This film is part of Free

Wasted Lives

A shocking and powerful edition of This Week focusing on women unnecessarily institutionalised for decades for defying societal conventions.

Current affairs 1972 27 mins



The human cost of wrongheaded legislation. This powerful documentary meets four women that have spent the majority of their days locked away, when tragically they might have led more productive lives outside. The 1913 Mental Deficiency Act was used to categorise mothers of illegitimate children and other unconventional behaviour as ‘moral imbeciles’. As a result, many were denied their freedom and had to accept the resulting isolation from friends and family. How did they cope over a number of decades? We hear the stories of women who were eventually discharged and sadly others who remained.

This legislation was finally overturned by the Mental Health Act 1959, which withdrew the category of ‘moral imbecile’ and advocated community care for mental health patients, rather than institutionalisation.