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Sybil: Flora Schreiber’s Version of a True Story about Shirley Ardell Mason – Free Essay Example

Shirley Ardell Mason

Shirley Ardell Mason also is known as (Sybil) was quietly living in Lexington Kentucky, and had run an art business out of her home in the 1970s. She later died on Feb 26, 1998, from breast cancer due to declining treatment. There was a movie based on Shirley Ardell Mason Life called “Sybil” which came out in 1976, her real name wasn’t used in the book or movie because she wanted to protect her identity. The movie depicted what Shirley had gone through a child, which included physical, emotional, and severe sexual abuse of the hands of her mother who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. Due to Shirley’s trauma as a child, she was diagnosed with a multiple personality disorder also called dissociative personality disorder, which consisted of 16 distinctive personalities in 1973 diagnosed by her therapist Dr. Cornelia Wilbur. Shirley Ardell Mason was born on January 25, 1923, in Dodge Center, Minnesota. Her parents Walter Mason and Martha Alice Hageman raised Shirley in Dodge center where they were well liked by others. However, Shirley’s mother had a strange laugh, which caught others off guard. At times to get back at other neighbors she would sneak into their back yards and do malicious acts while Shirley was there. Shirley suffered from child abuse severely from her mother when she was a toddler up till she was a young teen. Shirley never knew why her mother would do such vicious acts to her. Shirley’s father was the breadwinner but still neglected Shirley at the same time. When Shirley was a young child her mother had a miscarriage, which caused her to go into a deep depression state and became sick for a while. Shirley’s father had buried the fetus in their backyard due to feeling ashamed about the situation; Martha was unable to take care of Shirley. The father had Shirley’s grandmother move in to take care of her while he went to work. Shirley cherished good times with her grandmother because she felt that she was more of a good loving mother vs. her mother who was unstable. As Shirley got older her mother would be very cautious of her and wouldn’t allow her to socialize with because she felt they were up to no good. Shirley had her first boyfriend at 16 and his name was Tommy but sadly she had witnessed him in a terrible accident. Years later, Shirley soon then had grown into a beautiful young woman and became intrigued by art, and soon became an artist. She was a student at Columbia University in NY studying art in 1957. Soon enough Shirley started to have these blackout episodes that would lead her to break glass, or have emotional breakdowns randomly, she would just do things that were out of the ordinary, which had taken over her life. Shirley was very concerned with her mental state and so she reached out to a psychotherapist named Dr. Cornelia Wilbur and had explained her concerns. Dr. Wilbur could tell that Shirley had been through something but she couldn’t quite figure it out what. Shirley met with Dr. Wilbur every week but it became more frequent due to Shirley’s behavior becoming worse.

To treat this problem, Wilbur wrote a prescription for a powerful drug. Seconal to help her sleep, Daprisal for her cramps. Later, these drugs were so addictive that they were banned, but in the 1950s Wilbur sometimes gave Mason more drugs than the average amount. Also, for years, Wilbur injected Mason with pentothal and recorded the sessions. Wilber frequently made house calls, even on evenings and weekends. Sometimes she crawled into bed with Mason to administer electric shocks with a special machine. Wilbur was preserving the recording file and this proves that Mason was really abused by her mother.. Also, Dr. Wilbur used some of Sigmund Freud’s techniques to help Shirley face her deep emotions and to talk about her troubling childhood. Due to the severe abuse from her mother, Shirley never felt loved at all only from her grandmother who had passed away when she was young. Shirley basically suffered from abandonment, neglect, abuse, and trauma in the result.

Meanwhile, some people thought Mason’s diagnosis had been challenged. Psychiatrist Herbert Spiegel saw Mason for several sessions while Wilbur was on vacation and felt that Wilbur was manipulating Mason into behaving as though she had multiple personalities when she did not. Spiegel suspected Wilbur of having publicized Mason’s case for financial gain. According to Spiegel, Wilbur’s client was an hysteric but did not show signs of multiple personalities; in fact, he later stated that Mason denied to him that she was ‘multiple’ but claimed that Wilbur wanted her to exhibit other personalities.

Wilbur counsel with her and found that Mason had 16 personalities. The names of these selves were also changed to ensure privacy. The first personality is Sybil Isabel Dorsett, the main personality. Second is, Victoria Antoinette Scharleau, nicknamed Vicky, self-assured and sophisticated young French girl. 3th is Peggy Lou Baldwin, assertive, enthusiastic, and often angry. 4th is Peggy Ann Baldwin, a counterpart of Peggy Lou but more fearful than angry. 5th is Mary Lucinda Saunders Dorsett, a thoughtful, contemplative, and maternal homebody. 6th is Marcia Lynn Dorsett, and extremely emotional writer and painter. 7th is Vanessa Gail Dorsett, intensely dramatic, fun loving, and a talented musician. 8th is Mike Dorsett, one of Sybil’s two male selves, a builder and a carpenter. 9th is Sid Dorsett, the second of Sybil’s two male selves, a carpenter and a general handyman. Sid took his name from Sybil’s initials. 10th is Nancy Lou Ann Baldwin, interested in politics as fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and intensely afraid of Roman Catholics. 11th is Sybil Ann Dorsett, listless to the point of neurasthenia. 12th is Ruthie Dorsett, a baby and one of the less developed selves. 13th is Clara Dorsett, intensely religious and highly critical of Sybil, 14th is Helen Dorsett, intensely afraid but determined to achieve fulfillment. 15th is Marjorie Dorsett, serene, vivacious, and quick to laugh. 16th is the blonde, a nameless perpetual teenager with an optimistic outlook.

Did Mason have 16 personality traits because he was abused as a child? I think that’s possible enough, but I also think there’s a cause for the drugs she took in her treatment with Wilbur. I analyze that she did not spontaneously form multiple personalities but embraced clinical multiple personalities through interaction with doctors.

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Works Cited

  1. Nathan, Debbie. “A Girl Not Named Sybil.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 Oct. 2011,
  2. PeoplePill. “Shirley Ardell Mason: American Artist (1923-1998) – Biography and Life.” PeoplePill,

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