Shirley A. Mason's life story, told under the pseudonym Sybil, garnered international interest and scrutiny in the 1973 national best seller book, "Sybil", written by Flora Schreiber in collaboration with Dr. Cornelia Wilbur. A made-for-TV movie by the same title was released in 1976, staring Sally Field as Sybil and Joanne Woodward as Dr. Wilbur. The movie earned Sally Field an Emmy Award for outstanding achievement as an actress.
The story of Shirley Mason is one of a woman who triumphed over incredible odds. Abused by her mother throughout her young life, Shirley's mind protected the innocent child by splitting into various dissociative states or “personalities” to absorb the experience and shield her from the disturbing memories. In all, sixteen personalities were identified over the course of Shirley’s eleven year sojourn through psychotherapy with Dr. Wilbur.
Through the efforts of Dr. Wilbur, coupled with the self determination of this emotionally damaged young woman, all the selves integrated into one, allowing Shirley almost total recall of her life and feelings. And although individual courage and an irresolute determination to get better were the foundation of her recovery, Shirley discovered along the way that creative expression provided an important healing dimension in her struggle to get well.
Shirley Ardell Mason was born January 25, 1923 in Dodge Center, Minnesota, and died February 26, 1998, in Lexington, Kentucky. Shirley graduated from Dodge Center High School in 1941, and attended Mankato StateTeachers College (now known as Minnesota State University, Mankato) in the 1940's, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in English and Art in 1949.
Shirley began undergoing psychotherapy in 1954 with Dr. Cornelia Wilbur who diagnosed her with Multiple Personality Disorder. It was not until two years into her psychotherapy that Dr. Wilbur made Shirley aware of the autonomy and control the fifteen alternate selves had over her.
Shirley received a Master’s degree in Art Education from Columbia University's Teachers College in 1956 and later taught art at Rio Grande College in Ohio, before moving to Lexington, Kentucky in 1974.
Shirley, became a highly regarded and commercially successful artist, signing only those works that she recognized as her own. Other earlier works of art, presumably created by one or more of the alternative selves, were many times not signed or signed by others, providing the only tangible evidence of Shirley’s dissociative states, in which she created art but did not acknowledge the works as her own.
7th Grade with Her Artwork