Date of Award

2008

Level of Access

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Advisor

Jacques Ferland

Second Committee Member

Scott See

Third Committee Member

Marli Weiner

Abstract

This dissertation constitutes an examination of the principal themes that appeared in the manifestations of insanity that led to the hospitalization of women at the asylum in Beauport, Quebec between 1894 and 1940. For this study, a variety of primary and secondary sources were utilized to determine whether or not the experience of "madness" in Quebec women of this period was gender-specific. From this review, it became evident that women were often viewed as being predisposed to mental illness due to their female biology and that failure to fulfill expected roles with respect to the proper practice of the Catholic religion and domestic and maternal duties also inclined family members and medical authorities to label women as insane. It became clear from the patient case registers and records from Beauport that there were two principal recurring themes in the ways in which mental illness manifested in Quebec women, through religious symbology and maternal and domestic themes. Religious symptomotology was the most prevalent in women's expressions of insanity, manifesting as excessive religious devotion, feelings of excessive religious guilt, fears of being damned, or rejection of religion. The maternal and domestic themes in the records took the form of a high percentage of instances in which patients were admitted following childbirth or who were described as failing in their domestic and maternal duties. Evidently, the families who committed female patients to Beauport found the religious symptoms women displayed as well as their failure in the domestic realm to be problematic. The striking prevalence of themes concerning the practice of the Catholic religion and the fulfillment of a maternal and domestic role in the records suggests several interesting interpretations. First, the way in which Quebec women expressed mental illness demonstrates that they experienced an underlying conflictual and ambivalent relationship to two of the cultural foundations of French Canadian society of the period, the Catholic Church and the domestic, maternal role expected of them, that of la mère canadienne-française. More importantly, women's rejection of prescribed roles was often viewed as a clear sign of insanity by both committing family members and the medical community.

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