Massachusetts School for Idiotic and Feeble-Minded Children, South Boston (moved to Waltham in 1887) – Massachusetts State Reform School, Westbrorough (later “Lyman School for Boys”)
Okay, why can’t I quit laughing about this having it’s name changed to School for Boys? It’s my own male bashing reflex no doubt.
When we’re doing research we just stumble on the weirdest things and one of them is the use of language. How it’s changed.
Surely whoever created the Massachusetts School for Idiotic and Feeble-Minded Youth, the first such educational institute in the nation, was absolutely ground breaking. A forward thinker, a mover and shaker, a compassionate advocate for. . .idiotic and feeble-minded youth.
Here’s how they rated their children by IQ:
50-69 = Moron
20-49 = Imbecile
Below 20 = Idiot
There’s some speculation that the majority of those children were just orphans and needed a place to stay. Some say they weren’t treated very nicely. Others say it was a huge improvement in their lives. Probably the truth depended on the place.
Here’s another one that earned a headline. 1836 Three Massachusetts counties establish facilities for “idiots and lunatics furiously mad”
This is in a website I found that boasts: Development of public responsibility for persons with disabilities in Massachusetts
The first sentence sounds awful-furiously mad! The second sounds nice doesn’t it? I suspect it was more nice than awful. It was probably ground breaking to try and care for crazy people. We look at words like idiot and imbecile and think it’s so heartless. But this is in a day when a family might deal with a handicapped child by keeping them hidden away in some attic for their whole lives. Puts me in mind of Jane Eyre, huh? And maybe The Secret Garden?
The State Asylum for the Incurably Insane in Hastings Nebraska (pictured above) had a cemetary with graves bearing a number rather than a name, so deep was the shame of having a mentally ill family member. Years of lawsuits were required to get the identities of those buried there and only last May did the Nebraska Supreme Court finally rule that medical privacy laws didn’t cover death records.
From 1909 to 1959 there were approximately 751 patients buried there. A second listing abstracted from the medical ledger books between 1889 and 1918 for 399 patients was also provided.
Handicapped family member lived and died and were buried there and the families asked for complete confidentiality.
We hear a thing like this and feel distaste for people ashamed of their mentally ill family members. But it was a different time. It was a time that led people to do things like Joseph Kennedy giving his handicapped daughter a lobotomy. Turning a young woman who was fairly functional into a badly disabled woman who lived her life behind closed doors. Her very existence was shrouded in secrecy for most of her life until her sister Eunice Shriver found the courage to admit she had a handicapped sister. It was part of why she founded the Special Olympics.
Were all these places decent to their charges? It all probably came down to who was in charge. Were they kind or cruel?
How about this one? 1846 Two committees, headed by Samuel Gridley Howe, are appointed to investigate the need for facilities for “idiots” and juvenile offenders—
My question? Are those two things the same? Idiots and juvenile offenders? I thought we only invented Teenagers in the 20th Century. . at which time we declared ALL juveniles idiots.
1829 – The New England Asylum for the Blind opens in Massachusetts, becoming the first school in the U.S. for children with visual disabilities.
Asylum? Not what we think when we hear the word asylum, huh? Offensive, like just because you’re blind you’re crazy. But that’s modern thinking. Remember this was first. This was forward thinking, progressive, gentle and kind hearted people trying to do the right thing.
It’s one of those things that jumped out at me when I was doing research and it was a reminder to me.
We do history a disservice when we judge the past through modern eyes without really understanding how things were back then.
We spend too much time disrespecting the past. Instead we should try to understanding it. And maybe, on occasion, laugh at it.
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