Mental health

“Feminist” alternative to 1920s women’s asylums offered dinners out, parties, and dignity

The entrance to Rock Haven Sanitarium circa 1920s. (City of Glendale)

In the 1920s, when mentally ill women were frequently quarantined away in state-run asylums, a sanitarium called Rockhaven in Glendale, Calif., pioneered a new, feminist way to treat female patients with “dignity,” according to a story on the historic property in The Atlantic. Founded by a former nurse who had worked in many of California’s asylums, Rockhaven allowed residents to throw parties, attend community picnics, and go out to dinner before returning to the cozy “found-rock cottage on a lush tree-lined estate” that had winding pathways dotted with rosebushes and ornately decorated guest rooms. The sanitarium came into being just as alcoholism was on the rise among women “drawn to the danger of speakeasies” during Prohibition.

“Nobody knew what to do with female alcoholics, and many were involuntarily committed,” the story notes. “At the same time, women, having just won the right to vote, were seen as more dangerous, and the State Lunacy Commission committed women liberally, often for flimsy or manufactured reasons.”

At a time when husbands could get their wives committed to asylums for “flimsy” reasons, Rockhaven sought to treat them with dignity. The place was sold in 2001 and remained open until 2006, but is now owned by the city of Glendale and is open to the public for tours led by a local historian.

Read the full story at The Atlantic.

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