Disappointment and Desolation: Women, Doctors and Interpretations of Puerperal Insanity in the Nineteenth Century

  • Marland H
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Abstract

Taking case notes as the key source, this paper focuses on the variety of interpretations put forward by doctors to explain the incidence of puerperal insanity in the nineteenth century. It is argued that these went far beyond biological explanations linking female vulnerability to the particular crisis of reproduction. Rather, nineteenth-century physicians were looking at other factors to explain the onset of insanity related to childbirth; stress and environmental factors linked to poverty, family circumstances, poor nutrition, illegitimacy, fear and anxiety, and the strains of becoming a mother. The main focus is on female asylum patients, but all mothers were seen as being susceptible to puerperal insanity.

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Authors

  • Hilary Marland

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