“We often fail to recognize that Quakers were tremendous innovators in behavioral health,” reflects Joe Pyle, president of the Thomas Scattergood Foundation—named after the 19th-century founder of Friends Hospital in Philadelphia.
We spoke with Joe (and Mary Crauderueff, who curates the hospital’s archives at Haverford College) about how the Quaker belief in treating everyone with equal dignity and respect transformed mental healthcare, and the role it can continue to play as we all process the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Friends Hospital, check out the Haverford Library’s portal, “Quakers and Mental Health.”
Learn more about the Scattergood Foundation here.
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Mary: When Friends Hospital was founded, in the United States there was still this idea that people that had mental health issues and crises really had something wrong with them and that they did not deserve to be treated equally. And so Friends Hospital was founded and really brought to light the idea that all of the patients are human and in terms of that historical significance, that really helped to shape other institutions around it and so it not only influenced just itself and the Quakers around Frankford, but really impacted the mental health field in the 19th-century.
The Influence of Quakers in Mental Healthcare
Joe: You know, the question is often asked, “How did Friends Hospital get its start?” and there was a group of convinced Quakers that believed in the early 1800s that the way folks with mental illness and substance use disorders, as they’re known today, were not being treated with that of God in every man.
Mary: Thomas Scattergood had traveled to England and had visited York Retreat, which was a mental health facility there– and he suffered from depression and mental health issues himself– and he thought that they should found something similar to that in the Americas.
Joe: So he came back and met with folks from the yearly meeting and in 1813, Friends Hospital, which was then Friends Asylum, was founded.
Mary: It was groundbreaking in its time for treating people humanely, coming out of those Quaker values of equality, believing that there’s that of God in everyone, and so we need to treat each other with respect, including people that may be suffering through mental health crises.
Quakers as Innovators
Joe: When we talk about behavioral health, I think we often fail to recognize that Quakers were tremendous innovators in behavioral health.
Mary: Some of the ways that they used Quaker values in their treatment is kind of the really big holistic look of the institution. From literally the ground that it’s on having a lot of land and the building itself, every patient had their own room and every room had windows and had light coming in. And this is something that we see stylistically, of feeling that renewal can come from that connection with light and air. There was actually a committee on light and air.
Joe: We also — I think because of the deep commitment that Quakers have to that unique spark in all of us and the interest in human dignity, there were a lot of other firsts that occurred at Friends Hospital. So you see pet therapy in its earliest forms at Friends Hospital. And then there were a number of greenhouses built in the campus, so you see horticulture therapy. Friends also had the first female physician at Friends Hospital. They also built on the grounds a large gym which became the precursor to recreational therapy. So, you know, a lot of firsts, a lot of innovation that came out of the Friends Hospital and the early Quaker community that was committed to improving mental healthcare.
The Creation of the Scattergood Foundation
So back in 2005, Friends Hospital had spent a number of years struggling economically and it formed a partnership with a for-profit entity to operate the 192 beds that are on the 100-acre campus in North-East Philadelphia, and as a result of that partnership the proceeds from forming that partnership had to be placed in a foundation that would continue to serve the greater community.
Mary: The Scattergood Foundation has provided support for work to happen to uplift stories and the history of Friends Hospital because their records are stored at Haverford College, and we now have a portal that’s called “Quakers and Mental Health.” And we’ve been building on it for the past five years and continue to do so into the future, where we really highlight the stories of not just the founders, not just the physicians, but also the patients themselves, as much as we can– trying to find the threads that there’s less information from, from the patients themselves, but to really bring humanity into the stories from the daily reports that we have, the minutes of the board, and materials like that.
Mental Health and COVID-19
Joe: You know, we live in these amazing times right now with the COVID virus affecting and impacting all of us, and I think that it’s important to recognize that anxiety and depression is increasing in significant numbers within the population as a result of the virus. And I think it’s important that as we move through the pandemic and hopefully get on the other side of it that mental health and emotional well-being is going to be a critical part of the recovery of this country, and I think for a long time we failed to put mental health at the top of what our focus should be and I think that if we do want to recover as a nation– if we want to be healthy– I think we’re going to need to really be more focused on the delivery of mental health services, from prevention through illness, and I think we’re going to have to find ways to have meaningful conversation about that and decrease the stigma. So, I just think it’s important to recognize in these times that the stressors of pandemic have an impact on all of us and we shouldn’t be afraid to seek help and to talk about it.
- 1) Joe cites Quakers as “tremendous innovators in behavioral health.” What are some ways that Quaker values lend themselves to being innovative in fields such as behavioral health? Is this true across the board? Why or why not?
- 2) How are you addressing your mental health needs? How are you addressing the mental health needs of those in your community? Has COVID-19 changed anything about your needs?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.
2 thoughts on “The Influence of Quakers in Mental Healthcare”
Can you recommend a therapist in the pittsfield ma area ?
Thanks for this important report! It brought to mind the enormous influence Quakers had on the major reforms in mental healthcare that occurred after WW II when those who had worked in mental hospitals across the nation as part of Civilian Public Service were discharged. They were shocked and horrified by the conditions they encountered in public institutions and published reports on their experiences that brought these conditions to light. They created an earthquake in the field, so to speak. I know this has been the subject of various articles and books on the subject. My father was one of those Quaker CPSers. In going through some of his papers recently, I found a copy of the manuscript he and others were preparing on the subject.
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