Elsie Lacks’ family sent her to Crownsville (formerly known as the Hospital for the Negro Insane) after it became impossible to keep her safe and healthy at home. During the 1950s, however, Crownsville was essentially a dumping ground for unwanted African Americans—the ill, the mentally impaired, and even criminals. The hospital was hugely overcrowded, and doctors often performed terrible experiments on their patients, who were unable to give consent. For Rebecca Skloot, Crownsville represents the horrors that can be inflicted on voiceless patients (especially a mentally ill black woman like Elsie) by an uncaring medical establishment. For Deborah Lacks, meanwhile, Crownsville emblemizes the breakup of her family. She mourns for Elsie has much as she does for Henrietta, and is obsessed with the horror of her sister’s fate.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
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The timeline below shows where the symbol Crownsville State Hospital appears in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5: Blackness Be Spreadin All Inside
Chapter 28: After London
...answering the phone. She reads her mother’s records, and learns that Elsie ended up in Crownsville. Deborah is afraid that Elsie was experimented on, and grows more suspicious after learning that... (full context)
Chapter 33: The Hospital for the Negro Insane