Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Susanne George, Vernon Volpe, Roger Davis, Michael Schuyler
By the spoken and written word myths have been handed down from generation to generation perpetuating the notion that women failed to endure the hardships of the Plains settlement experience and were driven insane. This thesis, ''Crazy Quilt Legacy: Uncovering Myths of Women's Madness on the Plains," examines from a historical perspective this myth of insanity, and pieces together the realities surrounding women who seemed to fall victim to mental disorders during the settlement years on the Great Plains, particularly Nebraska.
Research for this work centers on primary sources in Nebraska, including papers and records from the Nebraska State Historical Society Archives, public records, and Nebraska newspapers from the settlement period. Information in these sources reveal actions and attitudes that influenced settlement society, and also the stories of individual women who were a part of that society.
The available data is significant to support the thesis dispelling the myth of the Plains pioneer woman driven to madness by the isolation, hardships, and the environment of the settlement experience. Although the myth of crazy women on the Plains is based on fact, the idea that many women went insane is misleading. Only a small segment of pioneer women were actually insane, although there were a substantial number of women in the nineteenth century who experienced mental disorders. Also misleading are the notions that mental disorders were gender specific to women, that all were living in isolated rural areas, that all experienced unbelievable hardships, or that it was the environment that drove them to insanity.
Considering that the settlement society of the Great Plains was influenced by Victorian attitudes, changing roles for women, the way mental disorders were diagnosed and treated, and the larger context of a rapidly industrializing America, it can be determined that a variety of cultural factors and changes influenced settlement society. Hardships and personal changes within individual Plain's women's lives were accompanied by these societal attitudes and changes, therefore insufficient proof exists to show that it was only the increased hardships of the Plains existence that doomed women to insanity.
Johnson, Nancy B., "Crazy Quilt Legacy: Uncovering Myths of Women's Madness on the Plains" (1994). History Theses, Dissertations, and Student Creative Activity. 30.