Female lunatic dress

Contributed by Cornwall Museums

Female lunatic dress

THIS OBJECT IS PART OF THE PROJECT 'A HISTORY OF CORNWALL IN 100 OBJECTS'.

BODMIN MUSEUM. Once the mere whisper of Bodmin's lunatic asylum, St Lawrence's, was enough to put the fear of God into Cornish men and women. The dark dress is a poignant reminder of the uniform stigma of lunacy. Made in the 1890s, it is of a very hard wearing cloth. The collars and cuffs have been repeatedly stitched to prevent the women ripping their dresses to shreds. This was a time when women who had children out of wedlock could be sent to asylums.

The Bodmin lunatic asylum began as a leper hospital in the medieval period. In the Victorian period it was known for more humane treatment. The superintendent up to 1868 was William Robert Hicks. He was a witty speaker, story-teller and humourist. Fresh air and useful work, like gardening, were among his preferred treatments. Times change indeed and now the old asylum buildings are luxury flats and houses. The museum also has other uniforms of a warder and male patient (see photo).

Photo: Bernie Pettersen

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