Patient Letters

The fifteen letters included in this section, along with one newspaper account quoting from a series of patient letters, date from the late 19th century. They were chosen because they reflect a range of voices and experiences. Some letters praised life at the LAI, while others criticized it. A few letters also suggest the kind of internal struggles that the patients faced, which may have justified, in the eyes of family or staff members, their stay at the LAI. As a community within a community, the Asylum was certainly not without its share of challenges and difficulties. It is therefore not surprising that patients expressed frustrations and complaints, especially when they did not agree with those who believed they needed institutional care. As documents that provide a counterpoint to the official sources that exist, these letters shed light on the patient experience.

As you peruse the letters, we invite you to think about how they contribute to the historical record. Some questions to consider are:

1) Privacy legislation prevents researchers from accessing patient records that are less than 100 years old. How does this limit our understanding of mental health care from the patient perspective?

2) How do these letters support or challenge other aspects presented in this exhibit?

3) Why do you think these letters were confiscated? What type of information do they contain? What effect might they have had when they were written?