Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Women and Insanity


For the past six months, I've been doing research for a book on women's health, in particular PMDD, or Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder, a biological/physiological condition that occurs in concert with a woman's menstrual cycle, and has, amid much controversy, been categorized in the DSM-IV as a mental disorder. I'm going to start sharing my findings here on Wellness Wednesdays, in the hopes of helping women who suffer from not only PMDD, but a host of other hormone-related issues (such as thyroid, menopause, PMS, post-partum depression, and countless others) realize that these issues are indeed biological in origin and not mental.

In short, no, you're not going crazy. Your hormones are simply out of whack. Week after week, I'm going to explain the various reasons why you feel the way you do. Why you think you're losing your mind, and why you're not. Better yet, I'm going to tell you what you can do to bring your hormones, and your life, back into balance.

We are blessed in that--while mainstream medicine for the most part continues to dismiss, discount, and ignore women's hormonal health concerns--the good news is it's nowhere near as bad as it used to be, as will be outlined by my guest blogger today, fellow Wild Rose Press author Loretta Rogers.

So thank you, Loretta, for helping me to kick this new direction for my blog off with a historical perspective on what in most cases were no doubt simply hormonal issues, if any imbalance was present at all. As you will see, sometimes all a man needed to commit a woman to the insane asylum was a desire to do so.

Because divorce was a rarity during the pioneer/frontier days, men devised other ways to get rid of unwanted wives and children, and that was by declaring them insane and placing this unwanted loved one in an insane asylum. Actually these early asylums were in reality prisons and not medical centers. These institutions were filthy, dark places where people were treated more like animals than human beings. The asylums usually provided only the basic necessities of life. Food was poor, cleanliness was not stressed and the rooms were often very cold. Diseases were quick to spread throughout the asylum.

Some of the reasons women were institutionalized are unbelievable. In the early 1800’s wives and daughters were often committed for not being obedient enough to their husbands or fathers. You’ve heard the term, “children are to be seen and not heard.” This applied to wives as well. If a woman spoke out and went against the “norm” she could be committed.

With no birth control, it wasn’t unusual for a woman to give birth to another baby while still nursing her last child. And a brood of six to twelve children wasn’t unusual either. With her body no longer firm and supple, her energy level somewhere between zero and double zero, and with the daily routine of cooking, cleaning, plowing, and all the other demands, a woman was run ragged. It’s no wonder she grew old long before her time.

All the husband and/or father had to do was simply write the word “lunacy” on the admission form. Lunacy was an acceptable reason for divorce. The woman’s husband would declare her insane, put her in the asylum and then file for the divorce. A few months later, his marriage records to a younger bride usually showed up.

Other reasons to be “put away”, were depression, alcoholism, just being a little different from the norm, and even going through menopause. Doctors just didn’t know how to deal with mental issues and the result was to put their patients in the asylum. These women were locked up and forgotten by their loved ones. The fathers/husbands often forbid the family members to visit. It was as if the wife or daughter had simply died. Most of these women did stay at the insane asylum until their death.

If a father had no sons, but didn’t want his daughter to inherit his fortune or worldly goods, he could have her declared insane, institutionalized, and leave his money to a favorite nephew or his ranch to a ranch hand he considered as a son. If a man’s wife had died in child birth and he couldn’t find a woman to wed who was willing to become a stepmother to his large brood, or if he couldn’t marry off any of his eligible daughters, he simply declared them as lunatics and placed them in an asylum. Sometimes daughters were committed for unwanted pregnancies. Other children were committed for being disobedient or for illnesses such as Down’s Syndrome or Autism. Being born deaf or mute, retarded or physically disfigured was another reason a child might be committed.

Oftentimes, the husband might tell others that his wife or child had died. If a newspaper office was available, he might even have an obituary printed. Yet the person was very much alive at the asylum. While it was rare for a sane person to be released from an asylum, it did happen. Imagine what it was like for this woman. Having been declared dead, she had no identity.

Some of these asylums were built next to, or part of, the prison system. This was to help cut back costs of care, food and facilities. Rape was prevalent in asylums. Because women had been declared insane, it was deemed they had no powers of reasoning, no feelings or emotions. In other words, they were considered walking zombies. Because of this deranged thinking, (no pun intended) prisoners and even asylum employees used the women for their own pleasures.

If you are into genealogy and have run into a brick wall trying to locate a female relative, the US census has a place on some of their census, example 1850, that had a place to mark if deaf, dumb or insane. The probate section may carry Lunacy Record Books at the county courthouses. Some Wills will declare if someone is insane or having lunacy. If someone seems to have disappeared, they may have been “sent away.”

Therefore, when we refer to the ‘good old’ days, we might remember these women and their lives, and be thankful that they paved the way for us.


9 comments:

Doralynn said...

That was fascinating... and scary. My mom and dad love westerns, and if NCIS isn't on their television when I visit, then a western is. We often talk about how women were treated during those days, how difficult their lives were, and that it was no wonder they were dead or old by 30. We were talking about the lack of protection women had and how abusive husbands were then, and I joked that I bet a lot of men died suspicious deaths after a large meal. I'd never thought about women, young and old, being committed before. Far more frigtening than any of the ghost stories I've read recently... but it does give me an idea for a ghost story.

I haven't read in a few weeks. Are you not going to be doing Friday's with Louis anymore? I hope you will continue that as well. But I'm happy to see this information. I have a thyroid that is out of whack. My doctor has been trying to regulate my thyroid levels for two years. I keep bouncing between hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism as a result. Now I'm taking two different dosages and alternating them. Pain in the arse. And I won't even know if this latest experiment works until my next labs. Thanks for the fascinating post. Doralynn

Keena Kincaid said...

Wow...I'm thoroughly pissed right now on behalf of all the mistreated, misunderstood woman through the centuries.

Although with 12 children and such a cold, cruel husband, you have to wonder if the institution was all that bad in comparison.

Great article, Liana.

Kathy Otten said...

Fascinating post. I have a book called The Good Old Days-They Were Terrible. It touches on many issues, including this one, though not so detailed. It's tough writing historical romances because while you want to inject the story with realism, it can't be too real. Though this info does get the plot wheels spinning.

Celia Yeary said...

Loretta and Liana--How lucky we are, indeed. In "One Thousand White Women", a young woman had the choice of going to an insane assylum or marrying a "savage." she chose the savage and had a fairly decent life living as her adopted family did. but wars betweenn different tribes broke out and she ran away--had to leave her baby. Some women stood up and became successful. the little book "Texas Tears and Texas Sunshine" tells the personal accounts of 12 Texas pioneer women who played a big part in settling Texas. Very intriguing post--both of you--Celia

Loretta C. Rogers said...

Thanks to all of you who stopped by and left comments. Celia, I've written down the books you mentioned and placed the titles on my future TBR list.

Sheryl said...

The amusing—or perhaps not so amusing—thing is, that you quite simply can’t get the medical practitioners to understand these few simple words, I can cope with the pain (while thinking: I’m a woman. Women get through the pain of giving birth quite well. Have you noticed, at all, doctor?). What I can’t cope with is the horrendous emotional turbulence that comes with it—same time, same pattern, every month.

You have to wonder at the sanity of a profession that chooses to ignore mass testimonial on the subject and symptoms of PMS. But then, perhaps we women are all insane. There problem sorted. Next patient, please. :)

LK Hunsaker said...

I won't even start on correct diagnosing right now. If you're not a complainer, though, good luck getting anyone to think you seriously need help.

Wonderful entry. Another easy way men rid themselves of wives at (at least) one point in history was to have them declared witches and have them burned at the stake. I mention that in one of my books. I've visited Salem, MA, and the water fountain memorial at Edinburgh Castle where that happened.

jodi said...

Just an icky period in the past altogether. :(

P.L. Parker said...

Thank god for the bluestockings willing to fight for women's rights.