Money, Marriage, and Madness

The Life of Anna Ott
Author: Kim E. Nielsen
A female physician battling oppression and the law in the nineteenth-century Midwest
Cloth – $110
Paper – $22
eBook – $19.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 06/22/2020
Cloth: 06/22/2020
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About the Book

Anna Ott died in the Wisconsin State Hospital for the Insane in 1893. She had enjoyed status and financial success first as a physician’s wife and then as the only female doctor in Madison. Throughout her first marriage, attempts to divorce her abusive second husband, and twenty years of institutionalization, Ott determinedly shaped her own life.

Kim E. Nielsen explores a life at once irregular and unexceptional. Historical and institutional structures, like her whiteness and laws that liberalized divorce and women's ability to control their property, opened up uncommon possibilities for Ott. Other structures, from domestic violence in the home to rampant sexism and ableism outside of it, remained a part of even affluent women's lives. Money, Marriage, and Madness tells a forgotten story of how the legal and medical cultures of the time shaped one woman—and what her life tells us about power and society in nineteenth century America.

About the Author

Kim E. Nielsen is a professor and director of the disability studies program at the University of Toledo. Her books include A Disability History of the United States and Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller.


"Ott's story is both compelling in itself and revealing about the broader society she inhabited." --Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

"Nielsen brilliantly contrasts the differences that occurred once Ott swiveled from doctor to patient . . . a powerful way of backing into the story of a life that would otherwise be completely lost." --Annals of Iowa

"Kim Nielsen's Money, Marriage, and Madness: The Life of Anna Ott is a brief, beautifully written, and wholly original biography. . . . As Nielsen tells Ott's life story, she examines the relationship between interlocking power structures--race, gender, class, ability, and settler colonialism--and personal circumstances. . . . A wonderful read." --Indiana Magazine of History


"The book brilliantly renders the complex life of Dr. Anna Ott. Nielsen brings impassioned analysis to the ways that ableism, patriarchy, violence, and money shaped the life of one reputedly mad woman. Under Nielsen's penetrating eye, Ott's story illuminates the messy historical forces that shaped nineteenth-century women's encounters with money, marriage, and madness."--Susan Cahn, author of Coming on Strong: Gender and Sexuality in Women's Sport, Second Edition