Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

Disability and Life Writing Reports from the Nineteenth-century Asylum

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2011), 5, (3), 261–278.

Abstract

Historically, especially before the twentieth century, issues of access to accommodation and education have constrained all individuals with disabilities, preventing most from acquiring the means to self-express and thus to present a public voice. Nonetheless, individuals with disabilities in past centuries have found ways to present their own perspectives on creativity, difference, identity, politics, and other issues. The forms these earlier statements have taken, the individuals who succeeded in speaking, and the stories thereby told offer significant insights into lives otherwise lost. The article recovers the life writing of mid-to-late nineteenth-century individuals with mental and physical differences who were classed as insane and institutionalized on that basis. In their narratives, these individuals write about the misperceptions they face and advocate for themselves and others. In particular, the authors characterize their institutionalization in terms of medical and legal abuses, abuses manifested on social, emotional, and physical levels. By writing in these terms, these life writers turn the tables on their oppressors and portray the system as the cause of their legal, medical, and personal misfortune. Recovering these voices as life writing forms an initial corpus of pretwentieth- century materials for further study and locates the genre within a long tradition that involves identifying assumptions and advocating for the disenfranchised.

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Bauby, Jean-Dominique. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. New York: Random House, 1997. Print. Google Scholar

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Couser, G. Thomas. "Autopathography: Women, Illness, and Lifewriting." In Women and Autobiography. Ed. Martine Watson Brownley and Allison B. Kimmich. Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, 1999. 163–75. Print. Google Scholar

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Davis, Phebe B. Two Years and Three Months in the New York Lunatic Asylum, at Utica: Together with the Outlines of Twenty Years' Peregrinations in Syracuse. Syracuse: Phebe B. Davis, 1855. Print. Google Scholar

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Olsen, Sophia N. B. Mrs. Olsen's Narrative of Her One Year's Imprisonment at Jacksonville Insane Asylum: With the Testimony of Mrs. Minard, Mrs. Shedd, Mrs. Yates, and Mrs. Lake, all corroborated by the Investigating Committee of the Legislature of Illinois. Collected and Published by Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard. Chicago: J. N. Clarke, 1871. Print. Google Scholar

Packard, Elizabeth Parsons Ware. The Prisoners' Hidden Life, Insane Asylums Unveiled: As Demonstrated by the Report of the Investigating Committee of the Legislature of Illinois, Together with the Testimony of Mrs. Minard, Mrs. Shedd, Mrs. Yates, and Mrs. Lake, All Corroborated by the Investigating Committee of the Legislature of Illinois. Chicago: J. N. Clarke, 1871. Print. Google Scholar

Packard, Elizabeth Parsons Ware. Modern Persecution, or Insane Asylums Unveiled, as Demonstrated by the Report of the Investigating Committee of the Legislature of Illinois. Hartford: Case, Lockwood and Brainard, 1874. Print. Google Scholar

Packard, Elizabeth Parsons Ware. Modern Persecution, or Married Women's Liabilities, as Demonstrated by the Action of the Illinois Legislature. Hartford: Case, Lockwood and Brainard, 1874. Print. Google Scholar

Ray, Isaac. A Treatise on the Medical Jurisprudence of Insanity. Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1838. Print. Google Scholar

Reiss, Benjamin. Theatres of Madness: Insane Asylums and Nineteenth Century American Culture. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2008. Print. Google Scholar

Robertson, Lisa Ann. "'Sensible' Slavery: Pleasure, Pain and the Body in Matthew Lewis' Journal of a West India Proprietor." Prose Studies 29.2 (2007): 220–37. Print. Google Scholar

Schweik, Susan M. The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public. New York: New York UP, 2009. Print. Google Scholar

Smith, Sidonie, and Julia Watson. Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Reading Life Narratives. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2001. Print. Google Scholar

Swan, Moses. Ten Years and Ten Months in Lunatic Asylums in Different States. Hoosick Falls, 1874. Print. Google Scholar

Truth, Sojourner. "'Ain't I a Woman?', December 1851." Fordham University. 1997. Web. 31 May 2010. Google Scholar

Tuke, Daniel Hake. The Insane in the United States and Canada. 1885. New York: Arno, 1973. Print. Google Scholar

Wood, Mary Elene. The Writing on the Wall: Women's Autobiography and the Asylum. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1994. Print. Google Scholar

Agnew, Anna. From under the Cloud; or, Personal Reminiscences of Insanity. Cincinnati: Robert Clarke, 1887. Print. Google Scholar

Bauby, Jean-Dominique. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. New York: Random House, 1997. Print. Google Scholar

Benson, Luther. Fifteen Years in Hell. An Autobiography. Indianapolis: Carlon and Hollenbeck, 1881. Print. Google Scholar

Berkenkotter, Carol. Patient Tales. Case Histories and the Uses of Narrative in Psychiatry. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2008. Print. Google Scholar

Bucknill, John Charles. Notes on Asylums for the Insane in America. 1876. New York: Arno, 1973. Print. Google Scholar

Burton, Robert. The Anatomy of Melancholy. 1651. Ed. Floyd Dell and Paul Jordan-Smith. New York: Tudor, 1927. Print. Google Scholar

Cartwright, Lisa. Screening the Body. Tracing Medicine's Visual Culture. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1995. Print. Google Scholar

Chase, Hiram. Two Years and Four Months in a Lunatic Asylum: From August 20th, 1863, to December 20th, 1865. Saratoga Springs: Van Benthuysen, 1868. Print. Google Scholar

Cheyne George. The English Malady. 1733. New York: Scholars Facsimiles, 1976. Print. Google Scholar

Couser, G. Thomas. Recovering Bodies: Illness, Disability, and Life Writing. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1997. Print. Google Scholar

Couser, G. Thomas. "Autopathography: Women, Illness, and Lifewriting." In Women and Autobiography. Ed. Martine Watson Brownley and Allison B. Kimmich. Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, 1999. 163–75. Print. Google Scholar

Crowe, Ann Mary. A Letter to Dr. Robert Darling Willis; To Which Are Added Copies of Three Other Letters; Published in the Hope of Rousing a Humane Nation to the Consideration of the Miseries Arising from Private Madhouses. London: R. Ryan, 1811. Print. Google Scholar

Dain, Norman. Concepts of Insanity in the United States, 1789–1865. Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1964. Print. Google Scholar

Davis, Phebe B. Two Years and Three Months in the New York Lunatic Asylum, at Utica: Together with the Outlines of Twenty Years' Peregrinations in Syracuse. Syracuse: Phebe B. Davis, 1855. Print. Google Scholar

Couser, G. Thomas. The Travels and Experiences of Miss Phebe Davis, of Barnard, Windsor County, Vermont, Being a Sequel to Her Two Years and Three Months in the N. Y. State Lunatic Asylum in Utica N Y. Syracuse, New York: J. G. K. Truair and Co., 1860. Print. Google Scholar

Fuller, Robert. An Account of the Imprisonment and Sufferings of Robert Fuller of Cambridge. Boston: Robert Fuller, 1833. Print. Google Scholar

Gould, Steven Jay. The Mismeasure of Man. New York: Norton, 1996. Print. Google Scholar

Grandin, Temple, and Margaret M. Scariano. Emergence: Labeled Autistic. New York: Warner, 1996. Print. Google Scholar

Gygax, Franziska. "Life Writing and Illness: Auto/Bio/Theory by Eve Sedgwick, Jackie Stacey, and Jill Bolte Taylor." Prose Studies 31.3 (2009): 291–99. Print. Google Scholar

Halttunen, Karen. "Gothic Mystery and the Birth of the Asylum: The Cultural Construction of Deviance in Early-Nineteenth-Century America." Moral Problems in American Life. Ed. Karen Halttunen and Lewis Perry. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1998. 41–59. Print. Google Scholar

Harrison, George L. Legislation on Insanity. A Collection of all the Lunacy Laws of the State and Territories of the United States. Philadelphia: n.p., 1884. Print. Google Scholar

Haslam, John. Illustrations of Madness. . . 1809. Ed. Roy Porter. London: Routledge, 1988. Print. Google Scholar

Hawkins, Anne Hunsaker. Reconstructing Illness: Studies in Pathography. West Lafayette: Purdue UP, 1999. Print. Google Scholar

Horwitz, Allan V. Creating Mental Illness. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2002. Print. Google Scholar

Husson, Thérèse-Adéle. Reflections. The Life and Writings of a Young Blind Woman in Post- Revolutionary France. Trans. and ed. Catherine J. Kudlick and Zina Weygand. New York: New York UP, 2001. Print. Google Scholar

Jamison, Kay Redford. An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness. New York:Vintage, 1997. Print. Google Scholar

Keller, Helen. The Story of My Life. 1903. Ed. Roger Shattuck, Dorothy Herrmann, and Anne Sullivan. New York: Norton, 2003. Print. Google Scholar

Kuusisto, Stephen. Planet of the Blind. New York: Delta, 1998. Print. Google Scholar

Longrigg, James. Greek Medicine: From the Heroic to the Hellenistic Age. A Source Book. New York: Routledge, 1998. Print. Google Scholar

Lunt, George. Behind the Bars. Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1871. Print. Google Scholar

Mairs, Nancy. "Foreword." Recovering Bodies: Illness, Disability, and Life Writing. G. Thomas Couser. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1997. Ix–xiii. Print. Google Scholar

Mayhew, Henry. London Labour and the London Poor. The Classical Study of the Culture of Poverty and the Criminal Classes in the 19th Century. 1861–62. New York: Dover, 1968. Print. Google Scholar

Miller, Carolyn R. "Rhetoric as Social Action." Genre and the New Rhetoric. Ed. Aviva Freedman and Peter Medway. London: Taylor and Francis, 1994. 23–43. Print. Google Scholar

Newman, Sara. "Gestural Enthymemes: Delivering Movement in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Medical Images." Written Communication 26.3 (2009): 273–94. Print. Google Scholar

Olsen, Sophia N. B. Mrs. Olsen's Narrative of Her One Year's Imprisonment at Jacksonville Insane Asylum: With the Testimony of Mrs. Minard, Mrs. Shedd, Mrs. Yates, and Mrs. Lake, all corroborated by the Investigating Committee of the Legislature of Illinois. Collected and Published by Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard. Chicago: J. N. Clarke, 1871. Print. Google Scholar

Packard, Elizabeth Parsons Ware. The Prisoners' Hidden Life, Insane Asylums Unveiled: As Demonstrated by the Report of the Investigating Committee of the Legislature of Illinois, Together with the Testimony of Mrs. Minard, Mrs. Shedd, Mrs. Yates, and Mrs. Lake, All Corroborated by the Investigating Committee of the Legislature of Illinois. Chicago: J. N. Clarke, 1871. Print. Google Scholar

Packard, Elizabeth Parsons Ware. Modern Persecution, or Insane Asylums Unveiled, as Demonstrated by the Report of the Investigating Committee of the Legislature of Illinois. Hartford: Case, Lockwood and Brainard, 1874. Print. Google Scholar

Packard, Elizabeth Parsons Ware. Modern Persecution, or Married Women's Liabilities, as Demonstrated by the Action of the Illinois Legislature. Hartford: Case, Lockwood and Brainard, 1874. Print. Google Scholar

Ray, Isaac. A Treatise on the Medical Jurisprudence of Insanity. Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1838. Print. Google Scholar

Reiss, Benjamin. Theatres of Madness: Insane Asylums and Nineteenth Century American Culture. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2008. Print. Google Scholar

Robertson, Lisa Ann. "'Sensible' Slavery: Pleasure, Pain and the Body in Matthew Lewis' Journal of a West India Proprietor." Prose Studies 29.2 (2007): 220–37. Print. Google Scholar

Schweik, Susan M. The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public. New York: New York UP, 2009. Print. Google Scholar

Smith, Sidonie, and Julia Watson. Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Reading Life Narratives. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2001. Print. Google Scholar

Swan, Moses. Ten Years and Ten Months in Lunatic Asylums in Different States. Hoosick Falls, 1874. Print. Google Scholar

Truth, Sojourner. "'Ain't I a Woman?', December 1851." Fordham University. 1997. Web. 31 May 2010. Google Scholar

Tuke, Daniel Hake. The Insane in the United States and Canada. 1885. New York: Arno, 1973. Print. Google Scholar

Wood, Mary Elene. The Writing on the Wall: Women's Autobiography and the Asylum. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1994. Print. Google Scholar

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Newman, Sara