Jon Crispin's Notebook

Willard Suitcases / Names

Posted in Asylums, History, institutionalization, Mental Health, patient's names, psych centers by joncrispin on 05/10/2015

 I am especially taken by the labels that we find in the suitcases.  These small bits of paper and string give us quite a bit of information about the patient as they were brought to Willard.  In this case, W (we only have an initial) S (not allowed to use her surname) came to the institution on 16 November 1938.  This is a rare case where the label is ripped, but even so, I have had to obscure part of her name.

I am aware that there is an active debate about this, but I come down firmly on the side that would have me able to include the patient’s full names with their possessions.  The reason I am forbidden from naming patients has to do with specific New York State law about the privacy of people who were wards of the state.  This law supersedes even the Federal HIIPA regulations, which state that 50 years after death, records are available to the public. In fact, many other states use full names in talking about former patients at asylums and psychiatric centers.  I won’t go into all the reasons why I feel it is respectful to name the suitcase owners, as I am not so good at putting this kind of argument in writing.  But someone contacted me last week who is really good at it.

Here is a link to a post on her site.  I am grateful for all the nice things she said about me, but I am especially pleased that she was able to put into words something that I think about often; which is how to show respect to people who at one time in their lives were patients at Willard.  So Nelly, thank you so much for your openness about your own situation and the clarity with which you expressed your feelings.  I really appreciate it.

4 Responses

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  1. marketing4introverts said, on 05/10/2015 at 11:57 am

    Nelly does not allow comments on her blog but perhaps she will find my comment here. “Nelly, your blog is remarkably eloquent on the rights of the institutionalized to not have their names and their memories wiped clean and forgotten. I have been following Jon’s blog on the willard suitcase project for quite some time, and I stand with you both in your feelings about giving the suitcase owners back their names. Regardless of any afterlife, WE the living need to know the mentally ill are people. Dhyan.

    • Nelly Neurotic said, on 06/10/2015 at 1:22 pm

      Marketing4introverts, I did not realize my blog was set up to not accept comments. I have changed that now. I do have moderation on so your comments do not show up immediately. This prevents spam and such. I welcome you to leave a comment if you would like to. 🙂 Thank you for your kind words and I totally agree about the former patience of Willard having their rights back even in death. They deserve better than to simply be remembered as numbers. That is why I love Jon’s work so much. He shows these people as the remarkable human beings that they were. Thank you so much for your support.

  2. David said, on 05/10/2015 at 3:24 pm

    Until the New York laws are changed and they have names, your photos give them personality, history, character, family connections, and hobbies. Thanks Jon!

  3. Tania M said, on 08/10/2015 at 8:06 am

    I am thankful that your work shows these nameless people as who they were. I too agree their names should be public, it makes them less of a number and more of a real person. Thank you Jon, I have been following this blog for quite some time.

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