Gender and lunacy : a study of women patients at the Auckland Lunatic Asylum, 1870-1910 : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in history at Massey University
This is a study of the experience of the insane in nineteenth century New Zealand and it examines in detail a sample of 45 women and 15 men who were admitted to the Auckland Lunatic Asylum between 1870 and 1910. Based on patient casenotes, reports by asylum officials, newspaper accounts, and drawing on recent overseas historical literature about insanity, the thesis analyses why these patients were labelled insane, what that process involved, and the techniques adopted to treat the mentally ill. Throughout it emphasises the socially-constructed nature of mental illness and aims to determine the extent to which gender was a factor in the processes of detection and incarceration. Although the focus is primarily on women, men are included as it is argued that gender is a comparative tool of analysis. The study concludes that committal and treatment were all heavily influenced by gender in varying degrees. However it also argues that examining gender does not tell the whole story. Complex pressures all played their role. These included notions of propriety, social and familial conflict, economic distress, material conditions and race.