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Suffering in the Land of Sunshine

Suffering in the Land of Sunshine: A Los Angeles Illness Narrative

Emily K. Abel
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Suffering in the Land of Sunshine
    Book Description:

    The history of medicine is much more than the story of doctors, nurses, and hospitals. Seeking to understand the patient's perspective, historians scour the archives, searching for rare personal accounts. Bringing together a trove of more than 400 family letters by Charles Dwight Willard,Suffering in the Land of Sunshineprovides a unique window into the experience of sickness.A Los Angeles civic leader at the turn of the twentieth century, Willard is well known to historians of the West, but exclusively for his public life as a booster and reformer. Willard's evocative story offers fresh insights into several critical issues, including how concepts of gender, class, and race shape patients' representations of their illness, how expectations of cure affect the illness experience, how different cultures constrain the coping strategies of the sick, and why robust health is such an exalted value in certain societies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4238-6
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    In the spring of 1910, a middle-aged, white man boarded a Los Angeles streetcar and saw a woman he later would describe as severely deformed; her spine was “twisted” and her head jiggled constantly. Just as he was thinking “what a hideous affliction” she had, he realized he, too, inhabited a deviant body. Indeed, he “could almost read her lips” saying of him, “Hear that poor consumptive cough.” He “would not trade with her for $50,000,” but then he could “bet she would not trade” with him.¹

    By that date, Charles Dwight Willard had lived in Southern California for twenty-four...

  6. Chapter 1 Encountering Illness
    (pp. 1-21)

    By late January 1886, when twenty-six-year-old Charles D. Willard was carried off the train at the San Bernardino, California, station, he already had received important messages about negotiating his illness. Greatly beloved by his large family—and especially by his mother and two sisters—he had learned that he could rely on their unstinting devotion and care. Simultaneously, however, he had seen that their services came at a cost. He had returned to childhood dependence just when most of his male contemporaries were launching independent lives. Only by ignoring some of the care he received could he recover his self-respect....

  7. Chapter 2 “A Real Man Again”
    (pp. 22-44)

    “We have had good luck as usual in getting located,” Charles wrote shortly after he and Sam arrived back in Santa Barbara in September 1887. “We are in a house about a block from the Arlington in the pleasantest part of town. It is a beautiful neighborhood and this house is a lovely one, covered with vines and flowers and in the midst of a beautiful yard…. As I lie in bed at night I look out these windows upon the vines and trees lit up by the moonlight and the effect stirs my aesthetic soul.” Willard’s “good luck” consisted...

  8. Chapter 3 Boosting Los Angeles
    (pp. 45-67)

    Four events fundamentally altered the course of Charles Willard’s life between May 1890 and June 1891. The first was his mother’s death on May 23, 1890. Although none of Willard’s letters survive from that period, we can assume he suffered a devastating blow. If he occasionally had chafed at her overwhelming demands and concerns, he also had found his primary comfort in her devotion and solicitude. His father could not substitute. A distant, vague, and formal man, Samuel was much less involved in his children’s lives. A passage in a letter Charles sent his mother at the end of a...

  9. Chapter 4 Reforming Los Angeles
    (pp. 68-86)

    During his last years at the chamber of commerce, Willard began to participate actively in progressivism, the broad social and political reform movement which swept through the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Willard focused primarily on municipal affairs. Exposing the problems of Los Angeles might seem a strange endeavor for a man who continued to celebrate its perfection. But as one historian argues, progressives did not believe they faced intractable problems: “It would be more accurate to say that they swam in a sudden abundance of solutions.” While advocating political and social change, reformers assumed...

  10. Chapter 5 “The Old Trouble”
    (pp. 87-116)

    Dr. Fisher gave Willard the news he most dreaded. As he wrote to his father on October 4, 1907, the doctor “says the old trouble has come back and has been working some time.”¹

    A new problem accompanied that “old trouble.” As Charles’s symptoms amplified, he discovered he had crossed the critical divide between “incipient” and “advanced” disease. Because one of his responsibilities as secretary of the Municipal League was to follow policies in other cities, he undoubtedly knew most public health authorities viewed sufferers of late tuberculosis with special disfavor. Hermann M. Biggs, the chief health officer of the...

  11. Chapter 6 The “Gash” in “Our Happiness”
    (pp. 117-140)

    As Willard’s health continued to worsen, he had to struggle harder than ever to retain his identity as middle class, as the scion of good Protestant stock, and as a man. The new calamity which visited his family on December 14, 1910, highlighted both the benefits of high social standing and the fragility of the border he had tried to construct between himself and “indigent invalids.” A match lit by a gas company employee accidentally set fire to the Willards’ home. By the time the flames were extinguished, the entire building had been destroyed; only the piano and a few...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 141-148)

    Thirteen months before his death, Willard sent to a wide circle of friends a Christmas letter in which he both summarized his recent experiences and transcended them. Abandoning his customary camouflage, he spoke openly from the world of sickness:

    A man who is well, and able to get about, is allowed the happiness of meeting his friends at intervals, but one who is tied down by long illness, as I am, may see only those that come to him. As I live in rather an inaccessible spot, and as I am not always strong enough to see people, the number...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 149-170)
  14. Index
    (pp. 171-176)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 177-177)