Tag Archives: Connecticut

How much privacy do we owe to Civil War soldiers?

This story out of Connecticut is more than a little bizarre.

The state mental health commissioner is fighting efforts by freedom of information advocates to undo a law — which they say passed under last-minute, “murky circumstances” in 2011 — that blocks historians’ research into Civil War soldiers afflicted with what’s now called post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, the state FOI Commission and the Connecticut State Library all gave legislative testimony this past week in favor of H.B. 5124, a bill that would change the law so that medical and mental-health records could be released 50 years after the death of the person involved.

History professor Matthew Warshauer of Central Connecticut State University also testified and said that the state’s position is frustrating valuable historical research into the treatment of veterans a century before the term PTSD was invented to describe the lingering results of wartime trauma.

Warshauer and his students have fought in recent years for access to state mental hospital records of Civil War veterans. They prevailed in a 2010 case at the FOI Commission, which ordered release of the records. But the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) fought back in a different way, persuading legislative leaders to tuck the current prohibition into a 98-section public health bill in the 2011 end-of-legislative-session rush.

Why the sensitivity about Civil War-era medical records, you ask?

Rehmer said in her testimony: “Though the individuals … are deceased, it is our firm belief that records of this nature are very sensitive and that family members of those who have been in state hospitals would not want that information disclosed.”

…Deron Drumm, executive director of Advocacy Unlimited Inc., said, “While historical accounts of what treatment entailed fifty years ago would be valuable to the public — releasing the names of individuals involved with psychiatric services will result in discrimination against their relatives.”

Historians shouldn’t be allowed to access the mental health records of Civil War soldiers because it will result in discrimination against their relatives? Can anybody out there actually imagine a scenario where that would be possible?  Is somebody going to get turned down on a job application because his great-great-grandfather developed PTSD after the Overland Campaign?

Look, I think we can all agree that people’s health records should be kept private for a good, long while after their death. But in this case we’re talking about a span of multiple generations.  Indeed, many Americans do not even know the names of their Civil War ancestors, let alone harbor any sensitivity over those ancestors’ mental state.

Is fifty years after someone’s death too soon to open their private records to the public? Maybe, maybe not. But I dare say that a century is quite enough water under the bridge.  Amend the legislation accordingly and open those files.

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Rep. Joe Courtney makes a mountain out of a molehill

I can understand why he’d be miffed that Lincoln wrongly depicts representatives from his state voting against the Thirteenth Amendment, but sending a letter to Spielberg asking him to fix it in time for the DVD release is going a little overboard.

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Toil and trouble

In 1663 Connecticut authorities hanged Mary Barnes for witchcraft, and now her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter wants her ancestor’s name cleared, along with those of ten other executed witches.  It must be a lot harder to live down a family scandal in Connecticut.  “Uh-oh, Mildred, here comes that woman whose seventh grandmother was hanged for being a witch.  I hope she doesn’t try to sit next to us.”

From The Witch of Salem, by Freeland A. Carter via Wikimedia Commons

This effort has attracted the attention of the Connecticut Wiccan & Pagan Network (suggested motto: “Loki is Our Homeboy”), which wants a proclamation from the governor.  They’re sending postcards—I’m not making this up—with the message, “I am a Pagan/Witch and I vote. Clear the names of Connecticut’s eleven accused and executed witches.”

I’m assuming the descendants of the condemned witches want their ancestors declared innocent.  If that’s the case, it doesn’t really seem helpful to have the witch/pagan lobby involved.  If the point is that grandma was executed for something she didn’t do, wouldn’t you want to keep people who affirm the okayness of what she was accused of doing from appropriating her as a symbol?

Oh, and if you’re thinking that Connecticut was still a colony when it was executing witches and the aggrieved parties should therefore take their case to the British Empire, the CWPN already tried applying to Queen Elizabeth II for a pardon.  Gotta admire their persistence.

(Hat tip to John Fea)

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Labor Day miscellanea

A few items for your edification as you kiss your summer goodbye.

  • Joel McDurmon argues that David Barton failed to make his case in The Jefferson Lies.  The reason this is noteworthy is because McDurmon’s piece is posted at the American Vision website.  This organization calls for a nation “that recognizes the sovereignty of God over all of life, where Christians apply a Biblical worldview to every facet of society. This future America will be again a ‘city on a hill’ drawing all nations to the Lord Jesus Christ and teaching them to subdue the earth for the advancement of His Kingdom.”  It’s pretty interesting to see Christian Reconstructionists taking Barton apart.  (Hat tip to John Fea)
  • A few months ago Connecticut rolled out a $27 million tourism marketing campaign organized around the slogan “Still Revolutionary,” which “speaks to Connecticut’s deep roots in the founding of this country and reminds us that we still have that independent, revolutionary spirit,” according to Gov. Daniel Malloy. It’s a little odd, therefore, that Fort Griswold (site of the 1781 Battle of Groton Heights and one of the state’s most important Rev War attractions) is conspicuously absent in the ads that have been released so far.  It’s the thought that counts, anyway.
  • In a new book, Robert Sullivan does for the Revolutionary War in the middle states what Tony Horwitz did for the Civil War in the South.
  • Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg is getting a new museum, slated to open next July.
  • An Illinois Lincoln fan is heading out on a cross-country trip to read the Gettysburg Address from the steps of every state capitol.  If my reckoning is correct, that adds up to about an hour and forty minutes of actual speaking time.
  • Speaking of Lincoln, the folks at Simon & Schuster know an opportunity when they see one.

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