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This is a collection of twenty-six first-hand accounts by women institutionalized in mental hospitals or "asylums" in America between the mid-nineteenth century and the end of World War II. The book is divided into four historical periods, each introduced by the editors with an essay contextualizing the narratives in relation to the history of the psychiatric establishment, and to the roles, perceptions, and experiences of women in American culture.
The accounts are all extracts from works published by the writers, usually as attempts to expose the injustices of the mental health system. Most of the writers are not well known, with the exceptions of the author Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the actress Frances Farmer, whose account concludes the book [see film annotation in this data base: Frances].