Among the many illuminating contents of Elizabeth’s file, the Admission Form filled out by Dr. Griffitts on July 12, 1924, and the “Patient Summary” interview of Elizabeth conducted by Bryce doctors thirteen days later on July 25, provide a particularly distilled portrait of the consultation, diagnosis, and correspondence that, in complex concert, outlined Elizabeth’s fate.
On the Patient Admission Form, Dr. Griffitts set in motion the diagnostic classifications that would circumscribe the path of his wife’s remaining years. On this form—in fact, throughout “Mrs. T. D. H. Griffitts”’s entire file—the exact events that triggered the doctor’s admission of Elizabeth into a mental institution remain unnarrated. The closest thing to a description of precipitating events—Dr. Griffitts’s account of Elizabeth’s “Present Attack”—catalogues “fits of temper—depression—jealousy—irrational acts and delusions, particularly on religion,” with “jealousy of attention shown to husband” as chief among his wife’s “mental deficiencies” (when the form later inquires explicitly, “Is she inclined to be jealous of her husband?” Dr. Griffitts answers simply, “Yes”). Furthermore, according to Dr. Griffitts, a “talkative” Elizabeth entertains “flights of ideas” revealing of a “suspicious” and “superstitious” mind. The duration of her insanity, Dr. Griffitts notes on this form, has lasted fifteen years—the same duration, remarkably, of the couple’s matrimony at that time. His wife had become, according to the Doctor, “very difficult” to manage. Perhaps the core of Elizabeth’s difficult personality may be expressed in the following questions and answers on the Admission Form:
“Was she ever called peculiar?” the form asks. “Yes,” Dr. Griffitts replies.
Thirteen days after her admittance, in the interview of Elizabeth conducted on July 25th by staff, Elizabeth displays for Bryce’s doctors such “peculiar” “flights of ideas.” As she refuses to follow the doctors’ leading questions in the directions intended, even going so far as to suggest that her husband undergo interview as well, Elizabeth convinces Superintendent Partlow and his colleagues that she deserves admission into Bryce Hospital as a likely incurable case.
The admissions interview, the transcript spanning only one and a half pages, seems to have taken perhaps fifteen minutes. Over the course of this interview, Superintendent Partlow spends much of this time quizzing Elizabeth about her relationship to her husband. Through seemingly rhetorical questions as “He has always treated you squarely, and you have not had to keep a watch on him?,” Partlow repeatedly characterizes Dr. Griffitts as a man who has treated Elizabeth fairly—a characterization that Elizabeth refuses to endorse.
“You and the Doctor have always gotten along very smoothly and pleasantly, have you?” Partlow asks.
“You should have him here to help answer that question—I think there are always two sides to everything,” Elizabeth responds.
The interview provides a glimpse not only into Elizabeth’s unhappy marriage, but furthermore into her dissatisfaction with her various southern homes—places which, clearly, did not compare to her finer northern origins. Regarding her recent residence in Montgomery, Elizabeth says, “I think that was kinder [sic] just camping because it was not my home.” Of her previous residence in Dothan, Alabama, Elizabeth exclaims, “It was very disgusting to me!—never very satisfactory.” Adding to her discontent, Elizabeth found her neighbors in Alabama to be supremely un-neighborly: she accuses them of spreading “absolutely malicious lies” about her, affronts to which she responded by acting “a lady the whole way through.” As a devout Catholic from a prosperous northern town, implanted without enthusiasm into the depths of the (Baptist) Bible Belt, Elizabeth was a pariah, a woman without friends, uncomfortable and seemingly unwelcome in her ever-changing southern environments. This alienation—paired with the apparently deceptive means used by Dr. Griffitts to bring his wife to Bryce (“I thought I was going to a Rest Hospital somewhere!” Elizabeth recounts in the interview)—seems impetus enough to trigger her transformation into the “bedraggled witch” of her son’s memory, the “manic” patient of doctors’ description. Yet those conducting her evaluation do not entertain this possibility. Rather, they seem more concerned with situating Elizabeth as a child-like madwoman incapable of recognizing her insanity.
They seem more concerned with situating Elizabeth as a child-like madwoman incapable of recognizing her insanity.
“I wonder if Mrs. Griffitts knows or realizes how upset and how confused she was when she came in?” Dr. Lawrence, a colleague of Partlow and fellow interviewer, muses.
“Maybe Dr. Griffitts will tell you—if you can see him!” Elizabeth responds. “I never wanted to come here. I begged the Doctor not to bring me here . . . The whole thing rests with Dr. Griffitts . . . I think we both should be questioned.”
At this, “the patient” is dismissed.
During the evaluation that follows, Bryce physicians concur with Dr. Griffitts’s assessment of his wife.10 Dr. Partlow, along with Lawrence and Dr. Kay, diagnose “the patient” as exhibiting “Paranoid Defence of herself” accompanied by occasional “Manic Attacks.”
“She was as wild as anybody I have ever seen,” Kay notes of Elizabeth’s “manic” behavior upon her forced arrival at Bryce.
“I saw her when she had her face half covered up, and would not speak to anybody,” Partlow adds. “She doesn’t seem to have any appreciation of that at all.” Although Partlow briefly questions his own diagnosis—“she could have just been furiously mad with her husband about something”—finally, he concludes that her use of “‘I’ and ‘My’ so much is Paranoia.”
With these words, Partlow and his cohorts deem Elizabeth insane.
Case history characterization of Elizabeth remains largely unchanged throughout her thirty-year tenure at Bryce.11 Her first case history report from July 21, 1924, exemplifies the relatively consistent official institutional description of Elizabeth: “She is now quiet and orderly, but has the attitude of a paranoid individual,” this first report reads. “She has no insight into her condition, does not believe that her mind has been upset. She seems very much interested in her children, but seems to dislike her husband.” (An almost-supplementary “She has spoken frequently of a National Woman’s Party, and seems to be quite interested in politics” suggests as much about contemporary notions of women’s madness as Elizabeth’s state of mind.) A few months later, in an October 27, 1924 letter from Partlow to Elizabeth’s sister-in-law, Mrs. J. P. Glynn, one of her persistently inquiring relatives from Cairo, Partlow adds to the description of Elizabeth’s “condition” another theme that populates official accounts of her insanity: Elizabeth possesses “a mental condition which makes her think she is not treated fairly.”