'Curing queers'

Mental nurses and their patients, 1935-74

By Tommy Dickinson

'Curing queers'


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Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-9588-7
  • Pages: 304
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £85.00
  • Published Date: January 2015
  • BIC Category: Modern History, History of Medicine, History, History of medicine, MEDICAL / Nursing / Psychiatric, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Gay Studies, MEDICAL / History, Gay & Lesbian Studies, Medicine / History of medicine
  • Series: Nursing History and Humanities


Drawing on a rich array of source materials including previously unseen, fascinating (and often quite moving) oral histories, archival and news media sources, 'Curing queers' examines the plight of men who were institutionalised in British mental hospitals to receive 'treatment' for homosexuality and transvestism, and the perceptions and actions of the men and women who nursed them. It examines why the majority of the nurses followed orders in administering the treatment - in spite of the zero success-rate in 'straightening out' queer men - but also why a small number surreptitiously defied their superiors by engaging in fascinating subversive behaviours. 'Curing queers' makes a significant and substantial contribution to the history of nursing and the history of sexuality, bringing together two sub-disciplines that combine only infrequently. It will be of interest to general readers as well as scholars and students in nursing, history, gender studies, and health care ethics and law.


'This challenging and engaging book will inform and, on occasion, astonish those with an interest in mental health problems and service delivery. This book is a tour de force and should be read by everyone with an interest in mental health care and by all who recognise their democratic responsibility to ensure that those in need are assisted and neither deceived nor abused.'
Peter Nolan, Professor of Mental Health Nursing (Emeritus), Staffordshire University

'.an accomplished, lucid, important account, well contextualised and full of fascinating and often quite moving (and horrific) detail. Dickinson is to be congratulated on a very fine piece of scholarship that deserves a wide readership.'
Brian Lewis, Professor of History, McGill University, Canada

'The book provides a beautifully balanced argument to make visible the brutal "treatments" and care practices people were subjected to in the name of biomedicine and psychiatry. The text gives voice to the courage of queer people and practitioners to resist these norms [and] succeeds in giving an account of the advance towards gender and sexual plurality.'
Laetitia Zeeman, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health, University of Brighton

'This is an excellent, thoroughly researched, well written work and makes for a very valuable and important contribution to the fields of nursing, literature and science.'
Catherine Bryce (BSc), Retired Mental Health Nurse, British Society for Literature and Science

'This is an extremely important, well researched and well written book. "Curing Queers" reminds us that it is vital to consider the principle of 'first do no harm', to seek out the evidence base for new treatments and to question practices which can harm our patients.'
Claire Hilton, British Journal of Psychiatry 2016

'Tommy Dickinson's book is well written, and his use of oral history examples complements the narrative and enriches the meaning. [.] Overall, the book provides a new way that oral histories can be used to understand LGBTQ medical histories.'
Grey Pierce, Science History Institute, Oral History Review



Lavinia L. Dock Research Award


1. Oppression and suppression of the sexual deviant, 1939-67
2. Work and practice of mental nurses, 1930-59
3. 'Subordinate nurses'
4. 'Subversive nurses'
5. Liberation, 1957-74
Concluding remarks
Appendix: biographies of interviewees


Tommy Dickinson is Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Mental Health at King's College London

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