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Insanity, Gender and Empire: Women Living a ‘Loose Kind of Life’ on the Colonial Institutional Margins, 1870–1910

Catharine Coleborne
Health and History
Vol. 14, No. 1, Special Issue: Health and Place: Medicine, Ethnicity, and Colonial Identities (2012), pp. 77-99
DOI: 10.5401/healthhist.14.1.0077
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5401/healthhist.14.1.0077
Page Count: 23
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Article
References
Insanity, Gender and Empire: Women Living a ‘Loose Kind of
                    Life’ on the Colonial Institutional Margins,
                    1870–1910
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Abstract

This article examines how female immigrants were characterised inside the Yarra Bend Asylum in Melbourne, Victoria (Hospital for the Insane after 1905), once they slipped into the world of the institutionally ‘hidden.’ Forms of social difference inside colonial institutions for the insane were embedded in patient case records. This article argues that through a closer examination of cases of female immigrants, we might find out more about gender relations in colonial situations. In particular, this article returns to ideas about women patients and constructions of these women through case records to uncover new interpretations of this material in the Australasian context. To do this, it sets out specific ways of reading patient cases and teases out the importance of these frameworks for making some kind of synthesis of the ways in which institutionalised people—already at the margins of society—were further marginalised inside institutional populations through specific practices. It examines immigrant women in the hospitals for the insane; the cases of women designated as living so-called ‘loose’ lives who also ended up inside the institution for the insane; and finally, concludes with a commentary about the descriptive power of cases and the production of concepts of gender, class, and race difference within their pages.

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