Laypeople were interested in mental health, and by the early 1900s had recognized that their lives might be happier if they could overcome and control some of the mental distress which seemed rampant in their complex and hurried world. Annie Payson Call wrote articles for the Ladies’ Home Journal in which she offered advice to women who suffered various nervous afflictions. In her book Nerves and Common Sense (1909), she gave a case study of a woman’s problem and cure in her relationship with an irritable husband.
A brokenhearted woman complained to a friend about her husband’s unkindness and hard heart; after hearing her out, the friend helped her understand that the situation was essentially her own fault. Because she had been trying to please her husband and he didn’t notice her efforts, she had become emotionally distressed. “Now it is perfectly true that this husband was irritable and brutal,” said Call. However, because the woman was “demanding from her husband what he really ought to have given her as a matter of course,” she was wearing herself out and suffering to no avail.
“She was a plucky little woman and very intelligent once her eyes were opened,” said Call. “She recognized the fact that her suffering was resistance to her husband’s irritable selfishness, and she stopped resisting.
“As his wife stopped demanding, he began to give,” Call related. “As his wife’s nerves became calm and quiet his nerves quieted and calmed.” It turned out that business worries had been at the root of his brutishness; once his wife stabilized her emotions he suddenly turned to her and confided his troubles. After that, all was well.
Call’s advice must at times have been trying in the extreme to her readers, but since she wrote many articles of this sort, they were obviously well-received enough that Ladies’ Home Journal continued to publish them. Many of her suggestions urged changes in attitude and thought, which probably worked well for readers who could not visit alienists (experts in mental health) or find sympathy at home.