The Convenient Use of Insanity to Deal with a Woman

Fairfield

Sergeant Major
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Dec 5, 2019
For most of history a woman lost all of her possessions when she married so there would be no need to remove her.
Certainly, a woman lost control of those assets on marriage but ultimate ownership may have varied. For instance, Mary Custis Lee never ceased to be the actual owner of Arlington although her husband (Robert E.) was in control; she was the owner--during her lifetime--by terms of her father's will.
 

Fairfield

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He also took their children. She had no rights to custody. As a mother that I imagine that created the deepest wound.
Usually. But doing research on local ACW soldiers, in court documents I found cases where the wife was awarded custody--but these cases all were when the wife sued on grounds of "drunken and immoral behavior" by the husband.
 

lupaglupa

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Certainly, a woman lost control of those assets on marriage but ultimate ownership may have varied. For instance, Mary Custis Lee never ceased to be the actual owner of Arlington although her husband (Robert E.) was in control; she was the owner--during her lifetime--by terms of her father's will.
They may have had a bridal contract that specified that as well.
 

Fairfield

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They may have had a bridal contract that specified that as well.
I don't know. Custis had 3 plantations which he left to his 3 grandsons--but the main plantation, Arlington, included the clause that it was to be Mary Lee's during her lifetime. I doubt that Mrs. Lee (herself) had any say over the running of that estate.
 
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Was there any medical evidence she wasn't insane?

Her findagrave account says two physicians certified her insane, when she was released from asylum it was as incurably insane, so those asylum physicians must have concured.

This passage is curious too "She married Theophilus Packard at Shelburne, Massachusetts in 1839. After twenty-one years of married life she was taken to the insane asylum at Jacksonville, Illinois, where she remained three years. Her mind being fully restored, she determined to devote the rest of her life to working for corrective legislation for the insane."

Wouldn't that imply she had suffered a real episode of illness?
 
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lupaglupa

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Of course, the term insane covered a lot of ground. And as there were no real treatments most mental illness was incurable. A lot of people suffer from mental illness and are still capable of making decisions over their own lives.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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It raises the question of how many women were declared to be insane because of greedy relatives? Did Elizabeth Packard have assets that the Reverend might have lost in divorce? In a discussion of women's property rights, I found that the cases of Elizabeth Packard and Mary Lincoln were specifically cited.
This was a lot more common than one thought. If you read the fictional book “1000 White Women” that’s the whole premise of the heroine. That book is SO realistically written and set in the presidency of Grant, that I had to check twice to make sure it was fiction.

It happened in England a great deal and my mother saw what happened to her mother and aunt. They weren’t sent to insane asylums but lost absolutely everything pre-1927 because property in NH went to males and one grandmother WAS sent to the NH insane asylum and was dead within a few weeks. Makes you wonder what went on there and that was very early 1920s.

My mother married in 1956 and had an estate of 25K in cash and her own home free and clear. No small feat for a woman. She also had the responsibility of her 4-year-old daughter (her WWII husband abandoned the family) and her elderly mother). When she and my father married, she made him sign a pre-nuptial contract at a lawyer drew up (I have a copy of it!). Everyone in her family thought she was “horrible” for requiring that. My father gladly signed it. She wasn’t going to have assets transferred to another family in case of divorce. She brought much more money into the marriage than my father did. Smart lady - she had seen it all.
 

DBF

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Makes you wonder what went on there
Unfortunately we don’t know. While researching this topic I came across some articles regarding “early treatment and diagnosis”.

Dr. Benjamin Rush (1745-1813) a signer of the Declaration of Independence is often referred to as the “Father of American Psychiatry”. His work “Medical Inquiries and Observations Upon Diseases of the Mind” was published in 1912. For the next fifty years it was among a major textbook on the subject of mental health. He believed:

“that mental diseases were caused by irritation of the blood vessels in the brain” [and therefore] “treatment methods included bleeding, purging, hot and cold baths, and mercury, and he invented a tranquilizer chair (a heavy wooden chair used in which patients were strapped at the chest, abdomen, ankles, and knees, with their head inserted in a wooden box) and a gyrator (a horizontal board on which patients were strapped and spun to stimulate blood circulation) for psychiatric patients.” {*}

And along the lines with “what was considered insane” there is this sad case:

In 1851 a Louisiana physician, Dr. Samuel Cartwright published his book “"Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race," In it he describes two mental disorder he called “Drapetomia” (a condition that causes slaves to run away); and "Dysaethesia Aethiopica," (a disease causing “rascality” or bad behavior among slaves whether they are in chains or free). The cure as he determined:

"With the advantages of proper medical advice, strictly followed, this troublesome practice that many negroes have of running away, can be almost entirely prevented, although the slaves be located on the borders of a free state, within a stone's throw of the abolitionists.” {**}

Dr. John Galt (1819-1862) believed in patients having good nutrition and sleep. Instead of isolating his patients he encouraged socialization and instituted the policy of recreation and exercise for the mentally ill. He believed the mentally ill:

“differ from us in degree, but not in kind" and they are entitled to human dignity. He also brought therapeutic activities and talk therapy.” {***}

Ironically the doctor who met the issues of mental illness head-on would face disappointments and depression in his later years. When he encouraged de-institutionalization some of his patients he was met with a Board of Directors all of whom were not in favor or supportive of this plan. Three various times his plan was rejected to the point where Dr. Galt fell into depression and committed suicide in 1862.

There was a positive aspect to Dr. Galt’s work when he met woman that would go on impact the field of mental illness - - - -​

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{*} https://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/diseases/benjamin.html
{**} https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h3106.html
{***}
https://firstinsaneasylum.weebly.com/dr-john-minson-galt.html
 

Fairfield

Sergeant Major
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Dec 5, 2019
The term "insane" was also more loosely used. Genealogists know that, on the 1840 census, “insane” might mean a periodic condition of unusual behavior while “idiotic” might mean a permanent learning disability, but there were no precise definitions. In 1880 there is a special census supplement--the DDD (Schedule of Defective, Dependent and Delinquent cClasses) which listed people who were insane, sick, poor or simply unable to care for themselves.
 
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