Insanity, rhetoric and women : nineteenth-century women's asylum narratives
Walter, Madaline Reeder
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Among reform movements in nineteenth-century America was insane asylum reform and women played a role in this. Some women within the walls of asylums living as patients turned to the pen as a means of informing the public about confinement laws and the treatment of inmates. Throughout the nineteenth century more than a dozen women published their asylum stories in print for others to see. Most often women writing these asylum narratives protested their confinement, asserted their sanity, and depicted abuse. Three women writing about asylum life in the mid-late nineteenth century turned to multiple genres in their texts. While each text is distinctly different from the others, all three authors were rhetorically savvy using every means available for sharing their experience and that of other inmates. Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard, Lemira Clarissa Pennell, and Clarissa Caldwell Lathrop all offer their readers insight into how women perceived their lives behind insane asylum walls. Packard used her writing as a foundation in campaigning state legislatures for changes in confinement laws, especially as they applied to women. Her reliance on the language of True Womanhood is evident and powerful as she turns to acceptable genres for women in the mid-nineteenth century. Pennell turned to the popular nineteenth-century genre of the scrapbook piecing together her experience as a sanitary reformer, a mother, and a woman living in a changing nation. Lathrop's narrative reflects the ideals of the independent New Woman at the turn of the century. Her use of more than one genre highlights ways in which women of the late nineteenth century had more access and agency than those locked in the image of the True Woman. Women writing multi-genre asylum narratives appear in the nineteenth century in unique ways and continue into the twenty-first century.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- Rising discontent: conflicting beliefs in American insane asylums -- The multiple languages of Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard in Modern Persecution or Insane Asylums Unveiled -- Scraps here and there: Lemira Clarissa Pennell's "Precedents" and Explanations: Memorial Scrap Book a Book of Personalities -- It's all about facts: Clarissa Caldwell Lathrop's A Secret Institution -- Afterword