Who was Miss Violet Eleanor Mills?

Nina explores a young woman admitted to an asylum with insomnia and visions with religious overtones. She asks how we should interpret the diagnoses of other periods.

chiswick house

Continuing my research into Chiswick House I have been most surprised by the language used within the medical notes – it seems significantly different to the language we would now use to discuss mental illness. I made note of the phrase ‘an attack of melancholia and stupor’. More commonly we would now refer to melancholia as ‘severe depression’ and perhaps stupor may refer to a state of incoherence? However, as the stupor can be related to the word ‘stupid’ in origin and meaning, I hope with a better understanding of mental illness and the stigma associated with it that this word is now out of use among mental health professionals.

Moving on with my research, I came across a patient by the name of Miss Violet Eleanor Mills. She was admitted to Manor House (as Chiswick House was known) on 8th July 1924 at the age of 21. Her main symptom is noted as ‘insomnia’ but she also seemed to show signs of delusion and disorganised thoughts. Her notes reveal that her illness may have been triggered by life events, including having two teeth out under ‘gas’ and a visit to a female friend who was paralysed. After visiting her friend she begins to believe her hands are also paralysed. I suspect having two teeth out under gas might understandably have had a negative impact on her physical and psychological well being, as well as coping with her friend’s disability. It is also noted that she attended a social event in which she seems to have ‘fallen in love’ with a boy. These events led to a long period of insomnia and eventually to her confusion and admission.

Later in her notes it is revealed that Violet is not able to answer the doctor’s questions and gives ‘incoherent’ and ‘inappropriate’ responses. I wonder what the questions were and what was considered ‘inappropriate’? Would it still be considered inappropriate now?

She was placed in a nursing home for one night before being transferred to Manor House. Later in her notes it is revealed that Violet is not able to answer the doctor’s questions and gives ‘incoherent’ and ‘inappropriate’ responses. I wonder what the questions were and what was considered ‘inappropriate’? Would it still be considered inappropriate now? By 6th August 1924 Violet has become less talkative and is described by her doctors as speaking ‘very little’. Perhaps one might suspect she is depressed at this time. She is discharged later in the year having significantly improved and had a month’s trial living with family in Devon – as opposed to London where she lived prior to her admission – and she seems to have made a full recovery at this time.

I did a bit more digging to find out what may happened to Violet after she was discharged. I was pleased to learn that she moved to Devon in her later life and passed away at the age of 72. In my search I found a website that asks ‘Who is George Mills?’ To answer the question for our purposes: George Mills was Violet’s older brother and it appears he was also known as an author of books for boys. These were inspired by his teaching experiences in the ’20s and ’30s. However, the website does not have much to say about Violet, who is often referred to simply as one of the ‘spinster sisters’ of George.

It was interesting to learn that Violet and George’s father was a Reverend. I found this interesting because some of Violet’s experiences include visions of the devil; she also has thoughts that she might be ‘plagued’ when she thinks she is paralysed like her friend. These thoughts and visions could be associated with being immersed in religious life from an early age.

I would love to learn more about Violet and will try and keep digging. She seems to have been overshadowed by George, but in my bid to shed light on the female voice in the archives I will keep searching. I have discovered a few photos of her, although none are very clear. Violet is noted on the website ‘Who is George Mills?’ as ‘well educated’ and ‘well-connected’, which might explain how she was able to afford her treatment at Manor House. She is also described as ‘a very nice person’ and seems to have been a keen and competitive croquet player. Listed as a ‘spinster’, she never married and her considerable wealth ensured her a comfortable life, living with her sister Agnes and later her widowed brother George. I wonder what happened to her in the many years after she was discharged? Who was Miss Violet Eleanor Mills?

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