Institutional Representative Board Member, University of St Andrews
My research explores madness and childbirth in nineteenth century Scotland. During the nineteenth century, the developing psychiatric profession began to classify and rationalize the range of mental disturbances that women could experience around the birth of their children. The term ‘puerperal insanity’ emerged as a diagnosis of madness caused by childbirth. In its milder forms, women lost interest in their families and failed to look after their homes. In the worst instances, women might injure themselves or their family members, or even murder their infants. At a time when motherhood was seen as a woman’s foremost duty and pivotal role, such behavior seemed to challenge the feminine and maternal ideal and indeed strike at the heart of family life and society.
My aim is to examine the discourses of insanity associated with reproduction in a Scottish context, and to consider the forces at work in the admission of women to the charitable asylums and in their subsequent diagnosis and treatment, with particular reference to the influence of class, status and social background.
I am funded by the Strathmartine Trust, St Andrews, through the Strathmartine Trust Scottish History Scholarship, and supervised by Prof. Rab Houston at the University of St Andrews.