During my research into the patient case notes in the Bethlem Archives, I found the case of Elsie Schmidt. She first appears in the records in 1887 aged 24, listed as a governess, admitted with melancholia and suicidal intent. She was discharged, but reappears again in 1893, now aged 30 and listed as a music teacher.
Filtering through the doctor's tiny handwriting emerged a woman who I recognised in myself. She was very creative, described as 'always fanciful and decorative in dress' and 'had a tendency to decorate herself with odd bits of coloured stuffs'. But she was also floridly unwell: '[the nurse] says that during the night she has been shouting and dancing about in a state of nudity, calling her a devil and declaring that there are other girls in the room when no-one else is in fact present'.
Elsie's case is rich in imagery and detail. I have drawn out lines from the case notes and embroidered them onto squares of calico, which I plan to sew together into a quilt for Elsie. I am not trying to give her a 'voice' as this is completely absent, there are no records in her own words. I can only repeat what others said about her. I have tried not to romanticise her and include the difficult parts of her story too.
|'She said she saw two great lights and a number of stars in her room and flames coming under the door, which they were trying to burn'|
Elsie is beginning to filter into my work for the rest of the exhibition. She is described gathering pieces of stick and odd objects in her pockets, which I something I have already been doing in the grounds of Bethlem. It is reported that she tore her clothes, and I have begun to tear fabric for another piece. Everything is coming together in the most uncanny way.