21st Century Questions
by Jenna Berrie
Finette Woodrow, 45, Laundress, married with three children.
May 8th, 1884
“For several years she has been strange…”
Oh, I know that word, the one that separates the ‘other’ from the crowd. How they love a herd, the ones who call us strange.
What were they like, these attendants who wrote of your strangeness? Did they look into your eyes, Finette, and see through to the broken heart of you? Was there kindness?
I think you lost yourself that summer.
May 20th 1884
“She is restless and excited still and will not take any nourishment without being forcibly administered.”
Such a tidy word ‘administered’. I don’t think you were offered warm soup on a spoon. I don’t think you were enticed to open your mouth. It can’t have been a tidy process. Were there screams and anger, hands gripping your jaws, a rubber tube forced past your teeth and down your throat? Food administered.
We would understand you better today. It was the best they could do: you did not starve, you gained weight. You learned to take your meals quietly.
July 14th 1884
“She…is quiet and manageable…”
Did you learn how to be good, Finette, or did you surrender? Did you believe what they said, or what you knew.
“She is at times spiteful. She talks in the most rambling way.”
Did they ask you why? Did they ask how you felt or what you thought? I think they wrote only what they saw.
They did not once use your name.
[ Within three months of her discharge, Finette’s husband died. In the 1891 census she is recorded as a widow, living alone, a pauper. ]