Sophomore Seminars

Madwomen and Madmen: Gender and the History of Mental Illness in the U.S.


This seminar explores the ways that gender and historical context shaped the experience and treatment of mental ill­ness in U.S. history. What is the relationship between historically constructed ideas of femininity and masculinity and madness? Why have women been the witches and hysterics of the past, while men experienced neurasthenia and schizoid conditions? Why have there historically been more women than men among the mentally ill? How has the emotional and psychological suffering of women differed from that of men, and how has it changed over time? Among the sources we use to explore these questions are memoirs and films such as The Three Faces of Eve and One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. By contrasting the changing ways women and men experienced mental illness and were treated in the past, this seminar will elucidate the historically embedded nature of medical ideas, diagnoses and treatments.


Meet the Instructor(s)

Margo Horn

Margo Horn's teaching and research focuses on topics relating to U.S. women's history and the history of medicine, and she has a long-standing interest in the history of madness and psychiatry. She teaches in Stanford's Department of History, the programs in History and Philosophy of Science, and American Studies. Professor Horn is the author of Before It's Too Late: The Child Guidance Movement in the United States, 1922-1945, which examines the development of outpatient child psychiatry. Her current research focuses on women and mental illness in U.S. history. Recently, she spent several summers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, directing a project to help local high school students gain admission to colleges and universities.