We were just discussing in class tonight the fact that men actually believed that reading, writing, and studying hurt women and could cause deformed babies.
Then Clayton Cramer wrote about the same topic.
In the early 19th century, the causes of mental illness were subject to quite interesting speculations. I’ve mentioned previously a 1645 diary entry by Governor Winthrop of Massachusetts, who ascribed the insanity of the wife of the governor of Hartford (not yet merged into Connecticut colony) to excessive study and writing books. (Women weren’t supposed to write books.)
In looking at T. Romeyn Beck, â€œStatistical Notices of Some of the Lunatic Asylums of the United States,â€ Transactions of the Albany Institute (Albany, N.Y.: Webster & Skinners, 1830), I see a list of causes of mental illness from the Connecticut mental hospital opened at Hartford, Connecticut, in 1824. Some of them aren’t particularly bizarre ideas for possible causes such as “blow on the head” and others are even today recognized as possible causes of mental illness: “intemperance.” But I see eight patients listed as ill because of “excessive study” and six listed as “Predisposition from various causes, (one from novel reading).”
In case you are wondering why we were discussing it, we read “The Story of an Hour” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” in class and were discussing earlier views of women.