Academic journal article Journal of Theory Construction and Testing

Using Multiple Methods in Qualitative Research Design

Academic journal article Journal of Theory Construction and Testing

Using Multiple Methods in Qualitative Research Design

Article excerpt


Life history and historical methods were used to obtain an in-depth understanding of the life of a woman, Colice Caulfield Sayer, who was involuntarily committed to a state mental institution for 43 years, and to reveal how the lives of successive generations were altered by her removal from the family. Colice wrote poetry, diaries, personal notes and letters to family members. Data from these writings was used to gain an understanding of her thoughts and emotions. Interview data were obtained from family members who remembered her. A review of the literature in law, medicine, women's roles and childrearing from the 1930s to the 1960s was presented as secondary data. Archival data obtained from court records and family historical documents were also included. Using multiple data sources necessitated the development of a combined research method that could discover meaning in a story that could not be understood using one method. This study and the research design that was created to accommodate the data provide means to understand multiple realities and to advance our understanding of the uses of qualitative design in healthcare research.

Key Words: Life History, Phenomenology, Historical Method, Multiple Methods

In 1934, Colice Caulfield Sayer, a wife and mother of four children, was involuntarily committed to the St. Lawrence State Hospital in Ogdensburg, New York. Colice was committed following a hearing which was attended by her husband, the family doctor, a local judge, and her brother and sister-in-law. She was not notified the hearing would take place and was never allowed to speak in her own defense. Colice was accused of insanity by her husband, Edgar, who testified that she threatened to kill him. The family doctor noted that Colice needed inpatient psychiatric hospitalization due to Involutional Melancholia, a condition described in the literature as one that magnified less desirable personality traits such as anxiety, restlessness, insomnia and emotional instability. The condition was associated with changes in the endocrine system of middle aged women known as menopause (Alien & Henry, 1933; Ayd, 1961). Inpatient psychiatric hospitalization was most likely considered for Colice's protection as well as for her husband, Edgar (Katz, 1966). As a result of these actions, Colice was legally removed from her home, taken from her children, and stripped of all material possessions.

According to Colice's written diaries and family narratives, Edgar had ulterior motives for having his wife committed. A known serial philanderer, Edgar was having an open affair at the time of his wife's commitment. Edgar did not want Colice and did not want to be financially responsible for her. He testified he was impoverished and asked that Colice be named a ward of the State of New York, a move which absolved him of all legal and financial responsibility for her care. His request was granted. When Colice was brought to the St. Lawrence Hospital, she arrived as a pauper and was under the continuous authority of the state until her death in 1977, 43 years after her admission.


The purpose of this study was to gather data from multiple sources in order to describe the life of Colice Caulfield Sayer within a historical framework, particularly examining how society, medicine, and the legal system affected the course of one woman's life. In addition, the research intended to explain the effects of family loss on successive generations and to gain insight into what was meaningful to them about the loss of their family member. Finally, the research gave a "voice" to Colice, to allow her the opportunity to tell her story to as wide an audience as possible.


Several approaches were selected for the study due to the challenges provided by the source material. The material was both copious and varied. Because one design could not capture the richness of the data, adequately answer the research questions or provide insight into the historical context of the story, the study was designed around the data, using life history and historical methods concurrently. …

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