Means of Grace

A woman's story of domestic life, mental illness, and the 1950's.
Year Released
Film Length(s)
57 mins


Through one woman's intimate story, Means of Grace brings to light the painful intersection of women's roles, mental illness, and the 1950's.

Featured review

Means Of Grace is a moving evocation of the difficulties faced by the housewives of the 1950s and 1960s, some of whose lives were irrevocably damaged by their diagnosis and hospitalization as 'madwives'.
Dr. Carol Warren
Department of Sociology, University of Kansas


Ann Clements Conger was an ambitious journalist in the 1940's. In the 1950's she became a mother, and torn between her domestic roles and her career, she began a frightening journey into the world of hallucinations, tranquilizers and institutionalization. Diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia, she, like thousands of other American women, was committed against her will, and given electric shock therapy. Through the use of home movie footage, archival footage and dramatizations, Means of Grace raises questions about social control, definitions of madness, the nuclear family, women's roles and the Cold War. We meet her daughter, the filmmaker, as she wrestles with questions of doubt, shame, understanding and resoultion. Means of Grace is a presentation of the Independent Television Service (ITVS). Produced by Watermark Media for the Independent Television Service.


Clements brings us into the world of her mother's madness and out the other side. Having made the journey we have been changed.
Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner
Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner
A masterful achievement...every woman should view this film.
Jolene Unnerstall
Education Coordinator Women's Self-Help Center, St. Louis, Missouri
A unique and sensitive documentary.
The film's insights into the social forces that shape our lives are powerful and important.
Nancy Felipe Russo
Ph.D. Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies Arizona State University
J. Clements explores her own mother's painful struggles with mental illness during the 1950s and 1960s in this film. Excerpts from her mother's diary shed light on the hallucinations, drug treatments, and hospitalizations that began to dominate her life. These frightening and upsetting events unfolded as this woman tried to raise her children, be a good housewife, and advance her own writing career.
Elizabeth Smith
NY Times
A haunting, intimate documentary
Marin Independent Journal
Marin Independent Journal
Means of Grace sensitively raises questions about the definitions of mental illness and social control of women in American society.

Awards and Screenings

Best of 1996, from Booklist of the American Library Association , 1996
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, 1997

Director Commentary

It took a little over six years to make Means of Grace. Most of that time was spent fundraising. I was fortunate to be able to borrow a 16mm camera for initial filming, and to have cast and crew who were willing to work on deferment. The making of the film became my loving tribute to my mother, and because of that, and her, I hope this film moves the audience to be more empathetic to those who struggle with mental illness, and to those who simply live outside the bounds of society.

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

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