The First Mrs. Rochester: Wrongful Confinement, Social Redundancy, and Commitment to the Private Asylum, 1883-1923
Warsh, Cheryl Krasnick
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Historians have debated the growth of asylums as either a movement towards social control or as a benevolent reform; yet commitment was primarily initiated by kin. The rapid overcrowding of asylums reflected the success of institutions in responding to family crises. Through analysis of 1,134 case histories of a private asylum. The Homewood Retreat of Guelph, Ontario, the dynamics of the late Victorian and Edwardian middle-class household are evident in the circumstances which culminated in the decision to commit. Urban industrialization and the declining birth rate rendered households less able to care for the insane, while the permeation of capitalist relations into family life rendered the heads of households less willing to care for nonproductive adult members, particularly socially redundant women. The diagnosis of neurasthenia enabled members of the middle class to institutionalize kin for behaviour which, although not violent or destructive, was irritating and antagonistic, thereby reflecting the high standard of middle-class proprieties.