How did a vivacious, competent woman end up having a lobotomy at the hands of Walter Freeman, the man who operated on Rosemary Kennedy, and what effect did this have on her daughter? This is the focus of Roberta Allen’s up-coming memoir Examined Lives, which offers a no-holds barred look at mental illness. The book details the familial and societal forces that surrounded her mother’s mental illness and her own subsequent depression. Drawing upon thousands of pages of personal letters, diaries, scrapbooks, poetry, photographs, drawings and an unpublished novel, she traces her mother’s path from 1930’s Chicago, where her mother devoured the nightlife and rose from serving at a Walgreen’s Drugstore to room captain at the Camellia Room of the Drake Hotel, frequented by the likes of Greta Garbo and Clark Gable, to her undergoing a lobotomy in 1950 and subsequently being institutionalized. In her research Ms. Allen only encountered male patients who had the story of their lobotomies told by someone other than Freeman. All evidence points to Freeman’s 3500 patients being overwhelmingly female. There has been no female voice to tell her story until now.
Roberta Allen is a writer and artist who has been affiliated with Woman Made Gallery since its early days. It was one of the first venues where she showed her work and where she subsequently had a solo show. She served on the Board for many years, for two of which she was President.
She will be reading from her book, scheduled to be released later this year, and hopefully having a dialogue about the issues it raises. Come with your curiosity, concerns and questions to this event!