So in the meantime I am posting this - an email that I found in my in-box this morning:
clare, judging from the title of one of your books i think you might be able to answer the following question:
what are some of the misdiagnoses of women who were labeled "insane" & committed to asylums at the turn of the 19th century? i ask because my son just found that my paternal grandmother was listed on the 1907 u.s. census as "insane", & her residence is listed as an insane asylum. my mother spoke of her as a sweet, kind, gentle woman who died of stomach cancer many, many years before i was born.
i'd appreciate it greatly if you would reply to this email, but hopefully not with, "well just buy my book, you silly woman!".
i think my son is ill-informed about the problem but doubt that he's reading anything other than child-rearing books at present.
thank you in advance for any help you can give me.
and here is my reply:
Thank you for your email.
Of course I have no idea what happened to your relative and I wish your son luck with his investigation, but I can tell you that women in general were misdiagnosed as insane for the following reasons: eloping with an unsuitable man (nymphomania), becoming pregnant out of wedlock, suffering from what we would now call post-natal depression, or just plain depression (when they couldn't afford to marry the right man, or were forced into a loveless marriage).
Women were thought to be more susceptible to going insane than men and doctors were on watch throughout their lives. One particularly dangerous time was the 'critical age' ie the menopause - when a loveless woman might make an unsuitable match or was thought to have strange compulsions.
They were locked up in asylums for all these reasons - and once they were in some of the treatments were sometimes so barbaric that what might have been a temporary neurosis (or just falling in love with the wrong man) could well have become something more permanent. Some became institutionalised. As a result several found it difficult to get out.
However I feel I ought to point out that no doubt there were some that actually were insane and incarceration in an asylum might have been the best thing at the time - for both themselves and the rest of society.
I hope that answers your question. My book would too, but only in a roundabout way because it is a novel. I do hope you buy it and read it though (and tell your friends about it) because writing books is what I do to earn my living, and they take a long time to research and write. But more importantly I would hope that you would enjoy the book - and at just 49 cents (plus P&P) from Amazon.com's other sellers is quite a bargain!