"Sort of Tragic and Serene:" Southern Women and Insanity from 1880 to 1920
Baumann, Sarah C.
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The case files used from the South Carolina Mental Hospital have three stories to be told within their lines. The first story was that of the hospital administrators. The asylum form itself set a certain standard of criteria that administrators wanted recorded about these patients, such as name, race, diagnosis, "predisposing cause," "exciting cause" and "civil condition." The terms exciting and predisposing cause were inconsistently defined by the entrance physicians. However, the term "predisposing cause" can be mostly be defined as the foundation of an illness. The most common example of this was "hereditary," meaning cases of insanity ran within the patient's family. "Exciting cause," another required field, can be defined as the immediate cause of insanity. Bouts of insanity were often described by "attacks," meaning specific intervals in time in which the patient expressed symptoms of mental illness. Thus, an exciting cause described what brought on the most recent "attack." One such example is "childbirth." The last important term, "civil condition," simply means marital status. In this section, physicians recorded whether a patient was single, married, or widowed. These forms and the medical terms they used set the parameters of diagnosis in which physicians worked.