Examined Lives


Gretchen Richard was a vivacious, competent woman who moved to Chicago on her twentieth birthday and began her rise in the hospitality industry, culminating in serving as hostess at the swanky Camellia House in the Drake Hotel where she seated the likes of Clark Gable and Greta Garbo. In her off hours, she devoured the nightlife with a string of adoring swain. But in 1950, after she was already a wife and mother, everything changed for Gretchen when Dr. Walter Freeman, the same doctor who lobotomized Rosemary Kennedy, pronounced her a paranoid schizophrenic on a Friday and performed a lobotomy the following Monday, robbing her of her drive and sparkle forever.

In a compelling memoir and family history, Roberta Reb Allen shares a fascinating glimpse into her mother’s journey before, during and after the lobotomy as she was adjudged insane and institutionalized for periods of time. Utilizing family letters, diaries, scrapbooks, medical records, an unpublished novel, photographs and the writings of Walter Freeman Allen sheds light on the effects the lobotomy had on her mother and herself as well as the societal and familial forces that fostered their mental illnesses, all while giving a long-awaited voice to the female patient whose lobotomy was completely unnecessary.

The book provides a candid look at mental illness while offering hope for overcoming even the most debilitating psychological conditions with the right kind of support.

The book is available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble as well as the Women and Children First bookstore in Chicago.

Link to Amazon

Link to Barnes and Noble


Author video coming soon!

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