Thomas Scattergood

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Thomas Scattergood
Born January 23, 1748
Burlington, NJ
Died 1814
Philadelphia, PA
Nationality American
Occupation Minister of the Society of Friends
Known for Founder of Friends Hospital

Thomas Scattergood was born January 23, 1748 in Burlington, New Jersey. While trained professionally as a tanner, he was drawn to Quaker ministry where he rose to prominence at his local meeting in New Jersey. He had several personal tragedies in his early life. When he was just six years old, his father died. His first wife, Elizabeth Bacon, died after eight years of marriage in 1780. Shortly thereafter, he remarried Sarah Hoskins in 1783. Perhaps his own experiences made him more sensitive to others’ tribulations. Scattergood himself was prone to fits of melancholy, and was often withdrawal; many referred to as the “mournful prophet” of the Quakers. However, he was extremely dedicated to his work as able Quaker Minister. In 1794, Scattergood set sail to England, where he would remain for six years of unofficial education. During Scattergood’s lengthy sojourn in English countryside, he would preach, meet with fellow Quakers, visit schools, prisons and orphanages. His sympathy with the afflicted was often visible to those around him. He claimed his tender regard and brought to his brethren an account of the suffering of the poor and neglected, hoping to alleviate their pain.

Historically, individuals afflicted with mental illness were treated with contempt and isolation. Many considered them to be possessed by demons, and deserving of punishment, removal from society and even death. As late as 1777, London asylums, such as Bethlem Royal Hospital charged visitors to observe insane patients for their amusement. By contrast, Quakers viewed that all mankind has an "Inner light", that is of divine origin. This view of humanity sensitized Quakers to the plight of those otherwise neglected with mental illness.

In 1791, Hannah Mills, a young Quaker woman, became acutely ill, and displayed significant cognitive changes. She was sent to the York Asylum, and her family, who lived some distance from York, asked Quaker friends to visit her at the asylum. Unfortunately, when they tried to visit, they were turned away, being told she was unfit to receive visitors. Tragically, she died within weeks and several local Quakers from York decried this situation. William Tuke proposed that Quakers create their own institution for those afflicted with mental illness. The situation caused some Quakers to reflect on the situation of the insane. It was felt that there might be some advantage if the Society of Friends created their own institution which could provide milder, more appropriate treatment.

Within four years, the York meeting had a plan, had raised funds, and began admitting patients in 1796 to the York Retreat. Three aspects of the Retreat’s early experience deserve mention. First, the retreat promoted the concept of “moral treatment.” Moreover, this emphasized a positive, nurturing, sympathetic attitude towards patients, and a safe, attractive, respectful environment. Second, they found that a surprisingly high number of their patients improved dramatically. This was particularly true if the mental illness was of recent onset. Thirdly, they kept meticulous financial records, and discovered that they could provide kind, compassionate care, and be financially solvent. The Quakers had acquired considerable experience in establishing schools, and obtaining financial support from their members. This fund raising was all the more successful as their cause was embraced and relevant information distributed. So it was that within several years of opening, the York Retreat was regarded locally as a great success. Interested parties came to visit the Retreat and began creating similar institutions.

In 1799, Scattergood traveled to York where he dined with William Tuke, the founder of the York Retreat. He also stayed at the home of Lindley Murray, one of the original supporters of the York Retreat. The following day, Scattergood visited the Retreat where he met with 30 Quaker patients with mental illness. Scattergood writes in his diary: “We sat in quiet, and I had vented a few tears, and was engaged in supplication.” Scattergood’s visit to the York Retreat occurred near the end of his time in England. While it was to be a seminal event, Scattergood yearned to return to his family in Philadelphia.

Once Scattergood returned to Philadelphia, he became involved with teaching and financial support for a newly created Quaker school in Westtown. Scattergood had a number of anecdotal encounters with troubled souls, including people with severe depression and chronic alcoholism. After meeting such individuals, he would abandon his intended plans and devote hours to counseling them and praying with them. Meanwhile, Samuel Tuke, the grandson of William Tuke, was researching the history and progress of the York Retreat. His Description of the York Retreat would be published in 1813, but Samuel acknowledges sharing much of the information in 1810 with his “American friends.” In February 1811, Scattergood proposed to the Philadelphia Yearly meeting that “means should be devised for the care of such members of our society as may be deprived of the use of their reason.”

Scattergood had been speaking to fellow Quakers about mental illness. These conversations “awaked a tender, sympathetic feeling for the welfare of this afflicted class.” The meeting designated seven individuals to pursue this proposal. Thomas Scattergood was the first to be named, and the list also included Isaac Bonsall, a local farmer who would serve as the first superintendent of Friends Hospital (1817 – 1823). The influence of the York Retreat’s experience is undeniable. The plans for acquiring land, architecture, staff, and financial support are almost identical to that described in Tuke’s account.

Thomas Scattergood departed this time, due to complications of Typhus fever, in 1814, three years before Friends Hospital would officially open. He would be survived by his children, Joseph Scattergood and Rebecca Scattergood. His work would go on to influence fellow Quaker, and social reformer, Thomas Story Kirkbride, who resided in nearby Morrisville, PA. The Thomas Scattergood Foundation is still operational today dedicated to the task of care for the mentally ill. Additionally, the Scattergood building at Friends Hospital in Philadelphia bears his name in his honor.

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