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From Incarceration to Therapeutics in the Friends’ Asylum: Treating Philadelphia’s ‘Insane’ in the 19th Century (online)

From Incarceration to Therapeutics in the Friends’ Asylum: Treating Philadelphia’s ‘Insane’ in the 19th Century (online)

This talk is presented by Darin Hayton, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History, at Haverford College.

From prisons to asylums, iron was an essential material in institutions that sought to confine people, to incarcerate individuals deemed dangerous to society and, perhaps secondarily, themselves. Iron protected sane, rational people, by depriving the insane and irrational from the freedom of movement. In the early nineteenth century, Philadelphia Quakers established a new asylum just north of the city, the Friends’ Asylum. They imagined this asylum as an institution that rehabilitated patients, who could then return to society. For these Quakers, the asylum was no longer a place of confinement but was, instead, a home that sought to restore people to their natural state of sanity. Central to their restorative program and to their asylum was iron.

By looking closely at the attention the Quakers paid to iron in the process of planning and constructing the Friends’ Asylum we can see how they recast iron from a material of imprisonment into a material of emancipation. Although they seem to deploy iron in traditional ways — e.g., as locks and shackles, on windows — their conception of the metal transformed it into an essential element of their therapeutics.

If we listen in on their planning meetings, their negotiations with local craftsmen and carpenters, and correspondence with the U.S. patent office, if we watch as they build their asylum, and if we linger as they begin admitting patients, we can begin to understand how they created a new material, a sort of therapeutic iron.

This program will be presented via Zoom. Registration is encouraged. On the day of the program, use this link to join:

This workshop is presented in conjunction with Care and Custody: Past Responses to Mental Health exhibit. This exhibit, sponsored by the National Library of Medicine, will be on display in the Ginsburg Library from the end of September through the beginning of November 2021. We have prepared a weeklong online program related to the exhibit, which features workshops, speaker events, and local resources

Please contact Courtney Eger,, with any questions.

Event is open to: Undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, Temple Hospital staff and the community.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021
12:00pm - 1:00pm
Time Zone:
Eastern Time - US & Canada (change)
  Events     Exhibit     NLM: Care and Custody  

Registration is required. There are 99 seats available.