Mrs. Cheneworth’s Suicide

“Popular Mode of Curing Insanity!” (image). “1873: Modern Persecution.” Disability History Museum. Straight Ahead Pictures. Accessed October 20, 2021.

The suicide of Mrs. Cheneworth is seen in both Packard’s A Prisoner’s Hidden Life and Greg Eghigian’s From Madness to Mental Health: Psychiatric Disorder and Its Treatment in Western Civilization. Packard writes of this event as being one that showcases the true treatment and abuse of power seen within the Illinois State Asylum. Packard also uses this event to further her agenda towards increasing patient rights and ensuring that patients are able to communicate with a support system outside of the asylum.1

Packard described Mrs. Cheneworth as women that had recently had a baby but was declared insane upon entrance to the asylum due to overuse of opioids and alcohol.2 It can be assumed in today’s understanding that Mrs. Cheneworth’s case may relate to post-partum depression and would have required proper treatment to help alleviate her symptoms. However, Packard claims that Mrs. Cheneworth was severely abused by the hand of her attendant Mrs. Bonner and was not in fact treated at all.3. The abuses that Packard claims happened to Mrs. Cheneworth are: choking, pounding (beating), kicking, being plunged under water, and nearly strangled to death.4 When Packard last saw Mrs. Cheneworth, she also claimed that she had camphor poured on her face which resulted in her going both blind and death for a time.5

The treatment of Mrs. Cheneworth resulted in her committing suicide while still under the hospital’s treatment. The abuses that are being claimed properly represent the sheer amount of power that the attendant and physicians had over the patients. It also important to note that Mrs. Cheneworth had no outside connections to anyone truth worthy to vent her abuses to.6 The lack of outside family or friends can be seen as beneficial to attendant who wish to abuse their power against the patients. If the patients have no one they can testify to, then the attendant may treat them how they see fir with little to no repercussions. Packard understands that connection. She wrote this specific account in A Prisoner’s Hidden Life because of its connection to the Illinois State Legislature. She used this story as a means to utilize the legislature’s power to prevent the abuse of power from those inside these asylums. Packard also makes a very clear point to blame Dr. McFarland for his ignorance on the matter and for permitting his physicians to treat the patients in this manner.6

  1. Greg Eghigian, From Madness to Mental Health: Psychiatric Disorder and Its Treatment in Western Civilization, Piscataway: Rutgers University Press, 2009, 167. []
  2. Ibid, 164. []
  3. Ibid, 165 []
  4. Ibid, 165. []
  5. Ibid, 166. []
  6. Ibid, 167. [] []