A "Border-line Case": Reading Lily Daw as "Feeble-minded"

Elaine Ruth Boe


Eudora Welty’s short story “Lily Daw and the Three Ladies” (1941) is about a “feeble-minded” girl and the women who want to institutionalize her. This paper compares representations of female sexuality and mental disability in Welty’s story and Ruth Perry’s 1972 theatrical adaptation of the same name. Close readings of the texts in conjunction with scholarship on performances of invisible impairments, eugenics history, and theatrical adaptation illuminate the danger of social diagnosis of difference. Perry’s deviations from Welty’s original story demonstrate the controversial nature of Lily’s mental state and interdependence. The two stories
warn against ableist circumscriptions of nonnormate self-portrayals.


eugenics; disabled sexuality; institutionalization; performance

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