It was on this day in 1813 that the Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason was founded in Philadelphia. It was the first private mental health hospital in the United States. The Asylum was founded by a group of Quakers, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends, who built the institution on a 52-acre farm. It is still around today, but goes by the name Friends Hospital.
At the time that Friends Hospital was founded, mental illness was widely misunderstood and treated as criminal behavior. Mentally ill people were tied up, put in chains, isolated, or beaten. The Quakers wanted to model a new type of care. They wrote out their philosophy in a mission statement for the hospital: “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.”
The group purchased the 52-acre farm for less than $7,000, and tried to create a beautiful place with gardens and lots of outdoor space. These days, the hospital occupies 100 acres, which include flower gardens and about 200 varieties of trees. Much of this was the work of one man who started out at the hospital as a bookkeeper in 1875 and ended up working there and managing the grounds until his death in 1947. One day, he found an azalea that a family member had brought for a patient and tossed out. He tended it in the greenhouse until it was healthy again, took cuttings, and planted those, and from that one plant more than 20 acres of the Friends Hospital are now planted in azaleas.