Real Lives: Beatrice Alexander

Historian feature

By Janet Weston, published 17th May 2023

Our series ‘Real Lives seeks to put the story of the ordinary person into our great historical narrative. We are all part of the rich fabric of the communities in which we live and we are affected to greater and lesser degrees by the big events that happen on a daily basis. Sometimes we might even play a part in the big events, although our names are not recorded, while on other occasions we are witnesses to events and times which we would now consider remarkable. Sometimes our regular lives are the perfect illustration of how people live at any given time – but all our lives matter and we want to celebrate some of those lives here. If you have any people that you think might also fit this category and would like to write about them, please do contact: 

Beatrice Alexander left her mark on the historical record thanks to an unhappy sequence of events that initially caused her much distress. In 1939, at the age of 59, she was evaluated by the office of the Master in Lunacy at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, and found ‘incapable of managing her property and affairs due to mental infirmity or age’. This was not what she had expected or wanted for her retirement.

She joined about 20,000 other adults in England and Wales who were in the same position; who had been found ‘incapable’ of making their own decisions and had a person called a ‘receiver’ placed in charge of their lives. Aged from 21 to 91, these people were described in wide-ranging terms that covered countless conditions and states of mind, from mania and melancholy to ‘dypsomania’, senility, delusional insanity, coma, Down’s syndrome, ‘idiocy’, schizophrenia, and simply, ‘confusion’. Ideas about mental health were in flux. Although nobody could pinpoint anything specific wrong with Miss Alexander, she remained legally incapable of managing her own affairs for the rest of her life... 

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