She inclined her head. “You’ll notice Abalone is gone. She was looking after me when I got back from that place just like she had since I was a baby. Daddy decided she was getting too old and sold her. Truth be known, she was giving the nurse fits about drugging me all the time and keeping my babies from me.”
She nodded, her eyes swimming in unshed tears. “Oh dear. I musn’t cry.”
“Oh, honey. Sometimes it’s all right to cry.”
She shook her head vigorously. “Oh, no. If I start crying again, they’ll send me back to that place. I can’t go back, Lorena. I’d die first.”
I patted her hand. “I’m sure they won’t. You were so brave when little Thomas died, but people know it’s human to grieve.”
“Brave nothing! I was terrified. I knew if I let down and mourned for my poor darling boy Daddy would send me back to that place and that horrible doctor.”
“Well, we shall pray for you to find another loving husband and have many more children. Not that they can replace Thomas, but it would help cheer your heart.”
She nibbled some tea bread and looked over the pond. “In a session with Dr. Whittey. What an appropriate name. I used to call him Whitless, but he is actually very clever. He gives not a whit about his patients, aside from the money their families send each month, though. One day he leaned back in his great leather chair and said, ‘Mrs. Chesswood, in my opinion as a professional, the chief cause of hysteria in women is them being over stimulated with female humours. When we take those things away that cause excitement the hysterical woman becomes calm and docile as she was meant to be. Remove these agitations and restore the woman. That is my theory, and it has been proven successful time and again.’ This was his excuse for putting patients in solitary confinement where they often went completely insane if they weren’t before. I had been placed there upon arrival to cure me of grieving for my husband, taken out only for my sessions with him or to bathe once a week.
“I responded, to him, ‘I tend to agree with you, Doctor. I think if men were removed from women’s lives they would be much saner.’
“He cut our session short and the next day I was given a hysterectomy to remove the ‘excitable organs’.” She sighed. “There will be no more children for me, but look! I am sane once more.”
I recoiled in horror. Peters’ threats became even more frightening. God help me if something happened to Esquire Lewis. “Emily, I don’t know what to say. I had heard rumors of terrible things, but could not believe they were true.”
She smiled wanly. “Oh, Lorena, you have no idea. God pray you never will.”
“How did you escape that place?”
“I learned not to cry. No matter what they did, I wouldn’t cry. I agreed with the doctor on all matters. I became as docile as a lamb. I played the part laid out for women so well he could not deny I was cured.”
This is a bit longer than I intended and I apologize. Lorena has gone to check on a friend of hers who has returned from an insane asylum, having been sent there after grieving too much for her dead husband. Humours are bodily fluids such as blood.
Victorian doctors felt that non-docile women could be returned to their proper mental state by performing various treatments, including hysterectomies, solitary confinement, shock therapy, being pelted with ice, or ice baths, or opiates, etc.