Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Thomas Scattergood

1784 - 1814

Thomas Scattergood was a Quaker from Philadelphia who brought the concept of the ‘moral treatment’ of mentally ill patients to the US from The Retreat in York, England. He was instrumental in the foundation of Friends Hospital, the first mental hospital in the US to follow this model.

Scattergood was born in Burlington, New Jersey. His father died when he was six years old and his first wife died after only eight years of marriage, two things that may have contributed to the bouts of depression that he suffered all his life, and earned him the nickname of the Mournful Prophet. A tanner by trade, he ‘travelled in the ministry’ around the countryside of Pennsylvania, visiting local Quaker Meeting Houses.

In 1794, he travelled to England, where he stayed for six years. While there he ministered to Quaker Meetings and visited prisons, schools and orphanages, where his sympathy for those who were suffering was clear to see.

He became particularly interested in the revolutionary new mental hospital, The Retreat, in York, established in 1796 by fellow Quaker, William Tuke.  Unlike most contemporary treatment of the mentally ill, which was typically based on restraint and punishment, the model of treatment at The Retreat was based on care and compassion. Scattergood visited the Retreat in 1799, where he met thirty Quaker patients. “We sat in quiet, and I had vented a few tears, and was engaged in supplication,” he recorded in his diary.

Not long after this visit, Scattergood returned to Philadelphia. His original intention was to teach at the newly founded Quaker school in Westtown. However, a number of encounters with those suffering from acute depression and chronic alcoholism set him on a different path. In 1811, with his experience of the Retreat in mind, he wrote a proposal that Friends should establish an Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason (later Friends Hospital).

He made his appeal on the basis that, if in every person there is some part of the divine, then insanity, like slavery and poverty, is an obstacle to be removed on the path to enlightenment and, like slavery and poverty, curable.

By 1813, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting had appointed a committee to raise funds and organize the construction of the hospital. Among the committee members were Thomas Scattergood, Samuel Tuke (grandson of William) and Isaac Bonsall, who would be the hospital’s first superintendent.

The hospital’s original mission statement was 

to provide for the suitable accommodation of persons who are or may be deprived of the use of their reason, and the maintenance of an asylum for their reception, which is intended to furnish, besides requisite medical aid, such tender, sympathetic attention as may soothe their agitated minds, and under the Divine Blessing, facilitate their recovery.

Sadly, Scattergood did not live to see the results of his labours. He died in 1814 of typhoid fever, three years before the hospital admitted its first patients. His son, Joseph Scattergood, was appointed one of the original managers of the hospital.

Friends Hospital continues to this day as a pioneering centre for the treatment of the mentally ill.  In 2005, the Thomas Scattergood Foundation was set up as a Quaker body, which maintains 20% ownership of Friends Hospital.

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Further Reading and Credits

The Asylum - The History of Friends Hospital and the Quaker Contribution to Psychiatry, Carol Benenson Perloff , Friends Hospital (1994)