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1940s Woman Who Was Committed in Jamestown State Hospital

Jamestown State Hospital

Excerpted from the play Retail Therapy by Kathy Coudle-King Voiced by Becca Cruger

It was forty-three-forty-four, my grandmother had four sons, two daughters, one was much younger – my mother. Two sons were in the Navy, two were was in the Army, and they all served in WW II. The naval base was out in California, and there were job opportunities in factories building military artillery, so the family packed up in North Dakota and moved out there. I’m sure it was at my grandmother’s insistence. She wanted to stay as close to those boys as she could for as long as she could. My grandfather got a job working in one of them factories making pretty good money for the times. But my grandmother – she was far from home – a new state, no friends or family to lean on once her sons spread were sent out around the world fighting in the war.

She’d scour the newspapers for information, and like most Americans, she and my grandfather were glued to the radio at night to get the latest reports of the war. She was in a constant state of worry. Paced the floor at night when she shoulda been sleeping. Couldn’t eat. She ended up having a nervous breakdown. I am not sure of what that all entailed, but it was bad enough that my grandfather packed up my grandmother and my mother and drove through the night to get back to North Dakota. He dropped my grandmother off in Jamestown at the state hospital. My mother remembers waiting in the car. “I’ll be right back,” he said, and helped her mother out of the car and up the steps of the hospital building.

My grandmother was committed to Jamestown – for eight months. To my knowledge, my mother never visited her there. Instead, she spent that summer, being shuffled from one relative then another, one week sleeping on a cousin’s porch because there was no bed in the house. When my grandmother was finally released, she was given tranquilizers to help deal “with her menopause” -- she would have been about forty-five. My mother thought they must have given her electroshock therapy when she was in the hospital. She was never sociable again.

My uncles? They all came home safe and sound. Thank God.

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