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Dr. Constance PASCAL: pioneer of Psychiatry in France

A strong, positive self-image is the best possible preparation for success. – Joyce Brothers

Portrait in black and white of Constance Pascal at a young age

Portrait of Constance Pascal at a young age.

Constance Pascal was one of the first female clinical psychiatrists in France at the end of the 19th century. But she has been forgotten for a while, until the late 90's when psychiatrists and historians rediscovered her work. Of Romanian origin, she decided at a very young age to take control of her destiny and went to study medicine in France. Known for her work on early dementia, she founded one of the first French schools for children with learning difficulties. She contributed to the progress of Psychiatry - particularly improving the conditions of her patients, but fighting for women's skills to be recognized.


Childhood and Education

Constance Pascal, born Constanza Pascal in 1877, was raised in Romania in a wealthy family. Her family was against the idea of her pursuing higher education. Her brother was encouraged to study and pursue a military career, but Constance was only expected to cultivate her personal attractions. In 1891, her father's death freed her to continue her education. Just like Marie Curie, Constance Pascal emigrated to France to pursue scientific studies. She specialized in Psychiatry and completed her PhD thesis called ‘Les formes atypiques de la paralysie Générale’.

Portrait of Constance Pascal when she was intern in Psychiatry in the women department at the Vaucluse asylum.

Career as a psychiatrist

She passed the medical school examination in 1903 and became médecin-adjoint des asiles in 1908. Throughout her career, she worked in six different asylums, including during World War I. As hospitals became increasingly overcrowded in the post-war period, she found herself dealing with a growing number of patients. Conditions for both patients and medical teams were unacceptable for her.  She thus worked diligently to reform the system. Particularly, Constance fought to abolish the punitive treatment (punishments and strait-jackets) of patients in the hospitals where she worked. Her dream was to create outpatient services more adapted to the needs of patients and to establish asylum schools for handicapped children. She did not always succeed in imposing her ideas on the medical teams in place, though her work was recognized. At the end of her career, she was appointed medical director of the hospital Maison Blanche. Along with her medical career, she also pursued a career as a researcher and published several studies and books on early dementia, shock therapy and psychoanalysis (e.g., La Démence précoce).


Pictures of the two books written by Constance Pascal. On the left, Démence Précoce, 1911; on the right, Chagrins d'Amour et Psychoses, 1935. Credit: BnF.

Private and professional life

Constance Pascal photo on the book cover by Felicia Gordon who dug into family documents of her private life to explore her personality beyond what was known.

In a society where women were rarely seen in higher positions, Constance Pascal stood out as a clinical psychiatrist. But maintaining this position did not come without personal sacrifices for her. Despite expecting her first daughter, she had to hide her pregnancy to keep her job. To protect this secret, she took a long sick leave and gave birth without putting her name on her daughter’s birth certificate. Later, she officially adopted her daughter.

She spent the beginning of her career in asylums of the French countryside where she struggled to impose her vision for better clinical practices. Constance wanted to leave this place where “egoism” and “avarice” were “suffocating” her. She eventually moved closer to Paris, where she found both professional fulfilment and personal happiness. She managed to have a brillant medical career and to give the best education to her daughter.


Impact on Psychiatry and society

Constance Pascal and the staff at Châlon sur Marne

Constance Pascal was a pioneer in her field, embodying the qualities of a "new woman" - independent and ambitious. She was a feminist innovator, opening doors for others and serving as a role model for future generations. Although not part of the feminist movement in France at the time, she contributed to the cause in her own way. Her doctoral thesis was celebrated as a feminine and feminist success by her peers. She fought tirelessly for the improvement of nurses' training and conditions of service in the hospitals where she worked and supported the growing number of women seeking psychiatric posts. Her appointment as the first female psychiatric expert on court-martial dealing with shell-shock (post-traumatic syndrome now) victims was a testament to her exceptional abilities and dedication to her profession. Nowadays, her contributions to the field of Psychiatry and her pioneering role as a woman psychiatrist are still celebrated through dedicated blog posts and journal articles; streets, hospital units and prizes (EPA Pascal-Boyle Prize) bear her name.


Logo of the EPA Pascal-Boyle Prize, 2023. The prize awards every year a woman psychiatrist in Europe for her accomplishments in the field of Psychiatry.

Constance Pascal remains an inspiring woman in the history of Psychiatry in France, exemplifying the power of determination and passion in achieving great accomplishments, and continuing to illuminate the path for the future generations.


Written by Tiffanie C.




Felicia Gordon. French psychiatry and the new woman: the case of Dr Constance Pascal, 1877–1937.

History of Psychiatry, 2006, 17 (2), pp.159-182. 10.1177/0957154X06056601. hal-00570838

Felicia Gordon. Constance Pascal, Une pionnière de la psychiatrie française (1877-1937) – Traduit de l’anglais (Grande-Bretagne) par Danièle Faugeras.

Metitieri, T., Mele, S. and Favero, M. (2017). Profile of Constance Pascal. In WiNEu, European Women in Neuroscience, Untold stories: the Women Pioneers of Neuroscience in Europe. Retrieved from

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