Willard Suitcases / Names
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.