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Broadmoor Women (Paperback)

Tales from Britain's First Criminal Lunatic Asylum

True Crime P&S History Women of History Victorian Era 19th Century

By Kim Thomas
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 192
Illustrations: 20 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526794260
Published: 12th April 2022


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Broadmoor, Britain’s first asylum for criminal lunatics, was founded in 1863. In the first years of its existence, one in five patients was female. Most had been tried for terrible crimes and sent to Broadmoor after being found not guilty by virtue of insanity. Many had murdered their own children, while others had killed husbands or other family members.

Drawing on Broadmoor’s rich archive, this book tells the story of seven of those women, ranging from a farmer’s daughter in her 20s who shot dead her own mother to a middle-class housewife who drowned her baby daughter. Their moving stories give a glimpse into what nineteenth-century life was like for ordinary women, often struggling with poverty, domestic abuse and repeated childbearing. For some, Broadmoor, with its regime of plain food, fresh air and garden walks, was a respite from the hardships of their previous life. Others were desperate to return to their families.

All but one of the women whose stories are recounted in this book recovered and were released. Their bout of insanity was temporary. Yet the causes of their condition were poorly understood and the treatment rudimentary. As well as providing an in-depth look at the lives of women in Victorian England, the book offers a fascinating insight into the medical profession’s emerging understanding of the causes and treatment of mental illness.

This is a fascinating book. The stories of the women who lives are chronicled are testimony to the attitudes towards females in general, particularly within the framework of marriage, child bearing and child raising. For the most part they were simply considered receptacles for their husbands and even when stressed beyond what they could handle, were still expected to perform their duties. Most of the women came across sympathetically. Even the ones who killed their own children were not evil. I think the most telling condemnations were the husbands who wanted the women released because they needed them back doing what put them in the asylum in the first place.

None of this came as a particular shock but what did surprise me was the care and kindness these women found at Broadmoor., at least during the years described. I guess too many old movies made me expect a cruel and barren environment and nothing could be further from the truth. The fact that with the care they received many of them were released and went on to live long lives. It was a revelation.

The stories are all interesting and well researched. Four purrs and two paws up.

NetGalley, Susan Johnston

As featured in the article: 'Life inside Britain's first lunatic asylum for the criminally insane'

Lancashire Post

The history of the treatment of Mental Illness has always fascinated me, particularly the criteria for women to be diagnosed and committed to an asylum. Many times, we hear about women in asylums for reasons such as "hysteria" or "melancholy" so it is interesting to hear more about particular patients, their diagnoses, and their time in Broadmoor.

I appreciate that the author took the time to humanize and not demonize these women. Kim Thomas helped us get to know each individual woman's story, but also what drove them to the crimes causing their stay at Broadmoor. It is interesting to note that things such as "excessive breastfeeding" were considered to have caused mental illness. Today we know this to likely be depression throughout various stages of pregnancy,

Thomas keeps the book interesting with a variety of facts desgined to catch attention. For example, many women in Broadmoor were there for their crimes of murdering their children or spouses. However, if a woman had killed her child, the husbands were rather quick to forgive and get the women home - probably to relieve the burden of having to care for the remaining children on their own! It is so interesting to hear the reasoning behind the goings on as opposed to a bland statement of what happened.

For me, this was an incredibly interesting read and I hope to hear more from Kim Thomas in the future!

NetGalley, Jennifer Koerten

Excellent book with some very interesting stories on broadmoor, history at its finest and would recommend anyone reads this, either in one sitting or a pick up and dip into when you have some spare minutes.

NetGalley, Louise Corrigan

This book was well written and very informative. Reading about the lives of the different women in Broadmoor made me want to learn more.

NetGalley, Naomi Downing

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Broadmoor Women is an interesting and I thought quite emotional read, the experiences, struggles and lives of these women are tragic and although in the 1800s have no less of an effect on me than if they were today. This book is well researched. And well written by Kim Thomas. I found this to a thoroughly absorbing insight into the first asylum in the UK for criminals and will appeal to many.

NetGalley, Tara Keating

Thomas presents a well-researched and documented in-depth discussion on seven "residents" of Broadmoor. Women have had a rough time throughout much of human history, and we need more books that explore how they came to end up in their situation and what happened there so younger generations can see how far we've come and how far we have yet to go.

NetGalley, Teresa Grabs

This is a very well researched and meticulously annotated history of some of the women who were committed to the institution for the criminally insane in the middle to late Victorian era (1863 - 1896). It was interesting and more engaging to me because the author chose to concentrate on a more detailed history with a narrower focus (7 particular women) rather than a more general and less detail oriented survey of the hospital. The introduction does give a general overview of the classification and treatment of mental health and illness in those days as well as a short history of Broadmoor but the chief focus is on the biographies.

The biographies of the subjects are full of pathos and it's easy to feel compassion for the women who were often desperate and otherwise powerless.

The writing is accessible and flows well. It's academically competent, but not overwrought or intentionally obfuscated. The chapter notes and bibliography are well worth a perusal and will provide many hours of additional reading.

In many places, I found the reading difficult emotionally and sad. Nobody who was resident at Broadmoor had an easy time of it, and most of these women lived exceedingly difficult lives full of pain and sorrow. The author does a very good job of showing despite vastly different backgrounds, they all came for a time to the same place (over a 30 year period).

Four stars. Fascinating (if somewhat depressing) history.

NetGalley, Annie Buchanan

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Really well written and interestingly detailed look into the lives of some of the women that were sent to Broadmoor. It kept me captivated in wanting to learn more about the women and the lives that they lived both before and after their incarceration at the famous asylum.

NetGalley, Claire Smith

Article: 'Author releases book on Broadmoor women'

Welwyn and Hatfield Times

Recommended for readers with an interest in the area where criminal justice and (mental) healthcare meet, especially those interested in the history of that intersection. Readers simply interested in Victorian society will find a lot to enjoy here as well.

NetGalley, Jack Messer

I found Broadmoor Women to be a moving book. The struggles and situations of these women were often tragic and due to the stresses of life in the 1800s.

I enjoyed finding out more about the cases and they had all been professionally researched. The book reminded me of the Five by Hallie Rubenhold with the background's and histories of each of the women explained fully.

NetGalley, Hazel Thomson

An interesting account of some of the female inmates at Broadmoor. Well researched and compiled. Recommended.

NetGalley, Wendy M Rhodes

This was very insightful and I think the way it was told was very informative and interesting ~ I would recommend

NetGalley, Karis Books

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book spoke a lot about mental health which I’ve always found a fascinating subject. I found it amazing and an insightful read!

NetGalley, Michelle Coates

Broadmoor Women gives us an insight into the first asylum in the UK for the criminally insane. The author gives us a practical background of the institution itself and the relevant social context of the Victorian Era in which Broadmoor was founded. We were then introduced to the personal stories of individual women who were committed to Broadmoor.

I found this book to be an incredibly quick and absorbing read. I've always found history interesting and I love reading about it, but the concept of microhistories is a new one for me. It's great. I feel like you get a more accurate idea of what an individual experience is.

I was hit very hard in this book with the crimes that these women were driven to commit under the guise of "insanity." I feel like the environmental factors of the Victorian Era drove these women to do things that were just so shocking - I would have considered them mentally ill, also! The definition of mental illness and the treatments were vastly different, but I can see the delineation that took place between now and then. I also was forced to examine the social commentary of the day and the risk factors that made people more likely to engage in criminal behavior - an I realized that they are the same as today. Poverty, access to good medical care, access to family planning resources, access to clean water and good food, domestic violence, and poor living and working conditions all made people more likely to engage in violence. I also felt that the approach of the day to treating mental illness was very humane and effective for what was considered insanity. It was both unnerving and a relief that a lot of the problems that society faced back then are the same as we have today. It allowed me to connect more with the individuals that I was fortunate to get to know in the book.

NetGalley, Rae Nason

Broadmoor, Brittan's first asylum for criminal lunatics was founded in 1863. In the first years of it's existence, one in five patients were female. Most had been tried for terrible crimes and sent to Broadmoor after being found not guilty by virtue of insanity. Many had murdered their own children, while others had killed their husbands or other family members.

I do like a true crime book. This one gives us an insight into what it must have been like for people living with mental health issues and what they had to endure. You can tell the author has spent a lot of time researching the topic. The crimes were dreadful but intriguing.

NetGalley, Louise Wilson

I’ve read books about killers of both sexes who ended up in Broadmoor until they died. This is a detailed book on the lives of women who were sent to the infamous Broadmoor asylum during the Victorian era. There is quite a bit of backstory on the making of the asylum, the types of prisoners that were sent there, and the various heads of Broadmoor during these times. It tells the stories of seven women who were sent there and why... A good read for anyone wanting to know more about women in this asylum during this period.

NetGalley, Valerie Shampine

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Really enjoyed this book, found it was unique to anything I previously read. This has captured my interest from the beginning and been a book I have struggled to put down.

NetGalley, Vikkie Wakeham

Interesting. A look into some women who spent time in Broadmoor Asylum (the same place where the Yorkshire Ripper and one of the Kray twins were housed for a time). It's a really good read.

NetGalley, Norma Carroll

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was such a good read. Broadmoor is perhaps one of the most famous institutions for the mentally ill, second probably only to Bedlam, in this country. It was such a compelling read, not only because I am fascinated by true crime, but also because it gave a real human side to the women and their crimes.
It showed that these women were often living in very hard circumstances such as poverty, repeated childbearing - as we all know happened in Victorian times and before - and domestic violence/abuse. IT surprised me how emotive this book made me when reading about these women and their crimes and how being in an institution such as Broadmoor was actually a positive respite for these women, not just in terms of rehabilitation into society, which many of the women did, but also from the perils of their lives where they could just be themselves. Obviously this was not the case for everyone but each individual story had its own heartbreaks involved.
An emotive and informative read that I couldn't put down.

NetGalley, Aria Harlow

This author spent a lot of time researching for this book and in my opinion it paid off. The introduction was great as it gives much information on Broadmoor itself as well as the history of its occupants. The individual stories of the women were so detailed with information not only about their cases but their lives and those of their families afterwards. Some good illustrations too.

NetGalley, Christine Cazeneuve

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book, so full of information about how the different institutions were built, run and the treatments they employed, very well researched. Then comes the individual stories of seven women who were in Broadmoor. A great incite into Victorian attitudes and has the reader involved and feeling for them

NetGalley, Vicky Jones

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A fascinating account of women’s experience with the mental health system over time. This account of the different experiences of women from various social classes and circumstances highlights the vulnerability of women with mental health support needs. The commentary about the impact of contraception, or the lack thereof, is an interesting analytical point. A very well researched and well written account.

NetGalley, Louise Gray

Broadmoor was Great Britain’s first and most infamous asylum for the "criminally insane”. This book examines the lives of seven female patients who were sentenced to the asylum after being convicted of a terrible crime, viewed even more horrific in the eyes of the Victorian public because they were committed by women. Mental illness was barely understood, if at all, at the time, and treatments ranged from exercise and good food to the more sinister remedies of the day. All but one of the women profiled here “recovered” and were released, and for some, even Broadmoor was better than the world they left behind. During times of shocking poverty and abuse, women had little to no resources when they needed help. For some of those women, their rage, fear and desperation led them to commit terrible crimes, which then led them to incarceration at Broadmoor. This was a fascinating look into the past and the mentally ill were treated, focusing on a small group of women makes this history much more personal and relatable.

NetGalley, Rosemary Smith

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Interesting account of a asylum or psychiatric facility. This book is an extremely informative historical narrative on mental health. Disturbing but very interesting it’s an incredible part of history that needs to be told. Highly recommend!

NetGalley, Lynn Beck

About Kim Thomas

Kim Thomas has more than 20 years’ experience as a freelance journalist, writing extensively about education and health for national newspapers and trade publications. In 2019, she completed a Master’s degree in English local history at Oxford University, which included a dissertation on women committed to Broadmoor in the nineteenth century. She has a particular interest and expertise in mental illness following childbirth and is the CEO of the Birth Trauma Association, a charity that supports women experiencing postnatal PTSD. She has previously published books on education and on birth trauma. This is her first book for Pen and Sword.

Perfect Partner

Broadmoor Revealed (Paperback)

Glimpse what went on behind the walls of England's first Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Mark Stevens reveals what life was like for the criminally insane, over one hundred years ago. From fresh research into the Broadmoor archives, Mark has uncovered the lost lives of patients whose mental illnesses led them to become involved in crime. Discover the five women who went on to become mothers in Broadmoor, giving birth to new life when three of them had previously taken it. Find out how several Victorian immigrants ended their hopeful journeys to England in madness and disaster. And follow the nail-biting…

By Mark Stevens

Click here to buy both titles for £26.98
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