Categories: ailurophile

Was an 1872 New York Times article the beginning of the ‘Crazy Cat Lady’ trope?

On 11th August 1872, The New York Times published an article under the headline “Cats and Craziness’.

Crazy cat lady in the making. Image: Facebook

The article can still be read if you subscribe to this newspaper, which I don’t. However, a short extract is published on the current New York Times website:

“It is a curious fact that lunatics, especially those whose lunacy is of a mild and comparatively innocuous type, frequently evince a remarkable fondness for cats. The insane man or woman who lives in a garret, in the intimate society of three or four score cats, is perpetually coming to the knowledge of the public.”

Both men and women were labelled slight mad if they were fond of living with lots of cats. For some reason (sexism?) women were stuck with the label while men were freed of it.

Cat lovers were described as unbalanced and infatuated compared to dog lovers who were sensible and rational.

Was this the beginning of a cultural trope which has endured to this day and is as strong as ever partly because of the large number of unwanted cats at shelters in America and the regular online news stories of cat hoarders who are usually elderly women.

About 50% of Americans believe in the crazy cat lady stereotype according to a recent survey but it has been debunked as simply untrue [click this to read about it].

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in a many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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