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 Sunshine provides 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.