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~Seek first to understand, then be understood~
If you're looking for information on a particular topic, type that word in the search box below. If I have written about that subject, a list of posts will appear. If no posts come up, I haven't written about it...yet. Emails, and questions in the comments section for possible posts, are welcome.
I have a "friend" who shows up once a month. She turns my world upside down, over and over again.
I am a good person, caring and sweet, but when she comes to visit, I could rip off your head.
She takes no prisoners, foul words she does spout, I try to keep the words in, she lets them come out.
People don't understand me, or what this is about, to have this creature inside my head.
I despise who I am, half of the time, I feel sorry for my daughter, family and friends.
There's no way to describe it, for those who don't know, it's a living nightmare, she really needs to go.
~Neysia Manor, Rest in Peace

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Women and Insanity -- Pioneers with PMDD?

A little something extra today in honor of Halloween. PMDD is not a new condition. It's been around in one form or another since at least the time of Hippocrates. Back then it, and just about any other condition relating to women's hormones, was called hysteria, hystera being the Greek name for uterus.

This is why anyone with a uterus is considered hysterical at times, and why they call the removal of your uterus a hysterectomy.

But I digress. PMDD is not, as some believe, a disorder made up by the drug companies to sell more drugs. It's a condition happily exploited by drug and supplement companies, to be sure, and even some doctors (more on this in a future post), but it's far from a made up condition. You know it, and I know it, and anyone who has ever lived with a woman who has PMDD knows it.

That doesn't mean we're not accountable for our actions. PMDD is an explanation--not an excuse, or free pass--for bad behavior. We owe it to ourselves to understand the condition (and therefore ourselves) as fully as we can, and to then promote a positive awareness of PMDD everywhere we go. It's only by focusing on the positive--what works, what helps, what provides solid help and answers--and not the negative--the fear, the stereotyping, the ridicule--that we will get mainstream medicine to pay any genuine attention to PMDD and other women's health issues.

That said, today I thought I'd offer up a special post on women and insanity, to let us know where we might have ended up, had we been born in another time.

Please welcome my guest blogger, Wild Rose Press author Loretta Rogers.

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.

Loretta C. Rogers, Isabelle and the Outlaw.


  1. My word I'd have been placed in the asylum with out a doubt. A lifetime of depression only to find out last year it was PMDD & now tests show I'm going through the Menopause early at 41 yrs old. They would have thrown away the key. I wonder when I'll get some respite from it all.
    Blessings, Merlleena :)

  2. I wonder if it was just as easy for a woman to have her husband committed.

  3. Unfortunately, Sue, the answer is "No." In the 1800s women were considered property and the owner i.e. husbands/fathers had the authority to treat women as they wished. Thankfully, this is no longer true.


  4. Thank goodness we were born in more enlightened times. I can't imagine the horror of being locked away like that. I wonder how many women did lose their minds at this kind of treatment. Or was it a relief after having been so worn out to be able to sit and vegetate, albeit, hungry and cold.

    And my god. There'd be no chocolate. That would truly be a crime.

  5. Wow, that is really scary. Good thing we get a little more respect these days. We're getting there.

    Morgan Mandel

  6. Nice reminder of what women have overcome and this is often ignored in our history. I have a female ancestor who was beaten while fighting for women's rights. Still, we have a long way to go.

  7. Interesting post, Liana. So far, I've not ran into any relatives who were institutionalized--although there are several who probably should've been, but they were all men.

  8. While Loretta's post is about atrocities happening a century or two ago, unfortunately there are still countries and religions, where that post is the norm. Has anyone read Princess by Jean Sasson?

  9. Great post, I am certainly glad that I live in this more enlightened century.



  10. Liana and Loretta, wow, that was incrediably fascinating ... and disgusting. It is appauling to think that occured. Different times, I suppose. while the topic was sad, it was interesting to learn about it.

    Happy Halloween


  11. Wow, thanks so much for the blog today. I love reading about how things used to be.

  12. Anyone wanting to see how women were treated and more along the "insanity excuse" should read Anne Perry's Victorian mysteries. They show just how lucky females are today. I admit I was shocked at some of the things perpetrated in those novels as far as denying rights to women.

  13. Do you have the stats on this? Are there any? I'd like to know how common the practice was and how many of these asylums existed. Very interesting. I've heard of women 'taking to their bed' while their husband diddled his mistress, and I knew that at some times and in some places, disobedience has been considered a form of insanity, but I would like to know how prevalent commitment was.

  14. What a fascinating post. I see insane people in my future...

  15. Loretta, Great post and very interesting. Did you know that Henry Flagler, the head of Stanford Oil and the eastern Florida railroad tycoon, had his first wife declared insane and institutionalized. He must have divorced her after that since he and his young, new second wife subsequently spent three months in their new mansion, the White House, which is open for tours in Palm Beach. Funny, huh?

  16. Julia, according to medical journalist, Robert Whitaker, in his book "Mad in America," (2002) he states that between 1840-1890, the population of residents in insane asylums grew from 2,501 to 74,000.The majority of these were women. Isn't that outrageous? The number of asylums grew from 18 in 1840 to 139 in 1880.


  17. Thanks for dropping by Laurel. It's also interesting that Flagler fell down a flight of stairs in the house he built, subsequently dying from the fall. There was speculation that his new wife may have 'caused' the 'accident.' Sound suspicious to me.

  18. To everyone who dropped by and left a comment, thank you for your interest. Thanks, again, to Liana for inviting me to post my article. Additionally, thanks for bringing health concerns about women to the public.


  19. very enlightening about the past Loretta but i fear the spreading of more man hatred in the world. I am a husband who has stayed by my wife through her jail term and violence and abuse all due to PMDD. I believe we are now at a breakthrough in medical help and awareness and I for one husband am trying to spread the help. Bashing, weather in the past or present is never acceptable.Most men are loving and nurturing as fathers and husbands and suffer the losses along with women associated with PMDD. Our hearts break to.