Reforming Mental Health Via Hollywood: "The Snake Pit" (1948) and Its Audiences


Program Description:

What shapes the public’s view of mental illness? How can the mass media create social reform? Answers to these questions can be seen in a study of the 1948 Hollywood film The Snake Pit. Based on an autobiographical novel by the same name, Snake Pit told of a woman’s nervous breakdown and recovery at an understaffed, overcrowded hospital in upstate New York. This talk starts with the life of the novelist and follows it into print and then onto the screen. There, it helped create major reforms in the treatment of the mentally ill. Although it was criticized in the 1970s for being anti-feminist, Freudian propaganda, the authors of this film’s screenplay were anti-fascists who hoped for a better, post-WWII society.


Ben Harris

Ben Harris has a doctorate in clinical psychology (Vanderbilt University) and post-doctoral training in the history of science and medicine (University of Wisconsin, University of Pennsylvania). He is the former president of the Society for the History of Psychology and was executive officer of the International Society for the History of Behavioral and Social Sciences 1996-2002. He is a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of history at the University of New Hampshire.

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