Mental Health


This packet contains materials related to mental health from the 1800 to present, focusing on Friends Hospital and changes in mental health care of the early 1800s. These materials can support classes and research in public health, health studies, psychology, and history. Potential pedagogical goals from using these materials might include evaluating the changing role of mental health over time, examining whose voices are represented and whose are not, and exploring, analyzing, and putting materials in conversation.

The majority of the materials in this packet originate from Friends Hospital, which was founded in 1813 by a group of Quakers in Philadelphia who were concerned about the care of mentally ill Quakers. It was established on the Quaker idea that there is that of  God in everyone, and that mental illness does not change that. The touchstones of life at Friends Hospital were community and religious life, and these were to become part of its unique take on moral treatment.  The Hospital still exists today.

The materials listed here are only a small number of those related to Friends Hospital and mental health in the collections. More can be found at our research guide on the topic or by contacting Quaker & Special Collections.

Packet contents:

  • List of primary sources
  • Guiding questions for engaging with the primary sources
  • Materials which provide background on this topic
    • Cherry, Charles L. A Quiet Haven: Quakers, Moral Treatment, and Asylum Reform. Cranbury: Associated University Presses, 1989.
    • Godlee, Fiona. “Aspects of Non-Conformity: Quakers and the Lunatic Fringe.” In The Anatomy of Madness Volume II, edited by W.F. Bynum, Roy Porter, and Michael Shepherd, 73-82. London: Tavistock Publications, 1985.
    • Quakers and Mental Health portal

Primary Sources

Committee on an Asylum for the Insane Poor of Pennsylvania. An appeal to the people of Pennsylvania on the subject of an asylum for the insane poor of the Commonwealth. Philadelphia: Printed for the Committee, 1838.
[Digitized materials]

Elizabeth Shoemaker Taylor. Diary. Taylor Family papers. HC-MC-962
This collection contains the diary of Elizabeth R. Shoemaker Taylor who gives an account of Morgan Hinchman’s commitment to Friends’ Asylum in 1847, which resulted in a lawsuit against his family.
[Digitized materials]

Building Committee. Minutes. Friends Hospital records. HC-MC-1261 
The The Building Committee planned and supervised the construction of Friends Hospital. This volume of minutes holds information about the decisions the Committee came to concerning issues like paint color, windows, door locks, etc. They put a lot of thought into their architectural decisions because, according to the tenets of moral treatment, architecture influenced patients’ recovery.
[Digitized materials]

Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason. Annual report. 1819.
[Digitized version]

Kirkbride, Thomas Story. On the construction, organization, and general arrangements of hospitals for the insane.  Philadelphia : Lindsay & Blakiston, 1854
[Digitized version via Hathi Trust]

Guiding Questions

  • Who created these items? For what purpose?
  • How does these items contribute to your understanding of this subject?
  • In what ways do these items contribute or not contribute to destigmatizing mental health treatment?
  • What do you find interesting about these items?What additional contextual information would you need to understand these documents? Where might you might find this information, and why might you choose a particular source over another?