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June 09, 2011

I recently took a trip out of town to visit a friend in a sanitarium - now a psychiatric hospital. As I drove up, it looked just like the sanitariums in the movies - lovely cottages in a pastoral setting, built to house people for the rest of their lives. Now, most people only stay for a short visit, as was my friend’s experience. 

As I walked through the grounds, I couldn’t help but think of the people who were sent to sanitariums because they were outside of the norm—because their husbands were tired of them, because they were not heterosexual, or because of their home life. I thought about a friend who was committed to a sanitarium/hospital simply because of the stress of seeing her husband abuse her children from a previous marriage. I thought about relatives who did not share the loves of their lives with me because they were homosexual, which was considered a mental illness and might provoke a stay in a sanitarium. I always cry when I think about their loved ones whom I never met. And, I thought about my mother’s attorney friend who was defending a woman whose husband wanted to put her in a sanitarium so he could divorce her to marry someone else. At that time, adultery and mental illness were pretty much the only reasons one could get a divorce. The attorney lost the case, the woman went to the sanitarium, and my mother cried for days.

I am so thankful that through the work of the Women’s Fund and other organizations, stories like these are so rare. And, I think that most women, regardless of where they are on the political spectrum, would be troubled by stories such as these. So often, right now, we look for what divides us. Let’s also share stories about what unites us as people and as women.