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Theaters of MadnessInsane Asylums and Nineteenth-Century American Culture$
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Benjamin Reiss

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780226709635

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226709659.001.0001

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

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

(p.169) Chapter Six Out of the Attic: Gender, Captivity, And Asylum Exposés
Theaters of Madness
University of Chicago Press

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

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