Title

"Personalizing Illness and Modernity: S. Weir Mitchell, Literary Women, and Neurasthenia, 1870-1914"

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

Winter 2005

Publication Source

Bulletin of the History of Medicine

Volume

79

Issue

4

Inclusive pages

695-722

Publisher

Johns Hopkins University Press

Peer Reviewed

yes

Abstract

This article examines how the affliction of neurasthenia, commonly diagnosed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, acted as a catalyst for intellectual and lifestyle changes during a time of modernization. At the center of the study are three individuals: neurologist S. Weir Mitchell (1829-1914) and two of his patients, critic and historian Amelia Gere Mason (1831-1923) and writer and homemaker Sarah Butler Wister (1835-1908). Using archived correspondence between Mitchell and his patients, this article seeks to reveal how each woman tailored her treatment to fit her personal sensibilities; to reassess Mitchell’s notorious reputation as a misogynist (gained mainly from his 1887 treatment of Charlotte Perkins Gilman); and to develop a more nuanced understanding of the doctor-patient relationship in neurasthenia cases.

Keywords

history, medicine, culture, gender, doctor-patient relationship, S. Weir Mitchell, Amelia Gere Mason, Sarah Butler Wister, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, neurasthenia

Disciplines

Cultural History | History | History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Social History | United States History | Women's History | Women's Studies

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