Judi Chamberlin, whose involuntary confinement in a
mental hospital in the 1960s propelled her into a leading
role in the movement to guarantee basic human rights to
psychiatric patients, died on Jan. 16 at her home in
Arlington, Mass. She was 65.
The cause was pulmonary disease, said Martin Federman,
her companion since 2006.
“It was not into one of those horror-story-type places”
that Ms. Chamberlin was committed in 1966, Mr. Federman
said. Still, five months in a state hospital in New York
City for a diagnosis of chronic depression were enough to
prompt her to action.
She was then Judi Ross, 22 years old, and had suffered a
miscarriage. “She didn’t get over that, as people kept
telling her she would,” Mr. Federman said. After several
voluntary hospitalizations, she was involuntarily committed.
“There are real indignities and real problems when all
facets of life are controlled — when to get up, to eat, to
shower — and chemicals are put inside our bodies against our
will,” Ms. Chamberlin told The New York Times in 1981.
There was a lack of activity, of fresh air. There were
seclusion rooms and wards for noncompliant patients, even
those who were in no way violent. The drugs, which she said
made her lethargic and affected her memory, seemed more
intended to control than cure. And she could not sign
She had become, she said, “a prisoner of the system.”
After her release, Ms. Chamberlin began working with
several organizations in the budding rights movement for
mental health patients. She gave speeches and interviews
throughout the country. In 1978, her book “On Our Own”
(Hawthorne) was published.
In 2000, she was a primary author of a federal report by
Council on Disability called
“From Privileges to Rights.” The report said that within the
traditional system patients had to earn privileges, among
them to see visitors, leave the grounds and have their own
clothes. Those should be basic rights, not privileges, the
In 1992, President George
H. W. Bush presented
Ms. Chamberlin with the Distinguished Service Award.
Born in Brooklyn on Oct. 30, 1944, Judi Ross was the only
child of Harold and Shirley Jaffe Ross. Her father was an
advertising executive, her mother a school administrator.
Her marriages to Howard Cahn and Robert Chamberlin ended
in divorce. Besides Mr. Federman, she is survived by a
daughter, Juli Chamberlin of Medford, Mass., and three