'Worry in Women' (1941)

Worry in Women is a piece of advice literature written by British feminist writer and psychologist Amber Blanco White, née Reeves, and was published by Gollancz in 1941. Blanco White published other novels and non-fiction works, not restricted to mental health, which were mostly related to her interest in the position of women.

A reading of Worry in Women demonstrates that Blanco White felt the need to create such advice literature based on her observation of society as consisting of 'a very large number of us [who] worry more than we need'. This impelled her to publish this advice text on anxiety, as she desired to impart her knowledge on the developments within psychology to aid women in their daily struggles with worrying. This suggests that this was published for popular consumption rather than to exist solely in medical circles. Although advice manuals became increasingly popular during this period, it is difficult to gather the demographic of the readers and the extent to which they agreed or acted upon the advice provided. Therefore, the reach of this literature is unknown; despite this, through her examination of advice texts, Kate Flint emphasised the value of this form of literature in building up a 'picture of widespread assumptions'.

As demonstrated, Blanco White's book was published with the aim of providing women with an understanding of 'worry'; it offers an extensive examination of how and why women worry, remedies for dealing with anxiety as well as specific forms in which anxiety can manifest such as marriage, the home, children, conscience and hostility. Very much an expression of its time, published during World War Two, Worry in Women utilises direct examples of women's fear of bombing to distinguish between those remain 'calm and cheerful' and those who are far more 'disturbed' and 'suffer acutely'. Blanco White then elaborates upon what having anxiety entails: 'some women...are beset by a chronic feeling of anxiety. It can be seen from their gestures, their voices, their expressions, their whole behaviour'. This provides an insight into a contemporary psychologist's understanding of anxiety and how notions of this condition were inter-weaved with theories surrounding gender.

This advice has been provided at a time when Britain was moving towards the de-institutionalization of mental health care and adopting a 'care in the community' approach. Therefore, what can be of particular interest is the remedies that Blanco White prescribes for these women suffering from worry. An example of the practical advice that this psychologist provides is to 'give people plenty to do', with Blanco white recommending the example of war work. In her discussion of women's contribution to the war effort, she advocates that this was a 'great blessing' to women with anxiety, perhaps highlighting her feminist stance upon women's wide-scale entrance into the world of work, whilst also commenting that women's anxieties also arose as a result of having to return to 'ordinary feminine life'.

In addition, the chapters relating specifically to women's roles in marriage, at home and with regard to the children can reveal much about not only understandings of anxiety but also of contemporary ideologies surrounding gender. Along these lines, Blanco White's piece stands as a form of social feminist critique of contemporary issues. For example, the 'marriage' chapter demonstrates the necessity of 'birth control' in quelling the 'constant terror of unwanted children'.  

Therefore, this advice text provides an insight into the way in which mental health issues, particularly anxiety, were discussed in the mid-twentieth century, especially within the framework of gender. Further to this, it highlights a contemporary understanding of what 'remedies' would be suitable for women to carry out themselves, at home, to alleviate their anxiety, that ran alongside professional provision of care. Worry in Women can also offer a glimpse into gender norms of the period, as demonstrated by the chapters of 'marriage', 'the good home' and 'helpful attitudes towards children', due to the stress upon these factors causing anxiety and the methods suggested would solve these issues.

Looking for more sources?

The 'health' section of the Hypatia Collection has a wealth of health related books, pamphlets and advice manuals archived, among which texts relating to mental health can be found. Similar advice texts related to specific mental health conditions include Hilde Bruch's The Golden Cage: The Enigma of Anorexia Nervosa (1978) and Vivienne Welburn's Postnatal Depression (1980). In addition to pieces written for popular consumption, the Collection holds advice texts aimed at those working within the psychological or health care fields, such as A. Altschul's Psychology for Nurses (1965), which is part of the Nurses' aids series.

The Hypatia Collection also stores many texts associated with women's health more broadly, based on subjects such as maternity, family and sexual health. An example among these includes Our Bodies Ourselves: A Health Book By And For Women (1978) and The Fertility Handbook: a positive and practice guide (1986) which contains information on various women's health and sexuality topics. Further to this, there are pamphlets and health magazines such as 'Health at Home' and advice postcards produced by the Red Cross.

Outside of the Collection, the Wellcome Library holds much material related to mental health; their Mental Health and Psychiatry collection features an extensive number of primary sources from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, ranging from art pieces to individual papers from psycho-analysts, as well as works documenting asylum experiences. These can be found online through their website.


Written by Angharad Burden

'Worry in Women' (1941)