The Rest Cure


Dr Charcot giving a lecture on hysteria at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris. Wellcome Collection CC-BY
Dr Charcot giving a lecture on hysteria at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris. Wellcome Collection CC-BY

The "rest cure" was a post American civil war treatment developed by Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell prescribed to people suffering with what he and other doctors at the time called hysteria and neurasthenia.


Mitchell developed different cures for men and women. Men were given the "West Cure," which required them to go out west and wrangle cattle, camp outdoors, bond with other men engaging in similar vigorous exercise, and write about the experience. The men returned home looking and feeling reinvigorated.


Women were given the "Rest Cure," which required them to check into sanitoriums for eight weeks, isolate themselves from others, and avoid activity by staying in bed all day. Massage, force feeding, and electroshock were also part of their therapy. During their internment, they were to avoid any intellectual stimulation. Once they were discharged, they were told to keep such intellectual activities to no more than two hours per day, and only when necessary. They would be better served, the doctors said, by living as domestic a life as possible.


American author Charlotte Perkins-Gilman was a patient of the Rest Cure, and she wrote about it in her now famous short story "The Yellow Wallpaper." The story echoes the modern-day sentiment that while the "West Cure" helped the men, the "Rest Cure" hurt the women. The isolation and lack of stimulation only made the mental health of women worse.


My novel The Secrets of the Greek Revival ( the first in The Mystery House Series) was inspired by Perkins-Gilman's story. Described as Nancy Drew meets The Golden Girls, it tells of three friends in their fifties who flip a house only to discover that it's haunted. They feel compelled to solve its old mystery to help untether the ghost as they conduct their renovation. Although they don't know what they're doing, and they get in way over their heads, they have good hearts and eventually discover the harrowing treatment of women that took place inside its walls.


Each novel in The Mystery House Series is based on a true historical injustice. The ladies go from one haunted location to another to investigate why the ghost or ghosts have been unable to move on. Each time, they uncover a piece of history that most people don't want to remember. But only by bringing the past injustice to light can the tethered souls be vindicated and able to find peace.


If you'd like to learn more about The Mystery House Series, please go here.


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Click to tweet: A post American civil war treatment called the #restcure required women diagnosed with #hysteria to check into a sanitorium for eight weeks where they were isolated, force fed, and given massage and electroshock therapy.

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