My students are usually captivated by “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and every time I teach it I get a paper or two with a thesis that argues the narrator’s husband is sexist, that the rest cure is demeaning, and/or that the narrator speaks for the author. That’s a bit like “proving” that the river is important in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or that the Puritans oppress Hester in The Scarlet Letter. I call those “safe” claims. The textual evidence overwhelmingly supports these claims, and precious little evidence supports any challenge to these these claims, so there is not a lot of room for a student to demonstrate the ability to support a debatable claim.
The doctor in question was one S. Weir Mitchell, then at the height of his fame; his reputation had been secured during the Civil War when he published a book on the neurological effect of gunshot wounds. He claimed great success in treating what were thought of then as female nervous conditions – though it’s not as if Mitchell made that sharp a distinction between mental health and mental illness with women. Horowitz quotes him commenting on “how near to disorder and how close to misfortune [a woman] is brought by the very peculiarities of her nature.”