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Money, Marriage, and Madness

The Life of Anna Ott

A female physician battling oppression and the law in the nineteenth-century Midwest

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.


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

"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


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.

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