There is debate regarding the meaning of the surname “Scattergood”. On the one hand, some think it perhaps refers to someone who is wasteful and careless with their money, and on the other hand, some think it actually refers to a philanthropist who gives his money to help others. The surname was first seen in thirteenth century England: Wimcot Schatregod and Thomas Scatergude appeared on the census rolls in 1273. In 1703 Henry Edwards married Elizabeth Scattergood in London and Joshua Scattergood married Elizabeth Wilson in Philadelphia in 1742.
The Scattergood name is “scattered” around America, with the largest concentration in Pennsylvania, where according to Ancestry.com there are 27-51 families with that surname. I believe that many Scattergoods were Quakers – one prominent Scattergood who was a Quaker minister is discussed in this article. There’s also an interesting story about the Scattergood Hostel, located in West Branch, Iowa, where many European refugees fleeing Hitler’s tyranny were sheltered – a sort of Schindler’s List on the prairie.
Thomas Scattergood was born on January 23, 1748 in Burlington, New Jersey to parents Joseph and Rebecca (Watson) Scattergood. Thomas’ life was marked by tragedy – his father died when he was only six years old and his first wife Elizabeth (Bacon) died in 1780 after eight years of marriage. Thomas married Sarah Hoskins in 1783.
He had been trained as a tanner, but was drawn to the ministry through his local Friends congregation. He was prone to melancholy, perhaps as a result of the tragedies he experienced in his life – he was sometimes referred to as a “mournful prophet”. However, Thomas was dedicated to Quaker ministry and set out in 1794 to England to further his spiritual education. While there he preached and visited local congregations, prisons, schools and orphanages, and his sympathy for those who suffered was palpable.
In that era of history, people who suffered from mental illness were not treated well – even contemptibly. Some considered them demon-possessed and perhaps even deserving of death – certainly they needed to be put away from polite society. The Quakers have a different view of the mentally ill – they believe every human being has an “inner light” of divine origin.
In 1791 a young Quaker woman, Hannah Mills, developed acute mental illness and was admitted to the York Asylum. Her family didn’t leave near York so they asked their Quaker friends to visit her; however, when the friends tried to visit they were turned away, told that Hannah was in no condition to receive visitors. She died not long after that and her plight became a cause for the York Society of Friends.
In 1795 the York meeting had organized their own facility to treat the mentally ill – York Retreat – where they were determined that all patients would be treated morally and with dignity. The facility experienced positive results with their approach, and before Thomas Scattergood returned to Philadelphia, he dined with the founder of York Retreat, William Tuke. The next day Thomas visited the facility and spoke with patients, noting in his diary, “We sat in quiet, and I had vented a few tears, and was engaged in supplication.”
When he returned home Thomas began working with a new school in Westtown, but he was always encountering people with either mental illness or other maladies such as alcoholism. He would then get side-tracked from his other work and spend hours counseling and praying with those individuals. Thomas began speaking with his Quaker friends about the plight of mental illness, and at the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1811 he proposed that they create a means to take care of the mentally ill.
The Friends Hospital was founded in 1817; however, Thomas had contracted typhus fever and died in 1814. He was survived by his wife, Sarah, and his children Joseph and Rebecca. From the Haverford College Collection of Scattergood Family Papers (1681-1909), two letters to Thomas Scattergood – one encouraging him in his ministry and the other from someone what had been encouraged by Thomas’ ministry:
Scattergood Friends School opened in 1890 in West Branch, Iowa. The members of the Hickory Grove Quarterly Meeting (Quaker) had arrived in Iowa from Ohio and later desired a school where their young people could receive a “guarded education”, away from “early knowledge of, or contact with, the evils of the world.” The idea was conceived in 1870 but it took twenty years of planning and work before the school opened in 1890. An early goal of the school:
…the aim of the school is to give a substantial English education, suited to fit the average person for the ordinary duties of life, and at the same time prepare students for higher institutions of learning, yet it is still its distinctive purpose to shield the young from hurtful temptations and distracting tendencies during the character-forming period.
The first class of twenty-five Quaker students were charged a tuition fee of $100 per year. In 1917 the Hickory Grove group left the parent Ohio group and joined the Iowa Yearly Meeting and thus the ownership was transferred to the Iowa Yearly Meeting. According to the school’s web site, that move prompted a loosening of the dress code – girls were no longer required to wear bonnets and boys no longer had to turn in coat collars.
Like everyone else in the country, the Depression of 1929 was devastating to the school and in 1931 the decision was made to close, hoping it would be a short-lived closure. The school, however, remained closed until in 1938 the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) suggested that perhaps the school could be used to shelter European refugees fleeing the Nazi regime. The plight of the refugees had struck a sympathetic chord and now the Friends were determined to offer help.
Volunteers flooded to the town of West Branch to help renovate the property and assist in any way possible. Local officials, the postmaster, clergy and Jewish organizations all offered encouragement and support. Space was allotted for a garden and farm animals since one of the goals was to make the project self-sustaining.
In July of 1939, “guests” (as opposed to calling them “refugees”) began arriving. The goal of the AFSC was that guests “could go for a few weeks or months to recover from their effects of their recent experiences, regain their confidence, improve their English, learn to drive a car, and, if needed be, start retaining themselves for some new line of work before seeking a permanent place in American society.” Quakers had an aversion to organized levels of management and sought to run things less rigidly than might be expected, and perhaps that helped those who came feel more human and more hopeful about their futures.
During the four years the hostel operated, 186 refugees found a welcoming place. Residents were expected to pitch in and help with daily chores (gardening, washing dishes, folding laundry, etc.) – something that was foreign to many of the residents who formerly were well-off professionals who had employed household staff. Some of the people were seen trying to hoard food, and some had family members who had perished in Hitler’s gas chambers, so they were always anxious to hear news from “home”.
The hostel was a place to recover from the traumas experienced in war-torn Europe. The residents were grateful for the chance to, in many cases, begin their lives over. There were many notes and letters of thanks – one man wrote that the hostel was a “place of peace in a world of war, a haven amidst a world of hatred.”
The hostel closed in March of 1943 and in 1944 the Scattergood School re-opened. The school is still operating today, although the tuition has risen considerably to $26,700 per year for boarding students. If you’d like to read more about the history of the school and the hostel, check out these links:
Jim Scattergood of Irving, Texas remarked on a message board, “Scattergood clan it’s always good at the end”. Be sure to stop by next week for a Tombstone Tuesday article on Sgt. Absalom B. Scattergood.
Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!
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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.