Personalizing Illness and Modernity: S. Weir Mitchell, Literary Women, and Neurasthenia, 1870-1914
Abstract

This article examines how the affliction of neurasthenia, commonly diagnosed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, acted as a catalyst for intellectual and lifestyle changes during a time of modernization. At the center of the study are three individuals: neurologist S. Weir Mitchell (1829–1914) and two of his patients, critic and historian Amelia Gere Mason (1831–1923) and writer and homemaker Sarah Butler Wister (1835–1908). Using archived correspondence between Mitchell and his patients, this article seeks to reveal how each woman tailored her treatment to fit her personal sensibilities; to reassess Mitchell's notorious reputation as a misogynist (gained largely from his 1887 treatment of Charlotte Perkins Gilman); and to develop a more nuanced understanding of the doctor-patient relationship in neurasthenia cases.


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