Gendered Notions of Feeblemindedness Bibliography

Query From Jeffie Roberts 17 Feb 1998

Hello - I am hoping that list members might be able to offer some thoughts on, or bibliographical references for, a comparative historiographical project (that I hope to convert to a first chapter of my thesis next year) on the construction of gendered notions of feeblemindedness in the late nineteenth century and especially twentieth century Canada, United States and Britain. Many thanks, in advance, for your help!


Alexander, Ruth _The Girl Problem: Female Sexual Delinquency in New York, 1900-1930_(Ithaca,NY: Cornell U.P., 1995).

Dowbiggin, Ian _Keeping America Sane:Psychiatry and Eugenics in the United States and Canada, 1880-1940_(Cornell UP, 1997).

Lunbeck, Elizabeth _The Psychiatric Persuasion: Knowledge, Gender, and Power in Modern America_(Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1994).

Reilly, Philip _The Surgical Solution: A History of Involuntary Sterilization in the United States_(Balto: JHU Press, 1991).

Other Suggestions:

Contact Katharine Bement Davis, based in NYC: former superintendent of the Bedford Reformatory for Women (just outside NYC), worked w/the Bureau of Social Hygiene, possibly Superintendent(?) of Corrections for NYC.

In the UK, Mathew Thomson has done some interesting work...not sure if a book exists, but there are various articles

There may be a recent book called something like _FeebleMindedness _ that traces the term, again in the U.S.

From Sara Gelser 24 Feb 1998

It is exciting to see folks working on disability history. My own master's (which is almost complete) is looking at the political climate for women in Oregon in the second half of the nineteenth century. However, because I am the parent of a child with intellectual disabilities, I've been quite distracted by the history of mental retardation. Should I pursue a PhD, this is the area I would choose to concentrate my efforts.

Because of my personal tie into this, I ask the editor to please not forward this to the list should she deem it inappropriate. However, I'd just like to caution people against the use of the word "feeblemindedness" in general discussions like this. I realize that when speaking of the period this is the term which was in use, but as a member of the mentally retarded community it feels to me that using the term out of context in a general way is akin to other racial, ethnic and religious slurs which might be used appropriately when writing a history, but not appropriate for conversation.

Thanks for your sensitivity to this matter.

Sara Gelser
Oregon State University