Maternal Darkness: Postpartum Depression and Maternal Mental Illness in Western Canada, 1890-1980

Heather Stanley

Award: 2022 Project Grant

Heather’s project explores the history of postpartum depression and related maternal mental illnesses in Canada from 1890-1980. Despite media sensations created by famous cases of mentally ill mothers there are almost no historical examinations of maternal mental illness in North America. Historically, maternal mental illnesses sit on an uneasy axis between society’s high social expectations of mothers and its willingness to accommodate mental illness. Heather seeks to understand how changing social ideals and expectations of motherhood effect, and were affected by, shifting conceptions of maternal mental illness, and to uncover the ongoing relationship between the two. As such, her study will examine the historical medical and social understanding, and treatment, of maternal mental illnesses as well as adding to the growing scholarship examining changing ideals of motherhood and the social consequences for those mothers who do not meet rigid societal expectations.