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On the borderland of insanity: Women, dipsomania and inebriety, 1879-1913

Crabbe, Christine Mary

On the borderland of insanity: Women, dipsomania and inebriety, 1879-1913 Thumbnail


Christine Mary Crabbe


This thesis highlights the complex issues associated with women habitual drunkards and the changing perceptions of such women as sinful, as a social problem, and latterly as a threat to the nation’s health. The national situation is investigated and the perceived relationship between habitual drunkards and insanity is discussed. The local context of Bristol is examined including the emergence of the inebriate institutions the Royal Victoria Homes, Horfield, and Brentry. In addition, the working relationship between the Royal Victoria Homes and the state, philanthropy, and public bodies is analysed. The thesis also examines women habitual drunkards sent to the National Institutions for Inebriates, a network of institutions associated with Bristol. The key workers involved with these institutions and how they contributed to debates and practices are explored. Gendered attitudes and how they affected women’s lives and the way women’s social roles and behaviour were shaped by stereotypes is a central theme of this thesis. The thesis argues that habitual drunkards, particularly women, sent by the courts to inebriate reformatories were often perceived by doctors to be on the borderland of insanity. Such women were considered not sufficiently sane to be in control of themselves, nor sufficiently insane to be certified and sent to a lunatic asylum. The over-arching aim of the thesis is to discover the complex factors, national and local, that had an influence on women habitual drunkards sent by the courts to a certified inebriate reformatory. Finally, why reformatories were viewed by contemporaries as a solution to serious concerns over women and drinking and the reaction of some of the women sent to an inebriate reformatory is considered. The thesis period ends with the Mental Deficiency Act, 1913, which brought habitual drunkards within the meaning of the Inebriates Act, 1898 under its provision.


Crabbe, C. M. On the borderland of insanity: Women, dipsomania and inebriety, 1879-1913. (Thesis). University of the West of England. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Publicly Available Date Jun 6, 2019
Keywords insanity, women, dipsomania, inebriety, 1879-1913
Public URL
Award Date Jun 1, 2014


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