“…well-behaved women seldom make history.”

~ Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

from the book: Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

While Ms. Ulrich might have been originally imploring us to take a look at the well behaved women who did not make history, we will be taking a peek at women who did not behave as others thought they should and how history was forever changed because of them. Now keep in mind, this is just the tiniest snapshot of these women and by no means an exhaustive dive into their lives and deeds.

How far we have come in women’s mental health

This month’s subject is so vast, it is hard to distill down into just a few women. After all, this is literally half the population of the world for all of known time. And so I will give you a few additional resources to pursue if you want to take a deeper dive. As always, because mental health and therapy is what we do, we look at history through the lens of mental health.

First let’s begin with how far we’ve come. It was not until the 20th century that mental illness in women began to be seen as anything beyond ‘hysteria’, a millenia old term gleaned from the Greek word for uterus, or worse, witchcraft. Mental illness in women was described as something caused by the uterus being out of place or they were possessed by some spiritual entity. Yes. I’m rolling my eyes with you. Women’s medical complaints were often dismissed with it being in their head or they were just ‘hysterical’.

Even the briefest research into the subject is fraught with so much misconception and misinformation that the medical establishment has historically had about women’s bodies that it’s hard to touch on just one. My favorite two cringe worthy historical ideas might be that first, the uterus wandered around the inside of a woman’s body and caused irritability and suffocation. The second that the cure was marriage and regular intercourse because sperm had ‘healing powers’. If there was an appropriate place for a ‘smacks forehead’ emoji, it would be here.

A few notable women in mental health

Mamie Phipps Clark

1917 – 1983

Mamie Phipps Clark was the first African American Woman to receive her PhD from Columbia University. She took her research and formulated the “The Dolls Test”, implementing it with children in the 1940’s which would help psychologists understand positive and negative traits attributed to race in the US. Our modern ideas about the benefits of representation in the media may have gotten their start right here. Her work was crucial to the case of Brown vs. The Board of Education, ending segregation in US schools.  You can read more about her here.

Joyce Brothers

1927 – 2013

An NYC native, Joyce Brothers had a varied career and education that eventually led her to earn her Master’s degree and PhD in Psychology from Columbia University. She had the ultimate side hustle of winning the popular TV Quiz show “The $64,000 Question”. Her nimble mind with a photographic memory led her to win the show and a career as a boxing commentator. She catapulted her TV fame to speak on the topic of psychology. She was a clear and effective communicator and her popularity led to an uptick in awareness about the field of psychology. You can read more about her history here.

Women from every walk of life have changed mental health for the better

The women, trans, cis, young and old who have shaped the history of not only mental health but the quality of life for women everywhere are a vast field of movers and shakers. I cannot begin to even cover them all in a blog post so I’ll post some links for you to take your reading further. 

We here at Abide Counseling acknowledge the work that you have done to get to a place of healing and the work that women of history have done before us. We are grateful for each of them and for you. Just as these women have made history by their work, education, research and willingness to speak about mental health, we encourage you to make history in your own way, whatever your sphere of reach may be.

Take it further

Inspirational Black women in history – https://www.pbs.org/articles/inspirational-black-women-in-history/

Famous women in psychology https://blog.zencare.co/famous-women-in-psychology/

Ten women who were medical pioneers https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/celebrating-10-women-medical-pioneers

Seven transgender women who made history https://artsandculture.google.com/story/7-transgender-women-who-made-history/IQXxZJkrXO9V5w?hl=en

The Extraordinary Secret life Dr. James Barry. A doctor who began as a woman and had a medical career as a man in the 1800’s. https://www.history.com/news/the-extraordinary-secret-life-of-dr-james-barry

The Sisters Blackwell – early medical doctors https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/02/01/the-blackwell-sisters-and-the-harrowing-history-of-modern-medicine

Women’s History of Mental Health https://foundation2.org/womens-history-of-mental-health/

If you or someone you care about is in need of counseling, we are here for you. Please reach out and let us set up an appointment. Right now Trans/NB teens and parents of trans youth receive one 50-minute therapy session free of charge, in person in Mt Juliet or via telehealth. Mention TNLOVE on our contact form or call 615-358-8588.


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