Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Schools and Centres

Arts & Sciences

First Supervisor

Doctor Leigh Straw

Second Supervisor

Professor Deborah Gare


From 1858 to 1908, at least 452 women were admitted to the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum. Through an exploration of nineteenth-century theories of moral treatment, new insights into female patient experiences will allow for greater understanding of Fremantle’s working-class women in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including those behaviours that were considered insane. The appraisal of moral treatment techniques also allows for a new investigation into the enforcement of nineteenth-century, socially-accepted ideas of womanhood.

In its three parts, using patient records, case books, and other sources, this thesis examines understandings of women’s insanity as they evolved in nineteenth-century Britain. It determines how Western Australia responded to such understandings in the provision of care to “insane” women. It also interrogates evidence of patient treatment in the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum in order to determine how moral treatment was implemented and experienced in the care of female patients. Finally, this thesis reveals that the application of moral treatment was used without regard to patient circumstance and diagnosis, and had varied outcomes for women.

Evidence within this thesis is explored through a feminist lens. I make a unique contribution to scholarship through analysis of new data, and socio-biographical case study investigations of the women admitted to the asylum. The thesis creates new understandings between female lunacy, morality, and the expectations of womanhood in nineteenth-century Western Australia.

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