Rhoda Derry was very influential in the Illinois Mental Health Community at the beginning of the twentieth century. Her case brought about sweeping changes to the housing and treatment of patients in mental institutions and led to the closing of many Alms Houses throughout the state of Illinois.
Rhoda grew up in Adams County, Illinois. During her teenage years, she fell in love with a farm boy, Charles Phenix, who lived a short distance from her home. His mother, Nancy, did not want her son to marry Rhoda because of the Derry family’s association with witchcraft. Rhoda’s grandmother was rumored to be a witch and Rhoda’s mother, Rachel, wanted nothing to do with “Old Moll”, as the grandmother was known. Rachel convinced her husband to move the family away and this helped instill a deep fear of witches into Rhoda.