In 1930 Dr. Karl A. Menninger, one of America's most distinguished psychiatrists, was asked by the editor of Ladies' Home Journal to write a monthly column that would address mental health issues and answer questions from readers. The result was the widely popular column "Mental Hygiene in the Home," which ran for eighteen months at a time when the American public was just beginning to popularize the idea of mental hygiene and psychotherapy.
Of the thousands of letters Dr. Menninger received, only a small number were printed in the Journal. However, he wrote personal responses to all of them, over two thousand of which have been preserved. For this book, Howard J. Faulkner and Virginia D. Pruitt have selected more than eighty exchanges that provide intimate glimpses into the personal lives of women from across the country.
Most notable in this fascinating collection is the precision and clarity of the women's voices, as well as Dr. Menninger's incisive, analytical, and elegantly phrased replies. The topics that were of major concern to these women included their own sexuality, cheating husbands, problem children, and interfering in-lawsþin other words, the same issues that many women still face today. Although Dr. Menninger's advice may sometimes be questionable by modern standards, these letters provide a useful look at the social assumptions of the 1930s.
Included in the book is an excellent introduction by the editors that traces America's affection for advice columns, chronicles Dr. Menninger's life and work, and provides an overview of the development of psychotherapy. Entertaining as well as informative, these letters not only offer a valuable reflection of women's issues during the Depression era but also invite comparison and contrast with contemporary problems, attitudes, and values.