I support the efforts of George Phelps Jr. and Janice Hayes-Williams to preserve the land and buildings that housed Crownsville State Hospital ["Studying a Relic of a Painful Past," Metro, Aug. 12]. But I am dismayed that your reporter distorted my comments and presented the history of the hospital in such a negative light.
I lived on the hospital grounds from 1942 to 1950 while my father, Dr. Jacob Morgenstern, and my mother, Gisela Morgenstern, were employed there. I witnessed the efforts of my parents and other dedicated staff to treat the illnesses and alleviate the suffering of the mentally (and often physically) ill patients. Some patients did indeed shriek and shout -- not because they were mistreated, as implied in the article, but because they were agitated and frightened as a consequence of their hallucinations and delusions.
Under extremely adverse conditions, with personnel shortages during World War II and an inadequate budget, both staff and patients had to make do with dilapidated buildings and overcrowding. My father, who became the clinical director and then superintendent, took courses at Johns Hopkins University Hospital and St. Elizabeths Hospital to bring new approaches and treatments of mental illness to Crownsville. These were not "gruesome medical experiments," and the treatments were used in the other hospitals for patients of all races. My mother, a medical technologist, also took courses and brought then-cutting-edge therapies to the hospital to better diagnose and treat patients.
Crownsville State Hospital's staff was racially integrated. My father believed that it was important for the patients' self-esteem and mental health to be treated by those who shared their racial heritage. He wanted to provide training opportunities for African Americans in mental health disciplines. It is important to remember that these steps toward desegregation happened at Crownsville when desegregation efforts in Maryland were in their infancy.
And, yes, our small family did briefly occupy "the superintendent's mansion" on the hospital grounds. As only the second superintendent, after the retirement of Dr. Robert Winterode, my father was expected to use the house as his predecessor had, to host the board of directors and other officials. In this "mansion," my father was always on call: available to patients, their relatives, staff, community residents and the media. He also made it a priority, as soon as postwar funding became available, to build new dormitories and treatment rooms for patients, as well as housing for staff members at all levels. He then moved from the superintendent's residence to private housing.
As unpleasant as many of the conditions were at Crownsville during the 1940s, I know that my father endeavored to improve the lives of the people he cared for. He welcomed many volunteers who donated time and gifts for the patients. Among the more celebrated visitors was boxer Joe Louis. Yes, there is much to commemorate at Crownsville State Hospital. But in reviewing its "sordid" history, let's also not forget the good things that happened there.
-- Doris Morgenstern Wachsler