Peculiar Institutions: Representations of Nineteenth-Century Black Women's Madness and Confinement in Slavery and Asylums Open Access

Louis, Diana Martha (2014)

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This dissertation examines representations of black women's madness and confinement in slavery and asylums in the nineteenth-century. It begins with an examination of black women in slavery, then moves to a discussion of the connections between slavery and asylums and ends with an examination of black women in one post- bellum asylum. It uses theories of intersectionality, madness and confinement to analyze Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (ILSG) alongside reconstructed narratives of Viney W., Jane G., Olivia W., Alice M. and Amanda C., black women who were sent to Georgia Lunatic Asylum (GLA) between 1881 and 1894. I argue that Harriet Jacobs' narrative reveals how slavery not only harmed the bodies of black women; it also created mental illness. Through her depictions of the predicament of black enslaved women, Jacobs uncovers how the institution psychologically wounded them. Harriet Jacobs' theorization that slavery was detrimental to black mental health reflects what I call anti-slavery psychiatry. By putting African American anti-slavery psychiatry in conversation with nineteenth-century pro-slavery psychiatric discourses, I establish how slavery and asylums came to be interrelated. Finally, the project examines how the interrelation between slavery and asylums plays out in the life stories of formerly enslaved women who were sent to GLA. An analysis of their experiences shows that during and after slavery medical discourses shaped the category of madness and justified confinement in asylums. Ultimately, this study shows that for black women slavery and the asylum were not only similar but also interdependent. Madness and confinement (in slavery or asylums) are so inextricably linked that to consider one without the other leaves an understanding of either severely lacking. Furthermore, the intersecting discourses of madness, confinement, race and gender shaped black women's unique experiences in both institutions.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter One
The Bitterness of Mental Suffering: Psychological Costs of Black
Women's Enslavement in Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl 31

Chapter Two
Natural and Habitual Orders: Slavery, Asylums and Psychiatric Discourses 77

Chapter Three
All the Colored Insane Were Men, All Insane Women Were White,
but Some

of Them Were Brave: Slavery, Asylums and

Mad Black Women in the Post-Slavery South 118

Conclusion 164

Bibliography 175

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