Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

William Tuke

1732 – 1822

William Tuke was born in York on 24 March 1732, into a leading Quaker family. He entered the family tea and coffee merchant business at an early age. Alongside his commercial responsibilities, he was able to devote much time to the pursuit of philanthropy.

When a Quaker died in the squalid and inhumane conditions of the York Asylum, Tuke was invited to visit and was appalled by what he saw there. In the spring of 1792, he appealed to the Society of Friends (as the Quakers were also known) to revolutionise the treatment of the insane. He collected sufficient funds to open the York Retreat for the care of the insane in 1796. This was the first of its kind in England, and pioneered new, more humane methods of treatment for the mentally ill. These included removing inmates' chains, housing them in a pleasant environment, with decent food and adopting a programme involving the therapeutic use of occupational tasks. Tuke's work was contemporary with similar groundbreaking work in France by Philippe Pinel, although the two acted independently of each other.

William Tuke’s model of care was known as Moral Treatment. In keeping with Quaker testimonies to equality, the mentally ill were accorded the status of equal human beings, to be treated with gentleness, humanity and respect. This was quite revolutionary at the time, and The Retreat also gave priority to the value of personal relationships as a healing influence, to the importance of useful occupation, and to the quality of the physical environment.

The philosophy of the Retreat, which continues as a mental hospital today, played a large part in the move towards more humane care in the first half of the nineteenth century and the development of the therapeutic community concept that has wide implications for the treatment of mental health and delinquency into the twenty first century.

William Tuke died in 1822. At least four members of his family also pursued related philanthropic work. His son Henry (1755 - 1814) was a co-founder of the York Retreat. Henry's son Samuel (1784 - 1857) carried on with his own interest in the condition of the insane. He wrote an account in 1813 of the York Retreat, 'Description of the Retreat', containing a report on the principles of 'moral therapy', which were considered to be the basis of the therapeutic environment there. Written at the request of his father, the work focused on the abuses common in the 'madhouses' of the time, and gave direction to the urgent need for reform.

Samuel's son James Hack Tuke (1819 - 1896) in his turn aided in the management of the York Retreat and later focused on the famine in Ireland. James's brother Daniel Hack Tuke (1827 - 1895) co-wrote the important treatise 'A Manual of Psychological Medicine' in 1858 and became a leading physician dedicated to the study of insanity.

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