Seven Steeples: My Kinship with Women of the Asylum blends personal memoir with fictionalized stories from a 19th century women’s mental ward known as Seven Steeples. The book links my healing journey to a wider story of collapse and renewal, represented by a farm built atop the old asylum’s buried remains.
After recovering from an inexplicable mind-body ailment, I find my way to the grounds of Central State Hospital, where a new farm is established. I learn the story of Seven Steeples, the 19th century women’s ward buried underground, and begin helping the farmers grow vegetables on the land. My season of farming provides a backdrop for exploring the history of my own collapse and recovery alongside stories of women who had been committed to the asylum.
Untold lives were buried with the rubble of the building that confined them. By imagining their stories based on intake forms, autopsy records, and other sketchy public information, I give voice to these voiceless inmates.
Knowing that I myself would likely have been institutionalized in an earlier era, I feel a deep connection with these women. In linking my story to these women’s lives, I offer a larger perspective on “madness,” one that honors the potential of feminine wisdom and creative life force awakened.