The Rest Cure

During the nineteenth century, medical treatment, particularly the treatment of mental illnesses and issues, was severely flawed and lacking in significant scientific and technological research in order to cure illness. The lack of development in certain aspects of health care and medical science, combined with the lack of women’s rights and inability to treat women as equal beings in a male-dominated, patriarchal society, therefore brought light to a treatment called ‘The Rest Cure’. This was developed in the late 1800’s by a psychologist named Dr. Weir Mitchell in order to provide a treatment for ‘hysteria’ and a plethora of other nervous illnesses that had not found a method of treatment beforehand. The treatment was developed to increase a patient’s weight and remove the patient from potentially detrimental social interaction, however, it is now believed that the treatment actually further increased many of the nervous illnesses.

The rest cure was a treatment that was usually endured for six to eight weeks. It involved the complete isolation from society, friends, and family and kept the patient alone for the entire period. Additionally, it recommended bed rest and a lack of activities such as writing, reading, talking or any other similar action. Patients were consistently fed on a largely fat based diet, meaning sometimes the consumption of spoonfuls of butter or lard. Doctors and nurses also used electrotherapy to maintain muscle activity due to the lack of movement.

The most common experience of the rest cure would be in the novella of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The text depicts a woman who is treated with the rest cure and confined in a single attic, in which the room is decorated with a sickening yellow wallpaper. The novella then illustrates her further mental deterioration, in which she becomes obsessed with the wallpaper and ends up tearing it down. Charlotte Perkins Gilman created this short story not only to protest against the male-dominated society during the Victorian era but also to protest against the treatment of women who encountered the rest cure, in which she herself had a personal experience with. The woman in the text is most likely suffering with some form of post-natal depression, however, the lack of understanding of health combined with the prejudice of ‘hysteria’ that was imposed on women during the nineteenth century, meant that the treatment of the rest cure simply contributed to her decline and finishes with an almost disturbing and sad ending.

From, The Victorian Blogger


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