Professors Begin Oral History Project on Historic Saint Albans Hospital

A landmark building in Pulaski County, sitting high atop a hill overlooking the New River, has a story to tell and three Radford University professors will provide the voice of its story.

Saint Albans Hospital began as an elite boys’ school in 1915 and later became Saint Albans Sanatorium. The hospital quickly gained a national reputation for its innovative treatment and family-oriented therapeutic approaches.

Counselor of Education Professors Cathy Hudgins and Carla Emerson and Anthropology/Sociology Professor Mary LaLone received a $20,000 Radford University Multidisciplinary Grant to fund a “Oral History Research Study of St. Albans Psychiatric Hospital, 1916-2003.” The project will be a multifaceted documentation of the events that occurred at the hospital through the voices of its former staff.

“The discoveries and shifts in mental health treatment across the world played out in this enduring institution throughout its time in operation,” according to one passage in the grant proposal.

Hudgins and her colleagues believe the oral history is a much-needed informational resource for those connected to the hospital, the local community and the mental health community at-large because of the hospital’s history and influence on the development of mental health treatment.

“I worked at the new Saint Albans [facility] during my training and listened to the older staff members and their stories,” said Hudgins. “Some of the employees had been there for generations and then their family worked there for generations. As I listened to their stories, I thought about how mental health had evolved through this institution. It was significant to the region in the way it changed treatment.”

During the first phase of the study, for which the grant is proposed, an oral history qualitative methodology will be followed to generate data appropriate for publication and presentation in relevant journals and conferences. Up to 30 participants will be interviewed using semi-structured questions designed to allow the participants to discuss personal experiences, stories, feelings and memories at length.

“We have taken all of the ethical and legal requirements in the state into the progression of this study,” says Hudgins. “Participants’ data and personal information will not expose who they are. We won’t reveal any information that would identify them. We will take out any identifiers. They have control over the interview and will be completely anonymous.”

To learn more about the project or share a story, e-mail or contact Hudgins at (540) 831-2514.

Apr 26, 2011
Bonnie Erickson