Sunday, May 15, 2011

May 15: Friends Hospital (1817)

Regular DSTU readers won't be a bit surprised that I like visiting the Wikipedia pages that say what happened on this date in other years. On today's, there's this note:
1817 – Opening of the first private mental health hospital in the United States, the Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason (now Friends Hospital) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The name of the hospital stands out, for its length and specificity: "The Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of their Reason." The hospital offers relief, in the original sense of "asylum"--a refuge. The "person-first" language would satisfy the most ardent advocate of polite bureaucratese. Plain language wins too; no psychological jargon in this institution's name, because psychological jargon as we know it didn't much exist in 1817.

What else stands out: the hospital still exists. It's had various names over the years, of course, reflecting shifting treatments and labels and goals. Its 1813 mission statement says the asylum's Quaker founders "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"--intentions that reflected the most progressive ideas about mental illness and care in their time. The site and the building were modeled on York Retreat in England, "but with better ventilation and light." As the first of its kind, it set a standard that shaped similar institutions for generations; in 1999 it was named to the list of National Historic Landmarks.

Of course, hospitals seldom live up to their lofty mission statements, especially after almost 200 years. As with most institutions, it's not hard to find stories of abuse. PhillyGrrl had a three-part series about one man's protest at Friends Hospital. But it's maybe a little more ironic in this case: Quakers originally got into the asylum business after investigating the death of a Quaker widow, Hannah Mills, at the York Asylum in 1790. They condemned the abusive conditions they saw, and sought to do better.

1 comment:

Golfhanskat Halvalla said...

I love doing that with Wikipedia too, you can really find some interesting stuff that way!