Out of the Attic: Gender, Captivity, And Asylum Exposés

in Theaters of Madness

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780226709635
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226709659 | DOI:
Out of the Attic: Gender, Captivity, And Asylum Exposés

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This chapter explores some of the cultural forces and gendered dynamics that contributed to the downfall of the moral treatment movement. Much of the focus is on the successful reform efforts of Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard, a former patient whose exposés of her treatment called attention to the plight of women who were wrongfully incarcerated at the will of their husbands. Packard's twin political goals were to overturn marriage laws that made women defenseless against unscrupulous husbands and to weaken the authority of (male) asylum superintendents to admit patients against their will. The chapter asks why these two movements became linked, and why—in the following century's feminist historiography—psychiatry came so often to be viewed as a tool of patriarchy to silence non-conforming women. It sets Packard's text against a background of male- and female-authored asylum memoirs, popular fiction detailing the figure of the woman captive to psychiatry, and doctors' writings on the dangers of male sexuality. The chapter concludes with a reading of Herman Melville's story, “Bartleby the Scrivener.”

Keywords: Herman Melville; Bartleby the Scrivener; moral treatment movement; Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard; asylum; marriage laws; psychiatry; patriarchy; memoirs; male sexuality

Chapter.  9592 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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