Dear Dr. Menninger: Women's Voices from the Thirties

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9780826211118: Dear Dr. Menninger: Women's Voices from the Thirties

In 1930 Dr. Karl A. Menninger, one of America's most distinguished psychiatrists, was asked by the editor of Ladies' Home Journal to write a monthly column that would address mental health issues and answer questions from readers. The result was the widely popular column "Mental Hygiene in the Home," which ran for eighteen months at a time when the American public was just beginning to popularize the idea of mental hygiene and psychotherapy.

Of the thousands of letters Dr. Menninger received, only a small number were printed in the Journal. However, he wrote personal responses to all of them, over two thousand of which have been preserved. For this book, Howard J. Faulkner and Virginia D. Pruitt have selected more than eighty exchanges that provide intimate glimpses into the personal lives of women from across the country.

Most notable in this fascinating collection is the precision and clarity of the women's voices, as well as Dr. Menninger's incisive, analytical, and elegantly phrased replies. The topics that were of major concern to these women included their own sexuality, cheating husbands, problem children, and interfering in-lawsțin other words, the same issues that many women still face today. Although Dr. Menninger's advice may sometimes be questionable by modern standards, these letters provide a useful look at the social assumptions of the 1930s.

Included in the book is an excellent introduction by the editors that traces America's affection for advice columns, chronicles Dr. Menninger's life and work, and provides an overview of the development of psychotherapy. Entertaining as well as informative, these letters not only offer a valuable reflection of women's issues during the Depression era but also invite comparison and contrast with contemporary problems, attitudes, and values.

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Review:

In the 1930s Karl Menninger became an American poster boy for the exotic art of psychiatry. From a soapbox in Ladies Home Journal, he dispensed the latest in "mental hygiene" advice--some insightful, some delightfully tart, and some impossibly benighted by the standards of today. This collection of letters sent to the magazine (most were never printed) focuses on women struggling with narcissistic natures or mates, scurrilous in-laws, frigidity, philandering husbands, and doubts about sexuality. Many of his earnest correspondents had absorbed and spit back an impressive amount of psychobabble, the better to analyze themselves, their loved ones, and assorted predicaments that still have a familiar ring decades later. They--and he--give us a mint glimpse of '30s mores and social adjustments that women were called upon to make. With 20-20 hindsight, the economic conditions of the Depression sets their worries in a wider context.

About the Author:

Howard J. Faulkner and Virginia D. Pruitt are professors of English at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. They have coedited two other volumes of Karl Menninger's letters, The Selected Correspondence of Karl A. Menninger, 1919-1945 and The Selected Correspondence of Karl A. Menninger, 1946-1965.

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