseph Parrish. Dr. Charles Lukens served as the asylum’s first resident physician. It became known as the “Friends Asylum” or the “Friends Asylum for the Insane” and changed its name to Friends Hospital by 1916. The hospital still exists at its original location, but today is bordered by Roosevelt Boulevard and Tacony Creek Park. It serves more than 5,000 inpatients a year and continues the tradition of using Quaker values when caring for patients.
HSP’s library contains annual reports of the hospital dating from 1816 to 1984 (Call number Wh .54). In addition, we have significant manuscript collections form several prominent Quaker families, including the Vauxs (#684) and the Parrishes (#154). Members from these and other Quaker families were readily involved in early development of such institutions as the Pennsylvania Prison Society (#1946) and the Philadelphia public school system (#2088).
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.