'Pleasing Appearance...Only Adds to the Danger': The 1930 Insanity Hearing of Violet Hypatia Bowyer

Constance B. Backhouse

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section


Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 17:1 (2005) 1-13

The state's legal authority to detain individuals within insane asylums in early twentieth-century Canada was deeply influenced by factors of gender, class, and race. Violet Hypatia Bowyer, a working-class, white woman who was just twenty-two years old in 1928, was initially incarcerated in Ontario for leading a 'dissolute' life. Wrongly diagnosed as 'insane' by prison officials, she tried valiantly, but failed, to secure her release through legal challenge. The expert testimony of the prison officials, the psychiatric 'experts,' and the decision of the court all testify to the terrifying coerciveness of law in Canadian history.

Au début du 20e siècle au Canada, le pouvoir légal permettant à l’État de détenir des personnes dans des asiles d’aliéné-es était profondément influencé par les facteurs du genre, de la classe et de la race. Violet Hypatia Bowyer, une femme blanche de classe ouvrière, n'avait que vingt-deux ans en 1928, au moment où elle a été incarcérée pour la première fois en Ontario parce qu’elle vivait une vie 'de débauche.' Les autorités carcérales l’ayant faussement diagnostiquée comme 'aliénée,' elle a tenté avec courage, bien que sans succe's, d'obtenir sa liberté par la contestation judiciaire. Le témoignage expert des autorités carcérales, des psychiatres et la décision du tribunal révèlent la coercition terrifiante du droit dans l'histoire du Canada.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 13

Keywords: mental, illness, health, insane, insanity, gender, class, race, psychiatry, psychiatrist, asylum, legal, law, Canada, twentieth, century, history, historical, biography, biographical, Violet, Hypatia, Bowyer, Ontario, prison, expert, testimony, court,

Open PDF in Browser Download This Paper

Date posted: May 21, 2013  

Suggested Citation

Backhouse, Constance B., 'Pleasing Appearance...Only Adds to the Danger': The 1930 Insanity Hearing of Violet Hypatia Bowyer (2005). Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 17:1 (2005) 1-13. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2268086

Contact Information

Constance B. Backhouse (Contact Author)
University of Ottawa - Common Law Section ( email )
57 Louis Pasteur Street
Ottawa, K1N 6N5

Feedback to SSRN

Paper statistics
Abstract Views: 456
Downloads: 46
Paper comments
No comments have been made on this paper

© 2016 Social Science Electronic Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.  FAQ   Terms of Use   Privacy Policy   Copyright   Contact Us
This page was processed by apollobot1 in 0.188 seconds