In the mid to late 1800’s women were expected to behave according to society’s expectations, held to the archetype of the obedient housewife and mother. As such, they had almost entirely no input on decisions concerning their lives, especially in regards to matters such as their mental health. The women of this time period were expected to be dutiful, subservient housewives that stayed home to do little other than take care of the children, and keep order in the house. It was the men who made all the decisions in the household; women were, in accordance with the archetype, simply expected to listen and obey. However, divorce rates were very low in those times. As such, if a women was to behave in a way that opposed the views or opinions held by her husband, the husband would then declare the wife insane and have her sent to an asylum rather than going through a divorce as the majority of couples would do in modern times. Many women ended up in the asylums even if they were of perfectly stable mental health.
Women were expected to behave in a poised, compliant manner. Acting against the husband was completely unacceptable, due to the threat of being declared insane. They couldn’t do anything other than be the proper woman that was expected.
Women were sent to asylums as an alternative for divorce. The asylums were essentially prisons for non-compliant women. Once declared insane, a woman would immediately be carted off to an asylum to begin living a life of depravity. Essentially being forced into insanity.
Women that had no mental health problems at all were forced into living in asylums simply because of angry husbands. They were subjected to inhumane living conditions. Many were starved and forced to go through treatments that had a more negative effect on their stability than anything else.
These conditions were not conducive to the mental health of the occupants. Often they led to the deterioration of the mental state of the occupants, just reinforcing the beliefs of the male society. Women who originally were of a completely sane state, were reduced to a primal survival state.
The wrongful treatment at asylums eventually caused the occupants to lose their spirit. The very thing that put many women in the asylums is what kept them in them. The behavior that came as a result of the poor treatment in the facilities only served to lengthen their stay.
Insane asylums essentially were used as storage units for unsatisfactory wives. The expectations placed on women by society were unacceptable and far too controlling. To expect women to have a complete and happy life only by taking care of a home and her children is unrealistic. Due to the difficult nature of the requirements, many women were unable to comply, and thus spurred a declaration of insanity from the husband. Since divorce was nearly a social taboo, men usually found a way out of a displeasing marriage through insane asylums. These misguided views is what led to the use of asylums as a sort of dump for unneeded wives.
- Kassidy Jean-Charles, How a Woman Should Be, Photograph. September 2013.
- The Manitoba Historical Society, “Selkirk Mental Hospital, Main Building.” Accessed September 22, 2013. http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/features/timelinks/imageref/ref0746.shtml
- Jerry Cooke, Female Patients in Ohio Insane Asylum, Photograph
- Woodcut, Scene From New York Lunatic Asylum, Blackwell’s Island, Photograph. 1898
- U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Diseases of the Mind: Highlights of American Psychiatry Through 1900.” Accessed September 18, 2013.http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/diseases/debates.html