An in-depth look into the history of the “rest cure”

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A comic strip connecting the rest cure and “The Yellow Wallpaper”.

       In the late 19th century, Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote her short story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” This short story would expose the semi comical yet saddening effects of the rest cure. After Gilman gave birth to her first daughter, she quickly became depressed and was diagnosed with neurasthenia. Neurasthenia is now commonly known as post-partum depression and is most common in women.

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Women while being treated by rest cure.

The rest cure was a treatment plan that was designed to keep women calm while encouraging them to obtain their duties to the family and home. The cure had three core fundamentals: rest, isolation’s, feeding, and occasionally electro massage -therapy. With this treatment, the patient was instructed to rest for twenty-four solid hours a day. A nurse would be required sit in to care for the patient. This care would include feeding, encouraging good thoughts, and sponge baths. For many prescribed this cure, milk was the only substance one could have for the first week. If the patient was lactose intolerant, they would be given up to eighteen raw eggs a day. Eventually, the patient would fall into a state of ease, meaning, the brain had stopped working in an intellectual manor.  The patient would then be kept in a constant state of calm. His would reduce “emotions and [allow] an easy drifting thought”. Over the course of this treatment, restlessness would begin to occur and light non-strenuous exercise would be added to the regimen.  After the rest cure had been completed, the patient would then begin to return to her normal life. She would begin to communicate with family and friends and resume daily chores.

The creator of the rest cure, S. Weir Mitchell, felt that this cure was a sure way to reduce the stress of constant anxiety and allow the woman to focus on her “womanly duties”. Though the rest cure had some successful cases, it was proven that the cure would not be a successful treatment for everyone. Physician Charles Dana reported that women who were strong witted and had higher IQ’s had an extremely low success rate with the rest cure.

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This is probably an exact drawing of Gilman while undergoing rest cure during “The Yellow Wallpaper”.

For Charlotte Gilman the rest cure was the worst possible treatment plan. Gilman was a clever woman who enjoyed reading, writing, and painting.  After she spent a little over three months attempting to follow Dr. Mitchell’s orders, she gave up.  According to Gilman, she was “near the borderline of utter mental ruin” due to the total lack of intellectual stimulation.

In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”, she highlights the problems of the rest cure that drove her senseless.

  http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?articleid=98340

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