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The mid-1900s was a pivotal moment in reforming mental health treatment in American Psychiatry. This movement becomes particularly clear when examining the championing work of two women, Dr. Thelma V. Owen and Dr. M. G. Stemmermann, at a rural mental health facility located in Huntington, WV: Owen Clinic Institute. While mental health stigma was at an extreme high among the general population, many factors aligned to allow for a new era of mental health care, including deinstitutionalization, World War II, and the advocation of professionals in the field. In West Virginia, no two people were more outspoken and active in the transformation than Owen and Stemmermann, yet they remain invisible in the legacy they catalyzed. Through their works, both published and unpublished, and the anonymous writings of their patients, they give a full perspective on the stigma of treatment and mental illness at the time. Furthermore, Owen Clinic’s utilization of “home-like” care– as opposed to traditional state hospitals of the time– at the direction of the two women was instrumental in improving treatment standards and altering community attitudes towards mental illness. Owen and Stemmermann deserve credit for all they did for West Virginia healthcare, especially when examining the specific hardships they faced in their work simply because they were women in a male-dominated field.


This paper and its drafts were edited and reviewed by: Dr. Kevin Barksdale.

Content was digitized, metadata was created, and items were uploaded by Mallory Stanley under Professor Lindsey Harper's mentorship.

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