The APA Monitor has an article on how ‘nervousness’ in 1800s America was treated by sending male intellectuals ‘out West’ for prolonged periods of cattle roping, hunting, roughriding and male bonding.
This, I suspect, sounded a great deal more innocent in the 1800s.
But nevertheless, this sort of intense deliberately masculine physical exercise was thought to be a genuine antidote to brain-exhausting intellectual life.
Among the men treated with the so-called “West Cure” were poet Walt Whitman, painter Thomas Eakins, novelist Owen Wister and future U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.
Although the Rest and West cures involved wildly different therapeutic strategies, both were designed to treat the same medical condition: neurasthenia. First described by American neurologist George Beard in 1869, neurasthenia’s symptoms included depression, insomnia, anxiety and migraines, among other complaints. The malady was not just an illness, he said, but also a mark of American cultural superiority.
According to Beard, excessive nervousness was a byproduct of a highly evolved brain and nervous system. A “brain-worker” who excelled in business or the professions might experience nervous breakdowns if he overtaxed his intellect. His highly evolved wife and children could easily succumb to the same malady, particularly if they engaged in excessive study or “brain work.”
The famous neurologist Silas Weir Mitchell wrote of neuroaesthenia that, under great nervous stress, “The strong man becomes like the average woman.”
As a male psychologist who is regularly outclassed by his female colleagues I have learnt this, sadly, to be true, but not, I suspect, in the way Weir Mitchell meant.
Link to APA Monitor article on the cowboy cure.