Title: From far more different angles
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00099565/00001
 Material Information
Title: From far more different angles institutions for the mentally retarded in the South, 1900-1940
Alternate Title: Institutions for the mentally retarded in the South, 1900-1940
Physical Description: xiii, 473 leaves : ; 29 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Noll, Steven, 1952-
Publication Date: 1991
Copyright Date: 1991
Subject: People with mental disabilities   ( lcsh )
People with mental disabilities -- Institutional care -- History -- Southern States -- 20th century   ( lcsh )
History thesis Ph. D
Dissertations, Academic -- History -- UF
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Thesis: Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1991.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (leaves 415-472).
Statement of Responsibility: by Steven Noll.
General Note: Typescript.
General Note: Vita.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00099565
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 001696560
oclc - 25269310
notis - AJA8681


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IN THE SOUTH, 1900-1940






To Dorothy and Fred Noll, and Tillie Braun.


In the five years this work has consumed my life, I

have accumulated more debts than I care to imagine. I can

never repay them; all I can do is acknowledge them with

heartfelt thanks and hope I haven't left anyone out. The

financial help provided by the University of Florida

Department of History was essential, for without it, this

project could not have even been started, much less

completed. I would also like to thank the Rockefeller

Archive Center, Pocantico Hills, New York and the North

Caroliniana Society of Chapel Hill, North Carolina for their

travel to collection grants which enabled me to conduct much

of my research.

My supervising committee has provided me with guidance,

support, and help at every step of the process. Special

thanks to Kermit Hall, my chairman, for his faith in my

abilities and his knack for discovering the truly meaningful

in my work. He always found time for my harried questions,

even in the middle of an incredibly busy schedule. The

other committee members, Robert Hatch, Michael Radelet,

Bertram Wyatt-Brown, and Robert Zieger, all provided

valuable intellectual advice and guidance. Michael Radelet

also proved that good teaching, good research, and social

activism are not mutually exclusive variables. My

colleagues at the University of Florida, Jeff Adler, David

Chalmers, Tom Gallant, Susan Kent, Chris Morris, and Samuel

Proctor, gave me valuable help, some of it unsolicited, much

of it unheeded, all of it appreciated.

Through the writing of this dissertation I have

discovered the meaning of the community of scholars. Many

individuals with little stake in my work have taken the time

to read it and offer encouragement and suggestions. Thanks

to Cheryll Cody, Ellen Dwyer, Gerald Grob, John Hughes,

Michael Sokal, Nicole Rafter, and Todd Savitt for their


Researching can be a difficult and lonely process. The

help of archivists, librarians, and staff people made my

life significantly easier. The librarians at the University

of Florida, particularly Gary Cornwell in Government

Documents, Lenny Rhine at the Health Center Library, and the

staff of the P. K. Yonge Library of Florida History, saved

me literally thousands of steps in running around campus.

The staffs at the National Library of Medicine, University

of Florida Health Center Library Annex in Jacksonville, the

Rockefeller Archive Center, the Florida State Archives, the

Georgia State Archives, the North Carolina State Archives,

the South Carolina State Archives and Library, the Virginia

State Archives and Library, the Jones Memorial Library in

Lynchburg, Virginia, the South Caroliniana Collection and

the medical library of the University of South Carolina, the

Southern Historical Collection and the North Carolina

Collection at the Wilson Library, University of North

Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the Alderman Library of the

University of Virginia all provided advice and comfort to a

weary, and often grouchy, researcher. Special thanks to

Mary Barnes and Gene Williams of the Old Records Center of

the North Carolina State Archives and Conley Edwards of the

Virginia State Archives for their personal attention. I

would also like to thank Reed and Angie Bohne, Reggie Clark,

Tom and Alison Duncan, Sue Lang, Don and Lane Neisen, Miriam

Reiser, and Al and Betsy Sharrett for opening their homes

and their refrigerators and providing a touch of home while

I was on the road.

For this work, much research had to be conducted in

non-research facilities, on the grounds of functioning

institutions for mentally handicapped individuals. This

could not have been possible without the help of staff who

opened their archives and files to me. Special thanks to

superintendent Max Jackson and his secretary, Agnes

Stanford, of the Tacachale Community (formerly Sunland

Center) in Gainesville, Florida for their encouragement of

my work and their help in allowing me access to the vault

files there. Similarly, the director of Caswell Center, Jim

Woodall, and his assistants, Joanne Richiutti and Becky

Brown, showed me the meaning of Southern hospitality on my

two trips to Kinston, North Carolina. Thanks also to Helen

Hester, staff librarian at the Central Virginia Training

Center, Lynchburg, Virginia, and the staff at Whitten

Center, Clinton, South Carolina.

Other debts incurred in the writing of this

dissertation have little to do with the actual production of

it. Perhaps they are more important, however. Words can

not express the sincere appreciation of the help supplied by

Jane Landers and Rosemarijn Hofte. Their support, both

intellectual and emotional, has been incalculable. Their

friendship helped me handle the rough times. Their

historical work also stands as an example of the kind of

work I aspire to. The students, staff, faculty, and

administration of Sidney Lanier School have helped pull me

through the doldrums of a dissertation that never seemed to

end. They continue to show me that my work has relevance

and importance today. Lenny, Helene, Moe, and Jamie Rhine

have once again made me see what was truly important in my

life. Thanks also to Abner Doubleday and James Naismith,

without whose games this dissertation would never have been

finished, or would have been finished long ago.

Finally to my family, my thanks are incalculable. To

my parents, Dorothy and Fred Noll, your support of my

intellectual endeavors, your pride in my meager

accomplishments, and your amazing courage in the face of

adversity have given me strength and hope. That neither of

you lived to see the completion of this project does not

diminish your involvement, only saddens me that you could

not share my sense of fulfillment in finishing. To my wife

Beverly, my son Jody, and my daughter Amanda, you have given

me financial and emotional support, laughter, love,

friendship, broken arms, and dirty diapers. Without your

help, this work would never have been finished. Maybe now I

can become a better husband and father. Finally, to Joel

Jaskolski, you may not be able to read this but you know





LIST OF TABLES.......................................x

LIST OF FIGURES ..................................... xi


I INTRODUCTION....... ........................1

Problems of Definition................5
Abbreviations ........................18
Notes to Chapter I....................20

PROGRESSIVE LEGACY........................28

Notes to Chapter II...................58

STERILIZATION ............................ 75

Notes to Chapter III................. 113

IN THE SOUTH .............................133

Notes to Chapter IV.................. 162

SOUTHERN INSTITUTIONS....................172

Notes to Chapter V...................219


Notes to Chapter VI..................270


MINDED BLACKS IN THE SOUTH...............284

Notes to Chapter VII................313


Notes to Chapter VIII...............353

WIDER WORLD .............................. 363

Notes to Chapter IX..................395

X CONCLUSION................................ 405

Notes to Chapter X ..................413

BIBLIOGRAPHY...... ...............................415

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH....... ............ ........... 473


Table page

2.1 Idiotic Persons Enumerated by the
U.S. Census 1850-1890...............35

2.2 Special Classes Throughout the
Nation................................ 55

3.1 Median IQ Scores of Southern Males
1917 Army Alpha Test.................82

3.2 Numbers of Mental Defectives
Institutionalized by Region 1937....100

3.3 Numbers of Mental Defectives
Institutionalized by
Southern States 1937 ................101

5.1 Patients in State Institutions for
Mental Defectives per
100,000 Population 1923, 1940.......178

5.2 Pay Scales for Superintendents,
Teachers, and Attendants,
Florida Farm Colony 1921-1936 .......188

5.3 Average Length of Residence, by Sex
Caswell Training School
1914-1939 .......................... 197

5.4 Places of Employment for Patients at
Caswell Training School 1935 ........205

5.5 Schools in Southern Institutions


Figure page

1.1 Comparison of Descriptive

2.1 Institutions for the Feeble-Minded
in the South.......................... 59

3.1 Commitment Procedures of
Southern States..................... 120

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to
the Graduate School of the University of Florida
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirement for
the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Steven Noll

August 1991

Chairman: Kermit L. Hall
Major Department: History

This dissertation deals with public institutions for

the mentally retarded in the South from 1900 to 1940. It

examines these facilities in light of broad national trends.

These trends included social movements in both society-at-

large and within the field of mental retardation itself.

The relation between Progressivism and the desire to

institutionalize retarded individuals is viewed as crucial

to understanding why and when these institutions were

organized. The professionalization of retardation services,

sterilization, and the colony system of institutionalization

are examined to determine if Southern institutions fit into

the treatment of retarded persons nationwide.


A composite picture of the persons served by these

institutions was obtained from census records, internal

reports, state records, and superintendents' correspondence.

The portrait showed many high-level patients being committed

from lower-class urban areas where they usually were

involved in status offenses or petty crime. In the case of

females, sexual activity was often an exclusive rationale

for institutionalization. Low-level patients represented

more of a cross section of society. They were

institutionalized because of the burdens they presented to

their families, not because of any social problems they

caused. Black retarded persons received the lowest level of

services, many being denied admission to institutions on the

basis of their color.

Southern institutions could not serve either high or

low level patients successfully because the nature of care

for each group was based upon differing treatment

modalities. This failure is analyzed in terms of Bernard

Farber's sociological model of retardation--deviancy versus

incompetency. The inability of Southern institutions to

handle the social problems of retardation is viewed as

systemic and not the product of administrative failure and




"Among the social tasks that confront state governments

today, none is more pressing than the care of the feeble-

minded." So reported a 1914 editorial in the influential

social welfare journal, The Survey. It went on to state

that "it is because they, at least as much as any other

class, complicate and involve every social problem, and

because, they, more than any other class, tend to increase

on our hands."1 The following work provides a case study of

the care of the feeble-minded, by examining institutions for

the mentally retarded in the South from 1900 to 1940.

Historians have largely ignored the societal concern about

feeble-mindedness that so worried educators, physicians, and

social work professionals in the first forty years of the

twentieth century. Analysts have also ignored the

institutional solutions forged by successive generations of

reformers during this era. In spite of the advances made by

the new social history, the study of mental retardation and

the institutions designed to house mentally retarded

individuals, particularly in the South, remains unexplored.

The revolution in American historical writing has

allowed historians to examine many hitherto ignored groups

in an effort to illuminate social interrelationships. Armed

with techniques borrowed from other disciplines, especially

sociology and anthropology, historians have probed kinship

networks, communities, and other social groupings. Often

they used quantitative analysis to better understand the

non-traditional sources they discovered. Other, more

radical, historians developed a different framework for

examining the past. Usually set in Marxian terms, this

radical history viewed the American landscape as one of

conflict, oppression, and control by dominant groups. These

radical historians called into question the liberal

humanitarian values of assumedly benign American social

welfare institutions.2 Authors used the methodologies of

this new social history to investigate many social welfare

agencies and organizations. Juvenile justice systems,

public education, welfare, and the mentally ill have

received sustained attention.3 Shaped by the turbulence of

the 1960s, with its concerns for poor, handicapped, and

minority groups, a majority of these works viewed social

welfare organizations from a radical, though not exclusively

Marxist, perspective. In 1983, historian Walter Trattner

explained their analytical framework, known rather loosely

as the social control model. Trattner wrote:

Historians of social welfare challenged the
idealistic and moralistic interpretations of
welfare programs and the reasons for their
implementation. Humanitarian and reformist
rhetoric aside, progressive ideas did not shape
social policy, the critics argued. Rather, the
changes and "reforms" that occurred were designed

by the upper classes to manipulate and co-opt
those below them; control of the poor by shaping
their opinions and world view, by buying them off
with short- or long-term but inadequate benefits,
and when necessary, by using repressive force, has
enabled the elite to prevent the serious
disruption of society, preserve the capitalist
economy, and maintain its social and economic

While the social control theorists viewed social

services generally as instruments of oppression, other

historians have examined these institutions and found them

well-intentioned, yet still seriously flawed. The work of

Gerald Grob stands out in this regard. In 1983, Grob noted

"that many [mental] hospitals had serious defects and

shortcomings . the quality of care left much to be

desired . yet these shortcomings were not limited to

mental hospitals; they simply mirrored the imperfections and

limitations of most human institutions."5

Little of the increasingly strident debate between

these two camps touched the historical investigation of the

mentally retarded. Historians investigated mental

hospitals, juvenile justice facilities, prisons, and reform

schools--in fact, almost everything except institutions for

the mentally retarded. Perhaps this group of backward,

bizarre, and illiterate individuals remained just too

unimportant to consider. After all, these people made

little or no contribution to American society. What few

historical works were written stressed the humanitarian

nature of care for the retarded and the progressive pattern

of improving that care.6

In 1984, Peter Tyor and Leland Bell published their

Caring for the Retarded in America: A History. Based on

Tyor's previous articles and dissertation, this work

promised to bring the historical study of retarded persons

into the debate over social welfare policy.7 It did not

fulfill that promise, however; the book failed to tie

retardation to broader themes in American history.

Furthermore, it treated the care of retarded individuals as

if it were geographically consistent. Ignoring the

differing social, economic, demographic, and political

conditions of the South, Tyor and Bell assume Southern

institutions treated patients much like their more well-

documented Northern counterparts.8 Yet Southerners

concerned with the treatment of the mentally retarded

certainly recognized the regional differences even if later

historians did not. Superintendent Dr. C. Banks McNairy of

North Carolina's Caswell Training School spoke to this

matter when he addressed the American Association for the

Study of Feeble-Mindedness in Detroit in 1923. "Our problem

is far more difficult," he warned, "[because the]

organization [of institutions] in the South is another

problem that must be approached from far more different

angles than in other parts of the country."9

Southern states came upon the institutional solution

for their mentally retarded populations rather late.

McNairy commented in his 1923 Detroit speech that "we [in

the South] have not been studying or handling this problem

nearly as long as other parts of the country have."10 But

by the early 1920s, all Southern states had developed a

separate institutional facility for the care and treatment

of mentally retarded individuals. During the early years of

these Southern institutions, something more than concern

about the plight of retarded persons provided their guiding

ethos. The legislators, and the social workers, physicians,

and philanthropists who supported them, considered

protection for society from retarded persons, and not the

reverse, as their major priority. A 1921 Georgia Department

of Public Welfare Report put the matter into perspective.

"What shall it profit Georgia if we stop the loss from the

boll weevil and fail to stamp out the germs of dependency

and delinquency that eat the heart out of the human family

itself?"11 This concern made the relationship between

outside pressures and inside responsibilities especially

difficult for the superintendents of the institutions.

Nowhere was the tension greater than in decisions about

which persons to admit.

Problems of Definition

The problem of nomenclature clouded the issue of what

actually constituted mental retardation. Prior to World War

II, the term "retardation" itself, now commonly defined as

"significantly sub-average general intelligence," was used

infrequently.12 During that time period, researchers and

professionals invoked a myriad of terms to identify persons

as intellectually below average. They sometimes used these

labels with assumed scientific accuracy and at other times

bandied them about with little precision. "Feeble-Minded"

referred to the entire class of persons who today would be

categorized as mentally handicapped (the names of many

institutions contained the feeble-minded label in their

title- for example, Kentucky's institution was officially

known as the Feeble-Minded Institute). This term began to

fall into disfavor in the late 1920s when professionals

replaced it with "mental defective," though "feeble-minded"

continued as a synonym into the 1940s.13 Leaders in the

field also utilized "mentally deficient" to identify those

persons classified as intellectually sub-normal (in 1934 the

"American Association for the Study of Feeble-Mindedness,"

the organization founded in 1876 to conduct research in the

field of mental retardation changed its name to the

"American Association on Mental Deficiency").14

Professional persons and laymen used all three of these

labels, feeble-minded, mentally defective, and mentally

deficient, interchangably with little concern for accurate


The definitional sub-categories of mental retardation

also obfuscated as much as they illuminated. Today,

intelligence testing scores provide three specific groupings

within the broad heading of mental retardation. Those

persons classified as "educably mentally handicapped" or

"educably mentally retarded" receive I.Q. scores ranging

from 55 to 70. The "trainable mentally handicapped"

category falls below the educable one, with I.Q. scores

ranging from 25 to 55. The lowest grouping, the "profoundly

mentally handicapped," score below 25 on their I.Q. tests.

A similar three-tiered arrangement existed from the mid-

1910s onward, but its use was not as standardized and

formalized as the system today. (See Figure 1.1) In this

earlier system, three categories- moron, imbecile, and

idiot- comprised the general grouping of feeble-minded

individuals. These scientifically acceptable descriptive

labels persisted long after they had been adopted as part of

the derisive slang vocabulary.15 While these categories

differentiated between levels of retardation, the

distinctions between them remained blurred, especially

between the moron class and the so-called "borderline

normal." Borderline individuals scored between 70 and 85 on

standardized intelligence tests and experts disagreed over

their level of true retardation. Poorly standardized I.Q.

tests exacerbated the inexactness of identification.

Reflecting middle-class value systems, early intelligence

tests notoriously underscored those groups that did not

share those patterns of thought and behavior. The lower-

classes, minority groups, and immigrants comprised

significant percentages of those persons classified as

mentally defective on the basis of those tests.

These disputes over the definition of mental

retardation mirrored broader sociological concerns about the

Figure 1.1
Comparison of Descriptive Terminology



General Label:

Mentally Handicapped
Mentally Retarded

Mentally Defective
Mentally Deficient


(I.Q. 55-70)

Moderate and
(I.Q. 25-55)

(I.Q. less
than 25)

(E.M.H., E.M.R.)

(T.M.H., T.M.R.)

(P.M.H., P.M.R.)




nature and origin of deviant behavior generally. Labelling

theory provides one explanation for the display of deviant

behavior by individuals. According to sociologist Walter

Gove, "deviance is not a quality of an act, but instead is

produced in the interaction between a person who commits an

act and those who respond to it."16 Using this definition,

individuals are "determined [as retarded, or otherwise

deviant] by the judgement of others," not by their innate

characteristics.17 This societally based model of

retardation can be used to help explain the ever increasing

numbers of feeble-minded persons identified in the first

forty years of the twentieth century. Sociologist Louis

Rowitz wrote that labelling theory also allows the

investigator "to place mental retardation into the larger

perspective of social organization and social process."18

Mental retardation poses a specific problem to the

adherents of labelling theory, however. Labelling theorists

assert that 'secondary deviance,' deviance ascribed by

societal reaction, is paramount in the assigning of a

deviant role. Sociologist Bernard Farber has written that

"the history of mental retardation as deviance represents an

attempt to integrate a variety of social problems .

[and] to explain a connection between retardation and

poverty, alcoholism, crime, and other forms of deviance."

Yet, for many retarded persons, particularly in the severe

and profound ranges, deviance is primary- the significant

physical and mental defects are innate, not caused by

societal reaction. To Farber, these persons are not

deviant, but incompetent. He suggests that "incompetence

refers to the inability of a few to attain the level of

conduct necessary for the continuation of an existing social

organization."19 This differentiation is extremely

important since it provides a framework for understanding

the conflicting rationales for the care and treatment of

varying persons labelled as mentally handicapped. Society

can ignore, pity, or help those persons viewed as

incompetent. Conversely, it seeks to punish or isolate

those seen as deviant.

While the work of Farber and other sociologists of

mental retardation such as Jane Mercer have placed

retardation research squarely in a social context, their

work has no empirical historical component. The following

work examines the process of identifying and

institutionalizing feeble-minded individuals in the South in

the first forty years of the twentieth century in the light

of Farber's dichotomy of "deviancy" versus "incompetency."

Southern states institutionalized morons, often drawn from

lower class or groups, because of their seeming inability to

meet the norms of society. As Farber observed, twentieth-

century society requires "a surplus of persons to maximize

the fit between persons and positions in the rational

selection of personnel in economic, educational, political,

and marital institutions."20 Those persons who lacked

desirable social characteristics and engaged in behavior

deemed deviant ran the risk of becoming part of this surplus

population. Bizarre behavior coupled with other suspect

characteristics (such as poor school performance) could

permit society to label the deviant individual as a mentally

defective moron. Because Southern institutions dealt

directly with morons, they served the controversial function

of protecting society from these deviant individuals.

While judges and social workers sometimes tended to

label and initiate institutionalization of morons on the

basis of their deviant behavior, these officials more often

identified idiots through their appearance and inability to

function. Usually physically handicapped, idiots appeared

obviously different, and even laymen could appreciate their

need for assistance. Their personal incompetence, not their

societal role, dictated admission to Southern institutions.

The perception of idiots as individually unable to fit into

society, according to Farber, "represented an attempt to

isolate retardation from other social problems."21 The

idiot population of these institutions seemingly presented

more of a medical than a social problem.

The tension inherent in identifying and

institutionalizing retarded persons based both on social

deviancy and personal incomptency fostered conflict over the

functions of Southern institutions. While protection of the

feeble-minded provided the major rationale for committing

low-level idiots, protection of society from the feeble-

minded remained the reason for admitting higher level

morons.22 For the moron population, judges and other

committing officials viewed their retardation as deviance

from the norm rather than individualized incompetence. This

deviance, wrote Farber, "implies a social problem, a threat

to established social relationships; it suggests that a

proportion of the population is using inappropriate means or

goals."23 Once an individual is labelled as deviant and

retarded, labelling theory predicts that he or she would

fulfill the expectations of that role. Many high level

morons fit this sociological model of deviant behavior.

Unable to conform to societal expectations, their deviant

behavior allowed community officials to label them as

mentally defective and commit them to institutions for the

feeble-minded. Conversely, lower level idiots appeared as

no threat to the established social order. Judges committed

them to institutions for their own protection and to provide

relief for their overburdened families. Caught between

these two mutually exclusive missions of protection for and

from society, Southern institutions could not fulfill

either. In the first decades of their existence, these

institutions muddled along, neither training retarded

individuals for a more productive life, nor protecting

society from the supposed menace of the feeble-minded.

While Farber's sociological dichotomy of deviancy

versus incompetency provides a clear theoretical focus for

this work, the notion of social control appears more

problematic. The concept of social control has provided

historians and sociologists with the agenda for numerous

books, articles, papers, and conference sessions; yet there

is no precise resolution of how and when to use the term.

The idea of social control has become so elastic that it

lacks explanatory power. It can be used to explain almost

any historical phenomenon.

Sociologist Joseph Roucek's 1978 definition of social

control reveals why this concept can have such broad

explanatory powers. Social control, he asserts, can be

defined as "all those processes by which society and its

component groups influence the behavior of individual

members towards conformity with group norms. . The

leaders ('the elites') use not only a body of custom and

traditions but also impersonal forces to attain authority as

well as to make people willing to be ruled by that

authority."24 While the concept of social control fell out

of favor among sociologists in the 1940s because, according

to David Rothman, it "became flabby, almost synonomous with

the totality of society," historians expropriated the term

in the 1960s and gave it a decidedly radical cast. Writing

about his social control work on prisons, sociologist

Michael Ignatieff explained that "Prison [and, by

implication, any other total institution] was thus studied

not for itself but for what its rituals of humiliation could

reveal about a society's ruling conceptions of power, social

obligation, and human malleability."25

Much good historical work came out of this loosely

organized social control framework. Monographs provided a

healthy corrective to the previous Whiggish institutional

histories that viewed the growth of services for the deviant

and dependent as inherently positive and uplifting. But

they did little to advance the argument past the catchwords

of control and subordination. "The widespread attempt to

label reform movements as social control efforts," wrote

John Mayer in 1983, ". . while occasionally serving the

purpose of polemics, often does little to help understand

historical developments over time."26

The disputes over the historical interpretations of

social welfare institutions have been many and heated, but

not very illuminating. All sides agree, however, that the

debate must move past a continued discussion of the merits

of social control. This work does that by examining the

important question of why at a particular period of time

nine Southern states suddenly discovered the problem of the

feeble-minded and attempted to alleviate it with an

institutional solution. Accepting that those persons

interested in institutionalizing feeble-minded individuals

acted from a variety of motivations (from genuine concern to

an attempt to control a loosely defined deviant population),

I place humanitarianism and social control as two poles of a

continuum rather than as divergent Manichaen world views.

This work also presupposes an inherently dialectical

relationship between the state and its citizens. Social

control analysis, on the other hand, assumes the

invisibility of individual actors- the state and its

pervasive influence holds center stage. The state certainly

victimized many individuals institutionalized as feeble-

minded, but these persons and their families also helped to

shape the dimensions of their commitment. Families and

communities played major roles in the process of

institutionalization, often for mundane and personal


The social control model may turn erstwhile reformers

into villians but it places the institution squarely in a

social context. Sociologists Stanley Cohen and Andrew Scull

commented in 1983 that "what became recognized is that

matters of crime, deviancy, delinquency, illness, and

madness don't just every now and then touch on wider issues

of politics, economics, and power. They are intimately

related and, indeed, these very categories are politically

defined."28 The move to institutionalize feeble-minded

persons in the South in the first decades of the twentieth

century took place in the political arena. It formed part

of an attempt to grapple with the vast economic and

demographic changes which swept across the South during this

period. This work owes a debt to the social control

theorists, whose work encouraged me to look at retardation

and the public response to it in a broadly defined political


Other scholars, particularly Ellen Dwyer and Nancy

Tomes, have examined institutions from an internal, rather

than an external, perspective.29 This case study approach

highlights the interaction between staff and patients and

deemphasizes the larger issues raised by the social control

theorists. These authors provide the reader with a sense of

the daily life of an institution, the mundane programming

which affects the lives of patients and staff alike. Done

well, this type of analysis provides insight into the

implementation of public policy at its most basic point and

returns human agency into a social control argument that, at

its most extreme, regards individual action as either

malevolent or inconsequential in the face of impersonal

economic and social trends.

"We need to know far more about the internal and

external factors that governed the evolution of psychiatry

and mental hospitals," wrote Gerald Grob in 1977.30 The

following work heeds Grob's precept by examining

institutions for the mentally retarded from both the inside

and the outside and reveals a program in search of a true

purpose. Southern institutions grew like Topsy in the 1910s

and 1920s in response to a problem neither rigidly defined

nor scientifically delineated. Beset by political pressures

and monetary constraints, superintendents also struggled to

control diverse populations of individuals labelled as

feeble-minded. The implications of racial, class, and

gender decisions in labelling and institutionalization

necessarily provide insight into the nature of Southern

society in the first four decades of the twentieth century.

Emphasizing these categories of analysis allows much more

than a portrait of feeble-minded institutions in ten

Southern states. The treatment of persons labelled as

feeble-minded illuminates the broader questions of both

national social welfare policy and Southern society and

closes a gap in the historical literature.31

While Southern institutions retained a somewhat

separate identity from those in other regions, national

social welfare organizations played an important role in

their growth and development. Funding and support from

Northern philanthropies proved especially crucial to the

timing and development of these institutions. Money and

personnel from the National Committee for Mental Hygiene

(funded by the Rockefeller Foundation) and the Russell Sage

Foundation provided the groundwork and rationale for the

opening of many of the South's institutions for the feeble-

minded. World War I was crucial for this relationship at a

time when Northern influence and Southern social welfare

policy coincided. The widespread use of the newly developed

individualized intelligence tests on World War I military

recruits revealed an astounding number of feeble-minded

persons among the thousands tested. The results proved

especially disheartening in the South, where the average

white male scored in the imbecile range.32

The establishment of Southern institutions reflected

both national trends and regional developments socially and

politically. The goal of this work, then, is to examine the

meaning of feeble-mindedness in a particular region during

the first forty years of the twentieth century. It is a

study of the intersection of ideas about feeble-mindedness

and their implementation as public policy. The inter-

relationships between deviancy defined as feeble-mindedness

and class, race, and gender provide a window on both

Southern society and the historical treatment of retarded

persons in the United States.


The notes of all chapters and the bibliography of this

work rely on the following abbreviations.

A.A.M.D.-- American Association on Mental Deficiency

A.A.S.F.M.-- American Association for the Study of

A.M.O.-- Association of Medical Officers of American
Institutions for the Idiotic and Feeble-Minded

A.R.-- Annual Report

B.R.-- Biennial Report

C.C.-- Caswell Center Archives, Kinston, North Carolina

E.R.O.-- Eugenics Record Office

G.P.O.-- Government Printing Office

G.S.A.-- Georgia State Archives, Atlanta

G.S.C.-- Gainesville Sunland Center, Gainesville,

J.P.A.-- Journal of Psycho-Asthenics. The Journal was
the official publication of the A.M.O. and its

successors, the A.A.S.F.M. and the A.A.M.D., and
published the proceedings of their yearly

N.C.C.-U.N.C.-- North Carolina Collection, Wilson
Library, University of North Carolina, Chapel

N.C.C.C.-- National Conference on Charities and

N.C.M.H.-- National Committee for Mental Hygiene

N.C.S.W.-- National Conference on Social Work

O.R.C.-- Old Records Center, North Carolina State
Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina

R.A.C.-- Rockefeller Archive Center, Pocantico Hills,
New York

R.G.--Record Group

S.S.C.-- Southern Sociological Conference

S.H.C.-U.N.C.-- Southern Historical Collection,
Wilson Library, University of North Carolina,
Chapel Hill


1. Unsigned Editorial, The Survey 33, 3 (October 17, 1914),
p. 73.

2. See Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr, "The Two New Histories:
Competing Paradigms for Interpreting the American Past,"
O.A.H. Newsletter (May 1983), 9-12 for an examination of the
two divergent schools of the "new history", quantitative
analysis versus radical vision. "As a result of contrasting
approaches to culture, classes, and power," Berkhofer wrote,
"the two histories embrace varying views of social reform
ideas and institutions," p. 11.

3. See, for example Anthony Platt, The Child Savers: The
Invention of Delinquency, 2nd Edition (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1977); Paul Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral
Order in America, 1820-1920 (Cambridge, Massachusetts:
Harvard University Press, 1978); David Rothman, The
Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order and Disorder in the
New Republic (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1971) and
Conscience and Convenience: The Asylum and its Alternatives
in Progressive America (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company,
1980); Andrew Scull, Museums of Madness: The Social
Organization of Madness in Nineteenth Century England
(London: St. Martins Press, 1979), Decarceration: Community
Treatment and the Deviant- A Radical View, 2nd Edition (New
Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1984) and
Social Order/ Mental Disorder (Berkeley, California:
University of California Press, 1990); Michael Katz, Class,
Bureaucracy, and the Schools: The Illusion of Educational
Change in America (New York: Praeger, 1975) and In the
Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in
America (New York: Basic Books, 1986); Richard W. Fox, So
Far Disordered of Mind: Insanity in California 1870-1930
(Berkeley, California: University of California Press,
1978); and Frances Piven and Richard Cloward, Requlating the
Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare (New York: Pantheon,

4. Walter Trattner, "Introduction," in Trattner, editor,
Social Welfare or Social Control: Some Historical
Reflections on "Regulatinq the Poor" (Knoxville, Tennessee:
University of Tennessee Press, 1983), p. 6.

5. Gerald Grob, Mental Illness and American Society 1875-
1940 (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press,
1983), p. 4. See also Grob, Mental Institutions in America:
Social Policy to 1875 (New York: The Free Press, 1973);
Constance McGovern, Masters of Madness (Hanover, New

Hampshire; University Press of New England, 1985), "The
Insane, the Asylum, and the State in Nineteenth-Century
Vermont," Vermont History (1984), 205-224, and especially
"The Myths of Social Control and Custodial Oppression:
Patterns of Psychiatric Medicine in Late Nineteenth-Century
Institutions," Journal of Social History 20, 1 (Fall 1986),
3-23; Ellen Dwyer, Homes for the Mad: Life Inside Two
Nineteenth-Century Asylums (New Brunswick, New Jersey:
Rutgers University Press, 1987) and "The History of the
Asylum in Great Britain and the United States," Law and
Mental Health: International Perspectives- Volume 4, edited
by David Weisstub (New York: Pergamon Press, 1988) pp. 110-
160; Barbara Brenzel, Daughters of the State: A Social
Portrait of the First Reform School for Girls in North
America, 1856-1905 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press,
1983); and James Patterson, America's Struggle Against
Poverty 1900-1985 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard
University Press, 1986) for other examples of this type of
examination of social welfare institutions.

6. See the works of R. C. Scheerenberger, A History of
Mental Retardation (Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing
Company, 1983) and A History of Mental Retardation: A
Quarter Century of Promise (Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes
Publishing Company, 1987); William Sloan and Harvey Stevens,
A Century of Concern: A History of the A.A.M.D. (Washington,
D.C.: A.A.M.D. Press, 1976; and Albert Deutsch, The Mentally
Ill in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 1949),
chapter 7. Deutsch's work is a classic of the humanitarian
school. The other works are not written by professional
historians but rather by special educators interested in the
historical roots of their profession. Scheerenberger is a
superintendent of a residential facility for the mentally
handicapped in Wisconsin.

7. Peter Tyor and Leland Bell, Caring for the Retarded in
America: A History (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press,
1984). Tyor's 1972 dissertation Segregation or Surgery: The
Mentally Retarded in America 1850-1920 (Ph. D. dissertation,
Northwestern University, 1972) offers a treasure trove of
material. His articles provide much in the way of analysis
and tie retardation more closely to the social fabric of
American life. Tyor, "Denied the Power to Choose the Good:
Sexuality and Mental Defect in American Medical Practice,"
Journal of Social History 10 (June 1977), 472-489 and Tyor
and Jamil Zainaldin. "Asylum and Society: An Approach to
Institutional Change," Journal of Social History 13 (Fall
1979), 23-48.

8. Tyor and Bell do acknowledge the lack of historical
analysis concerning Southern institutions. "Aside from
Kentucky and Maryland," they note, "no southern states
created institutions for the retarded until the twentieth
century. This situation deserves further study, but

occasional references indicate that the wealthy sent their
relatives North, while the poor were housed in the county
almshouses" (p. 170, n. 24).

9. C. Banks McNairy, "Some Phases of Construction,
Organization, and Administration of an Institution for the
Feeble-Minded in the South," J.P.A. 29 (1923-1924), pp. 271-

10. McNairy, "Some Phases of Construction," p. 271.

11. Georgia State Department of Public Welfare, Georgia's
Fight Against Dependency and Delinquency (Atlanta:
Dickerson-Roberts Printing Company, 1921), p. 1.

12. This definition is from the 1983 A.A.M.D.
Classification Manual, H.J. Grossman, Classifications in
Mental Retardation (Washington, D.C.: A.A.M.D. Press, 1983),
p. 1. The changing nomenclature in this field continues
unabated even today. In 1985, the A.A.M.D. changed its name
to the American Association on Mental Retardation,
continuing a trend that started with its organization in
1876. See below, note 14. Even the term "mental
retardation" has been replaced in many uses, particularly in
the educational field. "Mentally handicapped" appears as
the new identifying label, although disability rights groups
are challenging the viability of this terminology as well.
For them, the preferred label is "mentally challenged." The
sociological and educational literature on classification
and terminology in mental retardation is voluminous. For
two of the better and more recent examples see Duane
Stroman, Mental Retardation in Social Context (Lanham,
Maryland: University Press of America, 1989), especially pp.
7-50; and Stanley Vitello and Ronald Soskin, Mental
Retardation: Its Social and Legal Context (Englewood Cliffs,
New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1985), especially pp. 1-22.

13. The The United States Census Bureau adopted the term
"mental defective" for use in the 1929-1932 U.S government
census report on institutional populations "in place of the
term 'feeble-minded' used in earlier reports. The two terms
are equivalent." U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of
the Census, Mental Defectives and Epileptics in Institutions
1929-1932 (Washington, D. C.: G.P.O., 1934), p. 1.

14. The national organization, the Association of
Superintendents of American Institutions for Idiotic and
Feeble-Minded Persons, was founded in 1876. Three years
later, the title was changed to the Association of Medical
Officers of American Institutions for Idiotic and Feeble-
Minded Persons. In 1897, the title was again changed to the
American Association for the Study of Feeble-Mindedness.
This title remained until 1934, when the American

Association on Mental Deficiency was adopted. This name
remained until 1985. See above, note 12.

15. The United States Public Health Service only changed
its labelling categories of moron, imbecile, and idiot in
1960. See Bernard Farber, Mental Retardation: Its Social
Context and Social Consequences (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin
Company, 1968), p. 189. See Steven Gelb, "'Not Simply Bad
and Incorrigible': Science, Morality, and Intellectual
Deficiency," History of Education Quarterly 29, 3 (Fall
1989), 359-379 and Leila Zenderland, "The Debate over
Diagnosis: Henry Herbert Goddard and the Medical Acceptance
of Intelligence Testing," in Michael Sokal, editor,
Psychological Testing and American Society. 1890-1930 (New
Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1987), 46-
74 for more on the discussion over nomenclature.

16. Walter Gove, "The Labelling Perspective- An Overview"
in Gove, editor, The Labelling of Deviance: Evaluating a
Perspective (New York: Sage Publications, Halsted Press
Division, John Wiley & Sons, 1975), p. 4. This book,
especially in its second edition (1980) provides a good
overview of labelling theory and its critics. See also
Nanette Davis, "Labeling Theory in Deviance: A Critique and
Reconsideration," The Sociological Quarterly 13, 4 (Fall
1972) 447-474; and Daniel Glaser, Social Deviance (Chicago:
Markham Publishing Company, 1971).

17. Louis Rowitz. "Sociological Perspectives on Labeling,"
American Journal of Mental Deficiency 79, 3 (November, 1974)
p. 265.

18. Ibid. The works on labelling theory are voluminous.
Important examples include Howard Becker, Outsiders: Studies
in the Sociology of Deviance (New York: The Free Press,
1963); Edwin Lemert, Human Deviance, Social Problems, and
Social Control (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall,
1972); Thomas Scheff, Being Mentally Ill: A Sociological
Theory, 2nd Edition (New York: Aldine Publishing Co., 1984)
and "The Labelling Theory of Mental Illness," American
Sociological Review 39, 3 (June 1974), 444-452; and Kai
Erikson, Wayward Puritans: A Study in the Sociology of
Deviance (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1966) and
especially "Notes on the Sociology of Deviance," Social
Problems 9,4 (Spring 1962) 307-314. For a recent
application of sophisticated labelling theory to persons
with physical disabilities (peripherally touching on mental
retardation), see Claire Liachowitz, Disability as a Social
Construct: Legislative Roots (Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 1988). Jane Mercer is the most
influential proponent of labelling theory in its
applications to mental retardation. See her Labeling the
Retarded (Berkeley, California: University of California
Press, 1973) and especially "Social System Perspective and


Clinical Perspective: Frames of Reference for Understanding
Career Patterns of Persons Labelled as Mentally Retarded,"
Social Problems 13, 1 (Summer 1965) 18-34. Much of the work
in labelling and mental retardation revolves around the
applicability of labelling for school children and the
consequences of being labelled as mentally retarded. In the
words of special educator Samuel Guskin, "The labelling
controversy is in actuality a political argument between
those who support the current system of special education
and psychological diagnosis as a constructive and altruistic
arrangement and those who wish to break up that system
because they see it as oppressive and destructive," Samuel
Guskin, "Research on Labeling Retarded Persons: Where Do We
Go From Here?," American Journal on Mental Deficiency 79, 3
(November 1974) p. 263. Other important examinations of
labelling and mental retardation include Louis Rowitz, "A
Sociological Perspective on Labeling in Mental Retardation,"
Mental Retardation 19, 2 (April 1981), 47-51; Rowitz and
Joan Gurn, "The Labelling of EMR Children" in Len Barton and
Sally Tomlinson, editors, Special Education and Social
Interests (London: Croom Helm, 1984), 149-171; Deborah Burt,
"The Differential Diagnosis of Special Education: Managing
Social Pathology as Indiviudal Disability" in Barton and
Tomlinson, Special Education and Social Interests, 81-121;
Tonya Schuster and Edgar Butler, "Labeling, Mild Mental
Retardation and Long Range Social Adjustment," Sociological
Perspectives 29, 4 (October 1986), 461-483; Donald
MacMillan, Reginald Jones, and Gregory Aloia, "The Mentally
Retarded Label: A Theoretical Analysis and Review of
Research," American Journal of Mental Deficiency 79, 3
(November 1974), 241-261; and Robert Gordon, "Examining
Labelling Theory: The Case of Mental Retardation" and
"Postscript- Labelling Theory, Mental Retardation, and
Public Policy: Larry P. and Other Developments Since 1974,"
in Gove, The Labelling of Deviance (2nd Edition), 111-227.

19. Bernard Farber, Mental Retardation, pp. 23, 33. See
also Farber and E. Royce, "The Mentally Retarded: Valuable
Individual or Superfluous Population?," in Peter Mittler,
Research to Practice in Mental Retardation (Baltimore:
University Park Press, 1977), 2 volumes, 1:45-52. Some
observers, particularly Claire Liachowitz, argue that all
deviance is secondary, and therefore caused by societal
reaction. Liachowitz summarized her argument this way.
"The major purpose of the concepts and empirical materials
of this book has been to show that social policies help to
create disability," Disability as a Social Construct, p.

20. Farber, Mental Retardation, p. 19.

21. Ibid., p. 38.

22. The Florida Commission for the Study of Epilepsy and
Feeble-Mindedness explicitly expressed this duality in its
1917 Report, which led to the establishment of the Florida
Farm Colony for the Epileptic and Feeble-Minded in 1921.
"These cases," the report states, "are a drag upon the
resources . if not an actual menace to the other
individuals of the community in which they live." The
report also went on to state however that "they [feeble-
minded individuals] also suffer drawbacks and are often
handicapped by reason of the conditions under which they
live," 1917 Florida House Journal, 2 volumes, 1: 1345.

23. Farber, Mental Retardation, p. 23.

24. Joseph Roucek, "The Concept of Social Control in
American Sociology" in Roucek, editor. Social Control for
the 1980s: A Handbook for Order in a Democratic Society
(Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1978), pp. 11, 5.
See also Michael Radelet, "Introduction: The Ethnographic
Study of Social Control," Urban Life 8, 3 (October 1979),

25. David Rothman, "Social Control: The Uses and Abuses of
the Concept of Social Control in the History of
Incarceration" in Stanley Cohen and Andrew Scull, editors.
Social Control and the State (New York: St. Martin's Press,
1983), p. 109; Michael Ignatieff, "State, Civil Society, and
Total Institutions: A Critique of Recent Social Histories of
Punishment" in Michael Tonry and Norval Morris, editors,
Crime and Justice: An Annual Review of Research- Volume 3,
1981 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), p. 156.
See Ignatieff, A Just Measure of Pain: The Peniteniary in
the Industrial Revolution (New York: Pantheon, 1978) for a
good example of the social control model at its baldest.
The 1981 article is Ignatief's attempt to come to grips with
the problems with the model without recanting its

26. John Mayer, "Notes Towards a Working Definition of
Social Control in Historical Analysis" in Cohen and Scull,
editors, Social Control and the State, p. 21.

27. On the problems of the social control model as a
framework for historical analysis, see Richard Fox, "Beyond
'Social Control': Institutions and Disorder in Bourgeois
Society," History of Education Quarterly 16, 2 (Summer 1976)
203-207 and So Far Disordered in Mind: Insanity in
California (Berkeley, California: University of California
Press, 1978) especially pp. 1-16; William Muraskin, "The
Social-Control Theory in American History: A Critique,"
Journal of Social History 9, 2 (Summer 1976), 556-559; David
Rothman, "The Uses and Abuses of the Concept in the History
of Incarceration" in Cohen and Scull, editors, Social
Control and the State, 106-117; Constance McGovern, "The

Myth of Social Control and Custodial Oppression," pp. 16-17;
and Barry Smart and Carol Smart, "Women and Social Control"
in Carol Smart and Barry Smart, editors, Women. Sexuality.
and Social Control (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978),
1-7. On the need for more widespread concern for the
individuals affected by the systems of social welfare
(including institutions) see Ellen Dwyer, "The History of
the Asylum in Great Britain and the United States"; and
Gerald Grob, "Rediscovering Asylums: The Unhistorical
History of the Mental Hospital," Hastings Center Report 7, 4
(August 1977), 33-41. On the role of families in the
institutionalization process, see Mark Freidberger, "The
Decision to Institutionalize: Families with Exceptional
Children in 1900," Journal of Family History 6, 3 (Winter
1981), 396-409.

28. Cohen and Scull, "Social Control in History and
Sociology," p. 7.

29. Ellen Dwyer, Homes for the Mad; Nancy Tomes, A Generous
Confidence: Thomas Story Kirkbride and the Art of Asylum-
Keeping. 1840-1883 (New York: Cambridge University Press,
1984). See also Richard Fox, So Far Disordered in Mind,
especially pp. 75-135, which examines commitment procedures
and records for individuals in California insane asylums,
but not their lives within the institutions themselves.

30. Grob, "Rediscovering Asylums," p. 39 [emphasis in

31. The Southern states examined in this work are Alabama,
Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North
Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. These
states are defined as a separate region in Howard Odum,_
Southern Regions of the United States (Chapel Hill, North
Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1936).
Arkansas, the eleventh of Odum's Southeast states, is
excluded from this study because it did not open a separate
institution for the mentally retarded until the late 1940s,
after the time frame for this study. Little or no
historical work has been done on Southern institutions for
the mentally retarded. Tyor and Bell, in their Caring for
the Retarded in America, make no specific references to care
in the South. Only a bit more information is available for
the related field of mental illness in the South. Norman
Dain's Disordered Minds: The First Century of Eastern State
Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia (Williamsburg, Virginia:
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1971); Shomer
Zwelling's extended essay (61 pages) Quest for a Cure: The
Public Hospital in Williamsburq, Virginia 1773-1885
(Williamsburg, Virginia: The Colonial Williamsburg
Foundation, 1985) and the 1980 reprint of Clark Cahow's 1967
dissertation People. Patients, and Politics: The History of
North Carolina Mental Hospitals, 1848-1960 (New York: Arno

Press, 1980) remain the only monographic works specifically
on the South. Ellen Dwyer's exhaustive 1988 article "The
History of the Asylum in Great Britain and the United
States" lists only one published article on Southern care of
the mentally ill; D.H. Ewalt, "Patients, Politics, and
Physicians: The Struggle for Control of State Lunatic Asylum
No. 1, Fulton, Mississippi," Mississippi Historical Review
78, 3 (1983), 170-188. The recently released work of Samuel
Thielman, "Southern Madness: The Shape of Mental Health Care
in the Old South" in Ronald Numbers and Todd Savitt,
editors, Science and Medicine in the Old South (Baton Rouge,
Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 1989), pp. 253-
274 and the forthcoming work by John Hughes, "The Kindness
of Strangers: A Case Study of Insanity, Commitment, and Care
in the Victorian South" promise to fill a gap in the
literature but care in the twentieth century remains
virtually unexamined.

32. See Daniel Kevles, "Testing the Army's Intelligence:
Psychologists and the Military in World War I," Journal of
American History 55, 3 (December 1968), 565-581; Stephen Jay
Gould, The Mismeasure of Man (New York: W. W. Norton &
Company, 1981), pp. 192-204; Raymond Fancher, The
Intelligence Men: Makers of the IQ Controversy (New York: W.
W. Norton & Company, 1985), pp. 117-132; Russell Marks, The
Idea of IQ (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America,
1981), pp. 46-56 and "Providing for Individual Differences:
A History of the Intelligence Testing Movement in North
America," Interchange 7, 3 (1976-1977), 3-16. For the
relationship between World War I and the
institutionalization of philanthropic organizations, see
John McClymer, War and Welfare: Social Engineering in
America. 1890-1925 (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press,
1980), especially pp. 153-191.


To one who anticipates the general trend of human
life, it is evident that the occasional removal by
society of an individual or even many may be
necessary to the welfare of the social group.
(Reverend Karl Schwartz- 1908)

The first forty years of the twentieth century

witnessed a broad national trend toward the segregation in

separate institutional facilities of those persons

categorized as "feeble-minded." Between 1914 and 1923, nine

Southern states joined this movement as they established

institutions for the feeble-minded. Florida appeared

typical as its legislature authorized a new facility in

1919, charged with the "care and protection" of patients

committed to it.2 Throughout these years, the nationwide

pace of institutionalization increased dramatically. In

1904, 17.3 feeble-minded persons per one hundred thousand of

the general population had been institutionalized. By 1923,

this figure had climbed to 46.7; by 1930, to 55.5; and by

1940, at the conclusion of this study, it had soared to

77.8.3 These numbers were not simply a manifestation of the

better medical and scientific detection and reporting

methods which leaders in the field developed during this

time period. Nor did they solely signify an increasing

societal awareness of the problems of the feeble-minded, as

many Progressive era reformers believed. Finally, the

numerical increase did not represent merely a blatant

attempt to segregate and control a portion of the population

labelled as deviant and threatening. On the contrary,

between 1900 and 1940 the generation of Progressive

reformers and their successors forged solutions to the

problems associated with feeble-mindedness that incorporated

elements of all three.4 This complex interplay between

scientific ideas and public policy implementation, between

humanitarian impulses and the need for social control,

forced Southern institutional leaders to develop facilities

without a clear understanding of their function or their

relationship to society at large.

The impetus for institutionalization occurred in the

Progressive era, a time of massive social and economic

change, rooted in rapid industrialization and urbanization.5

The transforming experience of the Panic of 1893 and the

resultant depressed economy forced many government officials

to search for new ways to manage public affairs. However,

these new methods remained paradoxically tied to a perceived

past of conflict-free innocence. Ironically, many reformers

sought to foster this ideal state through social

manipulation and scientific reasoning. In 1903, Martin

Barr, superintendent and chief medical doctor of the

Pennsylvania Training School for the Feeble-Minded,

addressed this duality when he observed that better

institutional treatment of deviants would "secure at once

safety to society, less tension to community, and a greater

liberty, therefore, greater happiness, to the individual."6

One Progressive remedy for social problems incorporated

the increasing use of state power and the financial

resources of large corporations. National, regional, and

state policy concerning the threat of the feeble-minded to

the social order reflected this corporate outlook. The

Eugenics Record Office provided the best example of

corporate funding for feeble-minded research. Founded in

1904 in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, by Charles Davenport,

as the Station for Experimental Evolution, it became the

Eugenics Record Office in 1910, when its work, according to

Davenport, had "been liberally supported by Mrs. E. H.

Harriman and by Mr. John D. Rockefeller."8 By 1918, the

Office had moved under the purview of the Carnegie

Institution, where it remained until 1940. All told, over a

thirty year period, the Rockefeller, Harriman, and Carnegie

philanthropies poured over one million dollars into the

Eugenics Record Office. The Office engaged in research on

the heritability of mental deficiency and disseminated

information on the social effects of feeble-mindedness. It

also popularized a scientific view of feeble-mindedness as

inherited and incurable. This belief shaped the opinions of

many professionals in the field, particularly in the 1910s

and 1920s. The Office published such tracts as Davenport's

The Feebly-Inhibited, Arthur Estabrook's The Jukes in 1915,

and Harry Laughlin's "Report of the Committee to Study and

to Report on the Best Practical Means of Cutting off the

Defective Germ Plasm in the American Population," which

placed the blame for criminality and poverty on a rapidly

growing class of feeble-minded persons.9 The researchers at

the Record Office belied the myth of the disinterested

scientist. The information provided by the Eugenics Record

Office helped shape a worldview that saw retarded persons as

a menace and a drain on resources. "It cannot be admitted,"

Davenport wrote in a 1912 article, "that feeble-mindedness

is a personal and private matter. . In a large sense,

his [the feeble-minded individual's] is a matter of national


The ideological and intellectual presuppositions of

corporate donors accompanied the funds they made available.

They bolstered a belief in the class-based threat of the

feeble-minded that so permeated early twentieth century

thinking.11 Other corporately funded philanthropies joined

the crusade to address the problems of the feeble-minded.

Money from the Rockefeller Foundation funded programs of the

National Committee for Mental Hygiene (N.C.M.H.), founded in

1909, which conducted individual state surveys to determine

planning requirements for feeble-minded individuals. The

N.C.M.H. placed particular emphasis on organizing these

surveys in Southern states, where the lack of appropriate

institutional facilities for feeble-minded persons appeared

critical. Between 1915 and 1926, the Rockefeller Foundation

allocated $304,250 to the N.C.M.H. for these surveys.

Foundation leaders recognized their utility in helping

Southern states initiate institutions for the feeble-minded.

Foundation minutes reported in December 1920 that "the

results of studies in southern states presents a most

striking illustration of their value. In 1915, when the

first surveys were undertaken, the only public institution

for the mentally deficient was that of Virginia. Today, in

each case as the result of recommendations made by those who

conducted these surveys, six southern states have provided

institutions of this kind."12

Similarly, the Russell Sage Foundation, organized in

1907 with a grant of ten million dollars from the estate of

financier Russell Sage, provided funds for surveys of social

conditions, including mental retardation, particularly in

the South. W. H. Slingerland, Special Agent of the

Foundation's Child Helping Department, reported in 1920 that

"Louisiana so far has not found it possible to provide any

special institution for the feeble-minded and epileptic.

The need is now recognized by all intelligent citizens."13

Progressive attempts at social engineering gave special

emphasis to the effect of deviant populations on society.

Social reformers often blamed societal ills on those classes

least able to conform to societal expectations. A 1915

Special Report to the General Assembly of Virginia spoke of

the link between social problems and retardation in graphic

terms. "The high-grade imbecile and the moron constitute

one of most serious social problems. . What accentuates

the problem, however, is that many of the high-grade are

sexual perverts and criminals." It went on to conclude,

echoing Charles Davenport, "the worst phase of the menace of

the feeble-minded . [is] that feeble-mindedness itself

is hereditary."14 The Maryland Mental Hygiene Survey of

1921, subsidized and conducted by the Russell Sage

Foundation, put the problem more succintly when it warned

that "it is important for us to protect ourselves from the


During the first two decades of the twentieth century,

persons labelled as feeble-minded emerged as a distinct

group. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, those

persons deemed feeble-minded remained categorized as insane,

and often were incarcerated in large custodial mental

hospitals. The varied rationales for this

institutionalization led to the establishment of asylums

whose very function remained unclear. These asylums,

ostensibly organized for humanitarian purposes, often became

custodial warehouses for long-term control.16 "The mental

hospital, precisely because of the diffuse nature of medical

theory and its inability to provide firm guidelines," wrote

historian Gerald Grob in 1973, "was particularly susceptible

to nonmedical influences, including dominant social values

as well as changing attitudes towards and practices with

dependent groups generally."17 The early nineteenth century

reform impulse, filled with high hopes and aspirations for

the amelioration of social ills, dissolved in the second

half of the century as insane asylums became dumping grounds

for society's uncategorized unfortunates. As pressure for

change increased, reformers laid great stress on

differentiating between those truly insane and other deviant

groups, especially the feeble-minded. Even as early as

1848, the Association of Medical Superintendents of American

Institutions for the Insane reported the need for separation

of insane and retarded persons. In its Annual Report of

that year, The Association "called attention . to the

deplorable and neglected condition of the Idiotic and

Imbecile, and the urgent necessity of establishing asylums

and schools for their comfort and improvement."18 Many of

these institutions for the insane prided themselves on high

cure rates for their patients, especially since legislative

appropriations hinged upon the percentage of patients cured

by institutional action. The continued placement of feeble-

minded persons in insane asylums threatened these high cure

rates, as feeble-minded individuals often failed to respond

to treatment modalities and instead remained without

improvement in the institution for long periods. Those

feeble-minded removed from insane asylums seldom ended up in

an appropriate placement, however. For many, the county

almshouse was the location of last resort.19

National census reports confirmed the increasing

numbers of the feeble-minded, both in the community and in

institutions. By 1890, over 10,000 persons categorized by

the Census Office as "idiotic" resided in either almshouses

or institutions designed for the insane. (See Table 2.1)

The census data also revealed that while the majority of

retarded persons placed under dependent care lived in either

insane asylums or almshouses, separate specialized

institutions cared for increasing numbers of them. These

facilities had existed in the United States since 1848, when

the first one opened in Massachusetts. Many of the


Idiotic Persons Enumerated by the U.S. Census





Census Yr.



# in Instit.
for Mentally

# in Instit.
for Mentally

# in

Source: Census
Demoaranhic Studies C













-- -- 2429 5254

-- -- 1141 2469

-- --- 5867 7811

Data Reported in K. Charlie Lakin.

f Residential

Facilities for the

Mentally Retarded (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of
Minnesota Department of Psychoeducational Studies, 1979),
Table 4, p. 22.



reformers involved in humane treatment for the insane, among

them Dorothea Dix and Samuel Gridley Howe, also advocated

these institutions, designed specifically for the mentally

retarded. By the 1850s, institutions existed in

Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York. Twenty years

later, institutions housing only mentally retarded

individuals served 2,429 persons in fourteen states, twelve

of them located in the Northeast and Midwest. Among Southern

states, only Kentucky initiated a separate institution,

founding the Feeble-Minded Institute in Frankfort in 1860.

In spite of these facilities, in the nineteenth century a

majority of the institutionalized feeble-minded remained

part of the undifferentiated deviant population housed in

insane asylums or in county almshouses.20

The need to identify specific deviant categories

occurred simultaneously with the organization of specialized

"helping professions," designed to manage and control

particular types of deviance. Emulating their insane asylum

superintendent brothers, six medical doctors organized the

Association of Superintendents of Institutions for Idiots

and Feeble-Minded Persons on June 6, 1876. Begun at the

campus of the Pennsylvania Training School in Media,

Pennsylvania, the organization reflected the views of Isaac

Kerlin, the superintendent of that school. Kerlin believed

that institutional superintendents needed to share

expertise, lobby uniformly for improvements in care, and

organize as a pressure group to raise public awareness of

the problems associated with the feeble-minded. The event,

indicative of the growing specialization of the mental

health field, marked the beginning of a separate

organization dedicated solely to the care and training of

the feeble-minded. Only two years later, the group changed

its title from "Association of Superintendents" to

"Association of Medical Officers," recognizing the

importance of physicians in the care and treatment of the

feeble-minded. The primary relationship of medical doctors

to the study of idiocy and the increasing demarcation of

specialized categories appeared symptomatic of larger social

trends. Medical historian Charles Rosenberg explained these

trends in 1981 by observing that ". . professionalism,

efficiency, and the all-sufficient efficiency of science all

conspired to help legitimate this particular social

order. ,21

Many leaders of the movement to institutionalize the

feeble-minded also recognized that commitments alone could

not solve the increasing problems associated with mental

deficiency. State budgetary constraints simply would

not allow the massive building program necessary if all

feeble-minded were to be institutionalized. This situation,

according to a 1916 Survey article, left "probably not more

than fifteen percent of the demonstrably feeble-minded in

the United States . segregated in special colonies or

institutions suitable for their care."22 Professionals

remained split over the efficacy of this policy. While the

superintendent of Iowa's Soldiers' Orphan Home noted in 1913

that "no feeble-minded person, no matter how high the grade,

or how expert the training, is capable of self-support.

.," a social worker reported to the 1916 New York City

Conference on Charities that "any comprehensive system of

segregating the unfit is remote at least" and . "brings

to the front the whole idea of personal freedom."23

The desire to further categorize deviant persons

resulted, more fundamentally, from over-all changes in the

American economic structure.24 The growth of an integrated

market economy further stimulated the increasing need to

differentiate between able-bodied and disabled poor persons.

Sociologist Andrew Scull pointed out that the capitalist

economy transformed the population into a modifiablee and

manipulable human material whose yield would be steadily

enlarged through careful management and improvements in use

and organization designed to qualitatively transform its

value as an economic resource."25 Many persons unable to

work because of their bizarre behavior patterns were placed

either in institutions for the insane or the county

almshouse. The need to return "cured" institutionalized

persons to society, coupled with superintendents' needs to

report their successes in curing their patients, led to

increasing pressure to establish separate institutions for

the "incurable" feeble-minded. Along this line, the 1917-

1919 biennial report of the Florida State Hospital for the

Insane concluded that "they [feeble-minded] persons do not

need to be treated on the same basis as the insane."26

Generated by concerns about economic efficiency,

identification of feeble-mindedness became increasingly

class-specific. This class-based notion gave further

impetus to the founding of separate institutional facilities

for the feeble-minded. Addressing the A.A.M.D. as its

president in 1937, South Carolina State Training School

Superintendent Benjamin Whitten revealed the longevity of

these class beliefs. "This class," he reported, "would have

sat at the head table . if there had been a 'Jukes'

family reunion. . Their presence causes both economic

and social waste."27 The 1915 Virginia Special Report on

Mental Defectives reached a similar conclusion. "Fully

eighty percent of our almshouse inmates are feeble-minded,"

it reported, while "a large number of persons receiving

volunteer and public outdoor relief are feeble-minded."28

Concern about the class-based nature of feeble-mindedness

did not remain a regional problem. United States Public

Health Surgeon Dr. Taliaferro Clark told the 1916 N.C.C.C.

meeting that "the home environment and the mental attitude

of parents who are themselves retarded are . potent

factors in the mental retardation of their children."29

More than simply a measure of inadequate intelligence,

feeble-mindedness became increasingly associated with the

poverty and degradation of the lower classes.

An even stronger relationship seemed to exist between

feeble-mindedness and criminal behavior. Dr. Walter

Fernald, a nationally recognized institutional

superintendent from Massachusetts, cogently expressed his

belief in the link between criminality and feeble-mindedness

when he wrote in 1909 that "every imbecile is a potential

criminal."30 Researchers conducted elaborate surveys to

establish the relationship between feeble-mindedness and

criminal behavior.31 Removal of the feeble-minded from the

general population seemed the simplest solution for lowering

the burgeoning crime rate. The final report of the 1919

Georgia Commission on Feeble-Mindedness stated that, "the

depredations growing out of their criminal behavior furnish

one of the most satisfactory arguments for a state-wide

policy of protection against the menace of feeble-

mindedness."32 In 1916, Joseph Byers, Executive Secretary

of the National Committee on Provision for the Feeble-

Minded, and later Kentucky's Commissioner of Public

Institutions, announced the means of implementing this

policy when he addressed the N.C.C.C. "We now know," he

said, "that Feeble-Mindedness enters into and complicates

every one of our great social problems, and we are beginning

to know that the first step in their solution must be the

identification and elimination of this feeble-minded

element." Byers proposed to accomplish this by placing

feeble-minded persons in "permanent segregation in suitable

institutions under state control."33

The search for solutions to the social problems caused

by the menace of the feeble-minded increasingly employed

scientific methods of analysis. Science provided a key to

imposing a semblance of order upon a world of seemingly

relentless change. Far from undermining existing social

conditions, science in the early twentieth century provided

a needed continuity in social thought. "Only through such

shifts in formal context and sources of authority,"

explained historian Charles Rosenberg, "could traditionally

prescribed norms find adequate ideological support in this

period of rapid social change."34 Reflecting this new

emphasis, the National Conference on Charities and

Corrections changed its name to the National Council on

Social Work, embodying a shift to a more scientific and

professional stance toward social problems. The changing

content of the Journal of Psycho-Asthenics also demonstrated

the newly emphasized belief in scientific solutions. By

1913, the Journal contained many articles on psychological

intelligence testing, biological breeding, and prevention of

mental defects by scientific procedures.35

While a scientific world view gradually achieved

ascendancy, the charitable, benevolent basis for care of the

feeble-minded persisted. Indeed, it often merged with

scientific thought, providing a strange mix of old and new.

As early as 1899, Dr. Martin Barr, Kerlin's successor as

Superintendent of the Pennsylvania Training School, wrote of

the need of institutions for the feeble-minded to "guide us

to the Statlier Eden of simple, manners, purer laws which

the twentieth century shall usher in."36 In 1915, Dr. C.

Banks McNairy, Superintendent of North Carolina's Caswell

Training School, also voiced this altruistic view when he

appealed to the North Carolina Legislature for increased

funding. "I am proud to know that the time has come when

good Christian people of our grand old state," he announced,

"have, by their actions, said that these unfortunates [the

feeble-minded] no longer shall be tied, chained, and staked

out as animals."37

The gradual absorption of scientific approaches to

management of social ills coincided with the continuing

attempts of medical doctors to control the treatment, care,

and training of feeble-minded persons.38 In his 1896

presidential address to the A.A.S.F.M., Dr. Martin Barr

stated his belief in the continuing importance of the

medical profession in the field of mental retardation. "No

such Institution should ever have a head officer not a

medical man," he stated, "for the very simple reason that

men, no matter how capable otherwise, cannot approach the

subject of care, training, and true scientific study of such

detectives without the preliminary training afforded by the

medical school."39 Even though in 1906 the Association of

Medical Officers of American Institutions for Idiotic and

Feeble-Minded Persons changed its name to the American

Association for the Study of Feeble-Mindedness, this change

did not mean an end to medical domination of the

organization or the profession. In the forty year period

from 1900 to 1940, only five non-physicians assumed the one-

year term as president of the A.A.S.F.M. The South followed

this medical model. Throughout these years, medical doctors

held the position of superintendent in every Southern


The growth of a scientific world view provided a

framework for a hereditarian approach to the problem of

mental defect. Charles Darwin's theories of evolution, the

adaptation of them to the field of eugenics by his cousin

Francis Galton, and the rediscovery of Mendelian genetics in

1900 led many in the field of research into feeble-

mindedness to embrace the view that mental defect was

carried genetically from generation to generation. In 1916,

Edward Johnstone, superintendent of New Jersey's influential

Vineland Training School, concluded that "feeble-mindedness

is strongly inheritable."41 Between 1874 and 1926, authors

with hereditarian predilictions published fifteen major

studies of family geneologies, attempting to prove

scientifically the direct heretability of feeble-mindedness.

The high point of these publishing ventures came in the

second decade of the twentieth century, with the release of

nine new books.42 Henry Goddard's The Kallikaks, published

in 1912, proved the most important of these works. Goddard,

a disciple of pioneering psychologist G. Stanley Hall and a

prolific pamphleteer and ardent proselytizer for the

hereditarian cause, wrote the book while the director of

Vineland's Feeble-Minded Laboratory. Goddard's reputation

and influence gave credibility to the feeble-minded

movement.43 Southern proponents of increased programs for

the feeble-minded invoked the specter of Goddard's

hereditary line of feeble-minded individuals to convince

legislatures of the need for institutional facilities. The

1915 Virginia report on Mental Deficiency summed up this

viewpoint when it announced that "the form of mental

degeneracy known as feeble-mindedness is the most dangerous,

because it is directly inherited."44

The absolute belief in the inherited nature of feeble-

mindedness prompted calls for the removal of the feeble-

minded from the human race's breeding stock. Henry Goddard

viewed this as a matter of "segregation and sterilization."

Others went further. Dr. Herman Matzinger, of the

University of Buffalo, explained in 1919 that "the only way

of preventing mental defect that is scientific and offers

any prospect of relief from the inherent dangers of the

present state of things is the absolute and certain

prevention of defendants from the mental defective. There is

no alternative."45 This desire to purify the genetic lines

of Americans gave rise to apocalyptic calls for

sterilization, such as this excerpt from the 1934

Superintendent's Report of Florida Farm Colony for the

Epileptic and Feeble-Minded:

a step towards checking this on-rushing horde
now devouring civilization would be the surgical
sterilization of every feeble-minded person

coming within the purview of the law, thus
precluding them from reproducing their kind
. thousands and hundreds of thousands would
be denied the power of spreading . his or her
defective progeny. Can civilization stand the
strain if nothing is done to lessen or stop it?46

By 1948, thirty-eight states had legally established

criteria for eugenic sterilization, and 24,957 persons

labelled as mentally retarded had been sterilized,

presumably for the protection of society.47

While eugenics provided a scientifically based program

for ameliorating the problems of the mentally defective, no

consensus arose concerning its application. Eugenicists

argued over both fundamental matters, such as the debate

over nature versus nurture, and strategies for action.

Historians, such as Leon Kamin, eager to condemn the

movement (and there is much within it which demands

condemnation) often assumed eugenics provided a structured

platform with strong leadership.48 This was not the case.

Even so fervent a hereditarian as Henry Goddard wrote in

1912 that "criminality is not born, it is made." An

editorial in a 1912 issue of the American Breeders' Magazine

lamented that "without assuming the role of alarmists, it

must be admitted that this subject [eugenics] is sure to

drift more or less for a lack of adequate leadership."49 In

the South, as well, institutional leaders spoke up against

hereditarian determinism. In 1935, Virginia State Colony

Superintendent Dr. G. B. Arnold told the Virginia Conference

of Social Work that "the factor of environment cannot be

stressed too strongly."50

While a belief in the need for protection of society

from the assumed menace of retarded individuals contributed

to institutionalization and sterilization, humanitarian

impulses cannot be discounted all together.51 The push for

better institutional arrangements, more humane care for the

feeble-minded, and measures to prevent retardation composed

part of a broader social concern that characterized the

entire Progressive Era.52 The National Conference on

Charities and Corrections organized a separate division in

1912 designed specifically to attack the problems associated

with feeble-minded persons. By 1916, a National Committee

on Provision for the Feeble-Minded had been organized in

Philadelphia, with veteran philanthropist and N.C.C.C.

member Alexander Johnson as its executive secretary. Thus

in the 1910s, the creation of two major new bodies reflected

the humanitarian aspects of progressive response to the

problems of the feeble-minded.

Humanitarian currents existed in the South as well.

The Southern Sociological Conference represented an

institutional expression of the progressive reform impulse.

Founded in 1912 by religious leaders and charity workers,the

S.S.C. provided a forum for the discussion of social

problems in the South and methods for their amelioration.

It also exemplified the transitional nature of the helping

professions during this time period. Over the decade of the

1910s, the S.S.C. moved slowly toward a professional

attitude regarding society's problems, yet maintained the

religious orientation of earlier philanthropic

organizations. The program of the initial 1912 meeting in

Nashville featured a myriad of reform issues, including

abolition of the convict lease system, temperance and

prohibition, initiation of child labor legislation, and

establishment of juvenile court systems. The delegates also

listed "proper care of detectives, the blind, the deaf, the

insane, the epileptic, and the feeble-minded" as major

objectives.53 In Florida, other organizations followed the

lead of the S.S.C. Marcus Fagg, head of the Jacksonville-

based Children's Home Society and State Secretary of the

N.C.C.C. reported to that organization's 1912 national

meeting in Cleveland that "the social outlook in Florida is

most encouraging, for the people all over the state are

being awakened to the needs of the state, especially along

S. institutional lines."54

Expression of this humanitarian concern for the plight

of the feeble-minded often took a decidedly paternalistic

cast. In 1900, Martin Barr exemplified this when he wrote

that "the settlements [institutions] of simple childless

folk must themselves be in a certain way always children,

finding their happiness in congenial occupations and quiet

pleasures."55 Twenty-three years later, this paternalism

remained intact. The 1923 Kentucky Mental Hygiene Survey

reported that "it is important that people generally shall

realize that the feeble-minded are children, that the rest

of us must assume responsibility for them and help them as

we help children."56 This paternalistic approach fostered

long terms of institutionalization, as it created dependence

upon staff rather than the training of patients for

independent living outside institutions.

This humanitarian impulse, expressed through

paternalistic professional organizations, coincided with a

concommitant belif in the efficacy of state power to achieve

progressive ends.57 States slowly developed mechanisms to

organize and coordinate stategies for handling deviant

groups at a state, rather than local, level. In New York,

prior to 1890, local boards of control provided supervision

of institutions for insane and feeble-minded persons.

Established in 1890, the State Board of Lunacy became

responsible for institutional supervision. The trend toward

centralization continued in 1901 when the New York

legislature authorized a separate fiscal office for state

institutions.58 Summarizing the move towards centralized

state control, Moorhead Murdoch, Superintendent of

Pennsylvania's Polk Training School, wrote in 1913 that "the

care of the feeble-minded . is a problem for the state,

not the city or the county."59

Southern states followed their Northern counterparts in

the move towards centralized control over institutions for

the "socially inadequate classes." In 1915, South Carolina

organized a State Board of Charities and Corrections,

controlling all state institutions. The Board was re-

organized in 1920 and re-named the State Board of Public

Welfare, charged with controlling "defective children both

in institutions and outside them." Georgia's moves to

centralized control followed a more circuitous route.

Gracewood, the Georgia Institution for the Feeble-Minded,

opened in 1923 under the dual authority of the State Board

of Health, founded in 1919, and the State Board of Public

Welfare, founded in 1915. This bifurcated arrangement

continued until 1931, when a governmental re-organization

program abolished the Board of Public Welfare and

established an eleven member Board of Control of

Eleemosynary Institutions to manage the institution and

seven others. Only six years later, this Board was also

abolished and Gracewood came under the auspices of the newly

re-organized Department of Public Welfare.60

While Southern states established institutions for the

feeble-minded because, according to a South Carolina report,

"in attacking the problem of feeble-mindedness we are also

attacking the problems of crime and pauperism at their very

roots," the Georgia example showed that once established,

institutions often had difficulty maintaining an identity.

Neither fully medical institutions, penal facilities, nor

extensions of the inchoate welfare system, these

institutions often fell through the funding cracks of these

bureaucratized agencies. Thus in 1923, Gracewood

Superintendent Dr. George Preston reported that "the school

for the feeble-minded at Gracewood has had even a harder

strucale financially than Alto [the State Tuberculosis

Sanitorium]."61 In a region where state funding for public

welfare programs was minimal, institutions for the feeble-

minded received the smallest part of the pie.

As Southern institutions struggled with financial

problems based often on their undifferentiated role in state

social welfare policy, federal census data confirmed the

movement towards increasingly centralized state control over

institutional populations. In 1904, county almshouses

housed fifty-four percent of the 30,898 institutionalized

feeble-minded nationwide. By 1923, the percentage of

feeble-minded in almshouses had dropped to twenty-two

percent, with the remaining seventy-eight percent residing

in institutions, mainly state facilities, built specifically

to house mentally defective persons.62

In Southern states, the need to remove the feeble-

minded from almshouses provided a powerful rationale for the

building of separate institutions. The 1919 Mississippi

Mental Deficiency Survey, conducted by the N.C.M.H.,

reported that feeble-minded persons comprised 36.6 percent

of Mississippi's poorhouse residents. The desire to protect

society from the feeble-minded remained important for the

growth of centralized, public programs for controlling this

class of deviant. The Mississippi Survey reported that

almshouse care of the mentally retarded was not acceptable.

Indeed, it concluded that "the most drastic criticism of

poor-farm care is that little precaution is taken to prevent


Far from being an isolated reform program, the movement

to institutionalize feeble-minded individuals, remained tied

to other aspects of Progressive thought, through common

strands of state intervention and paternalistic

humanitarianism. Even the ideas and idiom surrounding

overseas expansion found their correlative in thinking about

the feeble-minded. The vocabulary adopted by leaders in the

movement to improve treatment of the feeble-minded reflected

this trend.64 Institutional leaders chose the word

'colony,' coined to identify small satellite institutions

for those feeble-minded who might return to society, to

correspond to the term for overseas possessions that

assumedly would also benefit society. In 1903, Martin Barr

fused these two meanings of colony when he wrote that "an

ideal spot might be found [for an institution] either on one

of the newly acquired islands, the unoccupied lands of the

Atlantic seaboard, or the far West."65 The language of

Progressive imperialists and those involved with the

mentally defective seemed interchangeable. "When the day

comes, that all or nearly all the degenerate are gathered

into industrial celibate communities," an 1899 editorial in

the Journal of Psycho-Asthenics proclaimed, "how rapidly

will the 'White Man's Burden' of distress, pauperism, and

disease, which he must be taxed to support begin to

diminish"6 6

The Progressive reform movements also stressed the

close ties of the emerging middle class to notions of

correct and proper behavior.67 Reformers, such as Goddard

and Fernald, tended to view complex social and economic

problems in the context of public and private morality,

blaming poverty on a lack of moral fiber in the poor.68 In

this period of wide-ranging societal concerns, the search

for solutions often centered on simplistic answers based on

individual moral action. Many reformers conveniently blamed

criminality, urban blight, prostitution, and unemployment on

a sexually active, rapidly reproducing class of feeble-

minded individuals, which if allowed to increase in size

would drag the entire American population down. At the 1916

N.C.C.C. meeting in Indianapolis, Helen McMurchy clearly

stated the moral component of reform for the feeble-minded.

"Mental detectives," she explained, "with little sense of

decency, with no control of their passions, with no

appreciation of the sacredness of the person and the higher

references of life, become a centre of evil in the community

and inevitably lower the moral tone."69 North Carolina's C.

Banks McNairy, Superintendent of Caswell Training School,

addressed the 1923 A.A.S.F.M. meetings in Detroit with more

of the same rhetoric. "We can never change the mental

capacity of the defective delinquent or the moron," he

announced, "nor can we raise their moral conception to our

social ideals."70 The growing numbers of persons committed

to institutions for deviant social behavior reflected the

attitudes and morality of middle class America.

This middle class attitude consisted of more than a

feeling of simple moral superiority. It contained, in the

words of historian Morton Keller, "the mix of Christian

benevolence, moral reform, 'scientific' human improvement,

and protection of a threatened social order."71 These

diverse roots of social action led to a multiplicity of

goals in policies concerning feeble-minded persons. Some

Leaders recommended "the absolute necessity of permanent

sequestration;" others believed that the "feeble-minded

should be guarded or segregated during the child bearing

period."72 Progressives believed in the efficacy of

governmental action to implement positive individual change.

Debate persisted, however, over whether feeble-minded

persons could actually be improved by governmental

intervention. In an influential article, Henry Goddard,

after using the Binet test of intelligence on a sample of

residents at Vineland, wrote that "feeble-minded children

are trainable, but not improvable in intellectual

capacity."73 Two schools of thought arose out of Goddard's

findings. One viewed institutionalization as permanent,

custodial care. Other professionals, however, believed that

proper instruction and training of high-level feeble-minded

persons would allow them to return to their communities and

live semi-independent productive lives. In 1917 Charles

Bernstein, Superintendent of New York's Rome Custodial

Asylum (soon to be re-named the Rome State School,

reflecting Bernstein's philosophy) wrote that the duty of

the institution was to "rehabilitate and return the services

of these inmates to the state and its . citizens."74

The differences in approaching the problems of feeble-

mindedness, and the variety of individuals labelled as

feeble-minded, forced institutional leaders to implement a

series of disparate, often opposing, programs, leading to a

distinct lack of clear-sighted institutional goals.

The growth of community special educational programming

appeared closely allied with the movement to

institutionalize increasing numbers of feeble-minded

individuals. The 1920 Report of the South Carolina State

Board of Public Welfare recognized "the importance of the

public school as a social agency, and of school teachers as

social workers." It concluded that "the State needs more

special classes, more teachers trained for this work. ."75

U. S. Office of Education reports revealed the special class

alternative as an increasingly attractive one to educators

(See Table 2.2). Educators understood the importance of

this trend. They also realized, in a way few institutional

leaders did, that the increase in numbers of special

students did not imply that the feeble-minded posed a

serious threat to the nation. The 1916-1918 Survey of

Education reminded its readers that "these large percentages

of increase do not necessarily mean that society is being

burdened with unusually increasing percentages fo feeble-

minded and sub-normal children, but rather indicate that

provision is being made for the education and care of

children who in years gone by had little opportunity for


The differing strategies for attempting to ameliorate

the problems of the mentally retarded resulted from the

varieties of Progressive thought, stretching on the

continuum from humanitarianism to social control.

Humanitarians viewed the feeble-minded as individuals, as

Table 2.2

Special Classes Throughout the Nation

Year # of States # of Cities # of Students

1922 23 133 23,252

1927 32 218 51,814

1932 39 483 75,099

1934 39 526 84,458

1936 43 643 99,621

Source: 1932-1934 Biennial Survey of Education,
Department of Interior, Office of Education (Washington, D.
C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1939). "Chapter VI-
Statistics of Special Schools and Classes for Exceptional
Children", Vol 2, p. 2.

victims of overwhelming social forces. The report of the

1924 Rhode Island Social Welfare summarized this viewpont

when it concluded that "the Mental Defective is a social

problem largely because he is not given a square deal."77

Conversely, advocates of social control approached the

mentally defective person as a deviant member of society and

a cause of other social problems. Government action would

improve society by removing feeble-minded individuals from

it. "It is socially ruinous to all," wrote the Reverend

Joseph Mastin, the Secretary of the Virginia State Board of

Charities and Corrections in 1916, "for them [feeble-minded

persons] to reproduce their kind."78

Some extreme backers of this social control position

even went so far as to blame humanitarian efforts for the

rise in the number of mentally defective persons. Writing

in the 1909 J.P.A., Richard Milburn of Indiana's School for

Feeble-Minded Youth commented that "with the spread of

humanitarianism, the increased means of sparing and

prolonging life, many feeble-minded persons are now alive

who under conditions prevailing a century would have been

dead. Some of these have brought children into the world

and chances are 2 to 1 that these are also feeble-minded."

In 1916, Lewis Terman, the psychologist responsible for

developing the Stanford-Binet intelligence test, echoed

these sentiments. "Various beneficent social agencies and

organized charities, necessary and humane as these are,"

Terman wrote, ". . often contribute to the survival of

individuals who would otherwise not be able to live and

reproduce. The result is an ever increasing proportion of

socially unfit individuals in our state's population."79

In the first twenty years of the twentieth century,

states, both North and South, concluded that large public

institutions could solve the problems caused by feeble-

minded individuals. However, the Progressive legacy of

institutionalization appeared much more problematic

regarding the role and purpose of these facilities.

Concerns for the feeble-minded individual and his or her

rights had to be measured against the needs of society as a

whole. Though most decisions regarding the process of

institutionalization favored the needs of society, enough

ambiguity remained to cloud the functions of institutions to

professionals and laymen alike. Dr. William Cornell, of the

New York State Department of Education, captured these

contradictions perfectly in 1920. "It is apparent that the

State Institutions for the Feeble-Minded in the United

States," he wrote, "are in a developmental, or transitional

stage. It is also apparent that too many are simply

custodial in function."80


1. Karl Schwartz, "Nature's Corrective Principle in Social
Evolution," a paper presented at the 32nd annual meeting of
the American Association for the Study of the Feeble-Minded,
June 1908, Rome, New York, in Marvin Rosen, Gerald Clark,
and Marvin Kivitz, editors, The History of Mental
Retardation, Collected Papers, (Baltimore: University Park
Press, 1976) 2 volumes, 2: pp. 154. Reverend Schwartz was
rector of the Church of the Savior in Syracuse, New York,
and was nationally known as an author and preacher. He
authored several books, including Inherited Criminal
Tendencies and How Nature Deals With Them.

2. Laws of Florida. Chapter 7887. 1919 Regular Session,
General Acts and Resolutions, 2 volumes, 1: p. 234. Nine
Southern states opened institutions between 1908 and 1923.
(See Figure 2.1)

3. U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census,
Feeble-Minded and Epileptics in Institutions 1923 (1926), p.
26; U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census,
Mental Defectives and Epileptics in Institutions 1937
(1939), p. 10. U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the
Census, Patients in Mental Institutions 1940 (1943), p. 107.

4. The term "feeble-minded" is used synonomously with the
presently used "mentally retarded" and "mentally
handicapped". See above, Figure 1.1. Since professionals
in the field used it as a scientific descriptor during the
time period this study investigates, it will be used in this
work. It implies no disparagement of the persons so

5. Literature on the Progressive era is, of course,
voluminous. Robert Wiebe's The Search for Order. 1877-1920
(New York: Hill and Wang, 1967) and Samuel Hays' The
Response to Industrialism. 1885-1914 (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1957) offer the most pertinent
interpretations of the era as a period of bureaucratic
organization in response to societal change. Gabriel
Kolko's Triumph of Conservatism (New York: The Free Press of
Glencoe, 1963) and James Weinstein's The Corporate Ideal in
the Liberal State. 1900-1918 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968)
view the inter-relationship of government and large
corporations as the major development of the Progressive
Era. Dewey Grantham's Southern Proqressivism: The
Reconciliation of Progress and Tradition (Knoxville,
Tennessee: University of Tennessee Press, 1983) points

Figure 2.1

Institutions for the Feeble-Minded in the South

Institution Year Founded1
Partlow State School 1919
for Mental Defectives,

Florida Farm Colony for 1921
Epileptic and Feeble-Minded,

Georgia Training School 1921
for Mental Defectives,

State Institution for the 1860

State Colony and Training 1922
School, Alexandria


North Carolina

South Carolina



Ellisville State School,

Caswell Training School,

State Training School,

State Home & Training School
for Feeble-Minded Persons,

Lynchburg State Colony,
Petersburg State Colony,





1908, 19142


1. Year first patients were admitted.

2. Colony opened in 1908 as an institution for
epileptic persons. Feeble-minded individuals were admitted
in 1918.

3. Petersburg State Colony was the South's only
institution for black patients.






out the unique parameters of progressivism in a region quite
different from the rest of American society. For a concise
bibliographic essay on recent works and trends in
Progressive historiography, see Daniel Rodgers, "In Search
of Progressivism," Reviews in American History 10, 1
(December 1982) 113-132. For a brief summary of the
relationship of Progressive reformers and treatment of the
dependent and delinquent, see David Rothman, "The State as
Parent: Social Policy in the Progressive Era" in Willard
Gaylin, Ira Glasser, Steven Marcus, and David Rothman, Doing
Good: The Limits of Benevolence (New York: Pantheon Books,
1981), 67-96.

6. Martin Barr, "The Imperative Call of Our Present to Our
Future," J.P.A. 7 (1902-1903), p. 8.

7. See James Weinstein, The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal
State, especially pp. 172-213, for the most explicit example
of this belief.

8. Report of Charles Davenport, Director of the Eugenics
Record Office in Yearbook of the Carnegie Institution.
Volume 11, 1912. pp. 18-19. For information on the E.R.O.
and Davenport, see Garland Allen, "The Eugenics Record
Office at Cold Spring Harbor, 1910-1940- An Essay in
Institutional History," Osiris 1986 Second Series, No. 2
(1986), 225-264; Charles Rosenberg, No Other Gods: On
Science and American Social Thought (Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1976), especially Chapter 4;
Nicolas Hahn, The Defective Delinquency Movement: A History
of the Born Criminal in New York State. 1850-1966 (Ph. D.
Dissertation, S.U.N.Y. Albany, 1978), p. 312; Mark Haller,
Eugenics: Hereditarian Attitudes in American Thought. 2nd
Edition, (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University
Press, 1984), pp. 63-75; Donald Pickens, Eugenics and the
Progressives (Nashville, Tennessee: Vanderbilt University
Press, 1968), pp. 51-52; Daniel Kevles, "Annals of
Eugenics," The New Yorker, October 8, 1984, pp. 110-115 and
In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human
Heredity (Berkeley, California: University of California
Press, 1985), pp. 40-56 and 100-104; and Peter Tyor and
Leland Bell, Caring for the Retarded in America: A History
(Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1984), p. 112.

9. Funding information on E.R.O. from Garland Allen, "The
Eugenics Record Office", pp. 261-263; Charles Davenport, The
Feebly-Inhibited (Cold Spring Harbor, New York: Eugenic
Record Office, 1915); Arthur Estabrook, The Jukes in 1915
(Washington, D.C.: The Carnegie Institution of Washington,
1916); and Harry Laughlin, "Report of the Committee to Study
and the Report on the Best Practical Means of Cutting Off
the Defective Germ Plasm in the American Population,"
Eugenics Record Office Bulletin No. 10 (February, 1914).
Estabrook's book was an update of Richard Dugdale's 1874

tracing of the Juke family in The Jukes (New York: G. P.
Putnam's Sons, 1895). Dugdale stressed both heredity and
environmental causation of feeble-mindedness in The Jukes.
Estabrook approached the problem of the Jukes in purely
hereditarian terms and focused on the dangers of such
families polluting society with their feeble-minded genes.

10. Charles Davenport, "A Census of the Feeble-Minded,"
J.P.A. 16 (1911-1912), p. 11.

11. For a look at the relationship between the field of
mental health and philanthropic foundations, see Theresa
Richardson, The Century of the Child: The Mental Hygiene
Movement & Social Policy in the United States & Canada
(Albany, New York: State University of New York Press,
1989), passim. For a broader look at foundations and their
relation to social planning see the essays in Robert Arnove,
editor, Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The
Foundations at Home and Abroad (Boston: G. K. Hall and Co.,
1980), especially Barbara Howe, "The Emergence of Scientific
Philanthropy 1900-1920: Origins, Issues, and Outcomes", 25-
54; Sheila Slaughter and Edward Silva, "Looking Backward:
How Foundations Formulated Ideology in the Progressive Era",
55-86; and Russell Marks, "Legitimating Industrial
Capitalism", 87-122. Also see Barry Karl, "Philanthropy,
Policy Planning, and the Bureaucratization of the Democratic
Ideal," Daedalus 105, 4 (Fall 1976), 129-149; Barry Karl and
Stanley Katz, "The American Private Foundation and the
Public Sphere, 1890-1930," Minerva 19, 2 (Summer 1981), 236-
270; John McClymer, War and Welfare: Social Engineering in
America, 1890-1925 (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press,
1980), pp. 30-67; and Frances Piven and Richard Cloward,
"Humanitarism in History: A Response to the Critics" in
Walter Trattner, editor, Social Welfare or Social Control?
Some Historical Reflections on "Requlating the Poor"
(Knoxville, Tennessee: University of Tennessee Press, 1983),

12. Minutes of the Rockefeller Foundation- National
Committee for Mental Hygiene, December 1, 1920; R.G. 1.1,
Series 200, Box 200, Folder 362, Rockefeller Foundation
Archives, Rockefeller Archive Center, Pocantico Hills, New
York. Financial amounts calculated from Rockefeller
Foundation Minutes, 1915-1926.

13. W. H. Slingerland, "A Constructive Program of Organized
Child Welfare Work for New Orleans and Louisiana," An
Address to the S.S.C., New Orleans, Louisiana, April 1920,
in David Hammack, editor, The Russell Sage Foundation:
Social Research and Social Action in America, 1907-1947- An
Historic Bibliography (Frederick, Maryland: University Press
of America Academic Editions, 1988), Microfiche 102 CH 30,
p. 30. For related corporate financial contributions, see
Russell Marks, "Legitimating Industrial Capitalism:

Philanthropy and Individual Differences" in Robert Arnove,
editor, Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism, p. 88.

14. Mental Defectives in Virginia: A Special Report of the
State Board of Charities and Corrections to the General
Assembly. 1916, (Richmond, Virginia: n. p., 1916), pp 11-13.

15. "Report of the Maryland Mental Hygiene Survey with
Recommendations", (Baltimore, 1921), reprinted in Gerald
Grob, editor, Mental Hygiene in Twentieth Century America:
Four Studies, 1921-1924 (New York: Arno Press, 1980), p. 67.

16. The literature on the growth of asylum treatment is
large and often rancorous. See Ellen Dwyer, "The History of
the Asylum in Great Britain and the United States," in David
Weisstub, editor, Law and Mental Health: International
Perspectives- Volume 4 (New York: Pergamon Press, 1988),
110-160 for the most recent historiographical review of the
literature. For the most important interpretive examples of
the work, see David Rothman, The Discovery of the Asylum:
Social Order and Disorder in the New Republic (Boston:
Little, Brown and Company, 1971), especially Chapters 9 and
10; Andrew Scull, Museums of Madness: The Social
Organization of Madness in Nineteenth Century England
(London: St. Martins Press, 1979); and Gerald Grob, Mental
Institutions in America: Social Policy to 1875 (New
Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1973) and
"Mental Illness, Indigency, and Welfare: The Mental Hospital
in Nineteenth Century America" in Tamara Hareven, editor,
Anonymous Americans: Explorations in Nineteenth Century
Social History (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-
Hall, Inc., 1971), 250-279. While Grob stresses the
humanitarian nature of institutions, foiled by politics and
local exegencies, and Rothman emphasizes the importance of
the fear of disorder in the formation of asylums; they both
indicate that a lack of clearly defined goals led to a
policy of segregation and control. Scull, on the other
hand, ties the growth of long-term institutionalization
patterns to the "historically specific and closely
interrelated changes in that society's political, economic,
and social structure. . ." (p. 257).

17. Gerald Grob, Mental Institutions in America, p. 85.

18. "Report of the Association of Medical Superintendents
of American Institutions for the Insane, 1848," quoted in R.
C. Scheerenberger, A History of Mental Retardation
(Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company, 1983), p.

19. For the importance of cure rates to superintendents'
control of mental institutions, see Constance McGovern,
Masters of Madness (Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press
of New England, 1985), p. 106-126. For the relation of

almshouses to mental illness and mental deficiency, see
Michael Katz, In the Shadow of the Poorhouse; A Social
History of Welfare in America (New York, Basic Books, 1986),
pp. 99-103.

20. "1880 U. S. Census Enumeration of Idiotic Persons,"
Reported in K. Charlie Lakin, Demographic Studies of
Residential Facilities for the Mentally Retarded
(Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Department
of Psychoeducational Studies, 1979), Table 2, p. 17. See
also R. C. Scheerenberger, The History of Mental
Retardation, pp. 98-129. Scheerenberger reported the number
of patients in institutions for the mentally retarded as
4,216 in 1880 (p. 123), pointing up the wide disparities in
both reporting procedures and labelling practices. Also see
Peter Tyor and Leland Bell, Caring for the Retarded in
America, pp. 21-43.

21. Charles Rosenberg, "Inward Vision and Outward Glance:
The Shaping of the American Hospital, 1880-1914," in David
Rothman and Stanton Wheeler, editors, Social History and
Social Policy (New York: Academic Press, 1981), p. 52. For
a contemporary example of this phenomenon, see Stephen
Pfohl, "The Discovery of Child Abuse," Social Problems 24, 3
(February 1977), 310-323.

22. "The First Point of Attack- The Defective," The Survey
35, 19 (February 15, 1916) p. 555.

23. F. J. Sessions, "Vocational Training in Institutions,"
Proceedings of the N.C.C.C., 1913 (Fort Wayne, Indiana: The
Fort Wayne Printing Company, 1913), pp. 292-293; S. P.
Duggan, "Methods for the Treatment of Mental Defectives of
the Border-line Type," Proceedings of the Seventh New York
City Conference of Charities and Correction, 1916 (New York:
Vail-Ballou, 1916), p. 138.

24. See Andrew Scull, Museums of Madness; Michael Katz, In
the Shadow of the Poorhouse; and Frances Piven and Richard
Cloward, Poor People's Movements: Why They Succeed. How They
Fail (New York: Vintage Books, 1979) and their essay
"Humanitarianism in History: A Response to the Critics" in
Walter Trattner, Social Welfare or Social Control? Scull
deliniates the control of deviance in modern society as a
three part phenomenon, 1. "the substantial involvement of
the state", 2. "the treatment of the many different types of
deviance in institutions", and 3. "the careful
differentiation of different sorts of deviance, and the
subsequent consignment of each variety to the ministrations
of experts, which last development entails, as an importnat
corollary, the emergence of professional and semi-
professional helping professions," Andrew Scull, "Madness
and Segregative Control: The Rise of the Insane Asylum,"
Social Problems 24 (1977), p. 377.

25. Andrew Scull, Decarceration : Community Treatment and
the Deviant- A Radical View, 2nd Edition (New Brunswick, New
Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1984), p. 27.

26. Quoted in First B.R. of the Superintendent of Florida
Farm Colony, 1919-1921, p. 2, Vault files, G.S.C.

27. Dr. Benjamin Whitten, "Presidential Address to the
A.A.M.D.- May 8, 1937, Atlantic City, New Jersey," J.P.A. 42
(1937), pp. 39-40.

28. Mental Defectives in Virginia, pp. 49, 56.

29. Dr. Taliaferro Clark, "The School as a Factor in the
Mental Health of Rural Communities," Proceedings of the
N.C.C.C.. 1916 (Chicago: The Hildmann Printing Company,
1916), p. 218. See also Helen McMurchy, "Relation of
Feeble-Mindedness to Other Social Problems," Proceedings of
the N.C.C.C., 1916, 231-232 for another example.

30. Walter Fernald, "The Imbecile with Criminal Instincts,"_
J.P.A. 14 (1909-1910), p. 33. See also L. W. Crafts, "A
Bibliography on the Relations of Crime and Feeble-
Mindedness," Journal of the American Institute of Criminal
Law and Criminolovy 7, 4 (1916-1917), 544-554.

31. See, for example, Henry Goddard, The Criminal Imbecile
(New York: The Macmillan Company, 1915); and Stanley Davies,
Social Control of the Feeble-Minded (New York: The National
Committee for Mental Hygiene, 1923). A good summary of
these surveys can be found in Nicolas Hahn, The Defective
Delinquency Movement, pp. 279-284. The Virginia Mental
Defectiveness Report of 1915 stated that fully fifty percent
of the repeat offenders in Virginia jails were feeble-
minded, Mental Defectives in Virginia, p. 85.

32. V. V. Anderson, "Mental Defect in a Southern State:
Report of the Georgia Commission on Feeblemindedness and the
Survey of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene," Mental
Hyqiene 3, 4 (October 1919), p. 538.

33. Joseph Byers, "Public Address to the 1916 N.C.C.C.
Meeting, Indianapolis, Indiana," Proceedings of the
N.C.C.C.. 1916, p. 224-226. See the following in the
Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and
Criminology for examples of articles concerning the direct
relationship of crime and feeble-mindedness- 0. F. Lewis,
"The Feeble-Minded Delinquent," 3 (1912-1913), 10-11; L. W.
Crafts, "A Bibliography on the Relations of Crime and
Feeble-Mindedness;" and Thomas Haines, "A Feeble-Minded
Homicide in Mississippi," 12 (1921-1922), 76-83. In a paper
presented at the American Prison Association in 1912,
Hastings Hart, Director of the Child Helping Division of the

Russell Sage Foundation reported, "Dr. Henry Goddard, of
Vineland, New Jersey, says that every feeble-minded person
is a potential criminal," Hastings Hart, "The Extinction of
the Defective Delinquent- A Working Program" in David
Hammack, editor, The Russell Sage Foundation, Microfiche 102
CH 10, p. 5.

34. Charles Rosenberg, No Other Gods: On Science and
American Social Thought, p. 7. The introduction to this
book offers an excellent account of the growth of
scientific solutions in the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries. See also John Burnham's short but
influential "Psychiatry, Psychology, and the Progressive
Movement," American Quarterly 12 (1960), 457-465 for the
relationship between science and the progressive movement.
See also Roy Lubove, The Professional Altruist (Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1965) for the
growing scientific and professional emphasis in social work.

35. See, for example, Lewis Terman and H. E. Knollin, "Some
Problems Relating to the Detection of Borderline Cases of
Mental Deficiency," J.P.A. 20 (1915-1916), 3-15; E. A. Doll,
"The Interpretation of Anthropometric Measurements," J.P.A.
20 (1915-1916), 16-20; Henry Goddard, "The Binet Tests in
Relation to Immigration," J.P.A. 18 (1913-1914), 85-92; and
Walter Dearborn, "The Methods and Uses of Group Testing of
Intelligence," J.P.A. 26 (1920-1921), 111-116. Also see
similar articles in journals of broader scope, for example,
Robert Yerkes, "The Binet versus the Point Scale Method of
Measuring Intelligence," Journal of Applied Psychology 1
(1917), 111-122; and Katherine Murdoch, "Rate of Improvement
of the Feeble-Minded as Shown by Standardized Educational
Tests," Journal of Applied Psycholoyq 2 (1918), 243-249.

36. Martin Barr, "The Hows, the Whys, and the Wherefores of
the Training of Feeble-Minded Children," J.P.A. 4 (1899-
1900), p. 211. For an interesting analysis of the
conflation of science and earlier humanitarian styles of
altruism, see Leila Zenderland, "Education, Evangelism, and
the Origins of Clinical Psychology: The Child-Study Legacy,"
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 24, 2
(April 1988), 152-165. Zenderland quotes Earl Barnes, first
professor of education at Stanford University, on the 1906
opening of the Vineland Training School laboratory (see
above, page 16). "To me," Barnes exclaimed, "Vineland is
. .a human laboratory and a garden where unfortunate
children are to be cared for, protected, and loved while
they unconsciously whisper to us syllable by syllable the
secrets of the souls' growth." Barnes quoted on p. 60.

37. C. Banks McNairy, "An Appeal to the Appropriations
Committee of 1915 for the North Carolina School for the
Feeble-Minded- Raleigh, February, 12, 1915," N.C.C.-U.N.C.
For another example of this, see James King Hall, "Behavior

of the Feeble-Minded: The Laymen's Ignorance of Their Anti-
Social and Criminal Tendencies- A Speech Given at the
Dedication of New Buildings at Caswell Training School,
Kinston, North Carolina, April 13, 1922," James King Hall
Papers, Box 4, Folder 50, S.H.C.-U.N.C.

38. This move by medical doctors was part of a more
generalized attempt by the medical profession to increase
their power and field of influence. Much has been written
on this, but see especially Paul Starr, The Social
Transformation of American Medicine (New York: Basic Books,
Inc, 1982), pp. 79-145; James Burrow, Organized Medicine in
the Progressive Era (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1977); Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner, "Doctors in
Crisis: Education and Medical Reform During the Progressive
Era, 1895-1915" in Susan Reverby and David Rosner, editors,
Health Care in America: Essays in Social History
(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1979), 185-205; and
Charles Rosenberg, The Care of Strangers: The Rise of
America's Hospital System (New York: Basic Books, Inc.,
1987), pp. 262-285. See also Peter Conrad and Joseph
Schneider, Deviance and Medicalization, From Badness to
Sickness (St. Louis: Mosby, 1980).

39. Martin Barr, "Presidential Address to the Association
of Medical Officers of American Institutions for Idiotic and
Feeble-Minded Persons," J.P.A. 1 (1896-1897), pp. 30-31 [my

40. Presidents tallied from yearly reports in the J.P.A.
Non-medical presidents included Edward Johnstone,
superintendent of the prestigious Vineland School, in 1904
and again in 1927; Mattie Gundy, superintendent of a small
private institution in Falls Church, Virginia and the only
women to hold the position of president of the A.A.S.F.M. or
the A.A.M.D., in 1910; Henry Goddard, educational testor and
proponent of the Binet scales, in 1915; Edgar Doll, educator
associated with Vineland, in 1935; and Frederick Kuhlman,
psychologist at the Minnesota State School at Faribault, in

41. Edward Johnstone, "Public Address to the 1916 N.C.C.C.
meeting, Indianapolis, Indiana," Proceedings of the
N.C.C.C., 1916, p. 205. Much has been written on the growth
of hereditarian beliefs and their connection to the concern
about the feeble-minded. See Hamilton Cravens, The Triumph
of Evolution: American Scientists and the Heredity-
Environment Controversy, 1900-1941 (Philadelphia: Univeristy
of Pennsylvania Press, 1978), pp. 157-190; Donald Pickens,
Eugenics and the Progressives (Nashville, Tennessee:
Vanderbilt University Press, 1968), pp. 55-68, 102-131; Mark
Haller, Eugenics: Hereditarian Attitudes in American
Thought, pp. 95-111; Kenneth Ludmerer, Genetics and American
Society; Donald Bellomy, "Social Darwinism Revisited,"

Perspectives in American History New Series, 1 (1984), pp.
117-124. According to Bellomy, "By 1927, in fact, eugenics
had become one of the few remaining redoubts within which
the Progressives could still find refuge for their dream of
imminent utopia" (p. 123); Lyndsay Farrell, "The History of
Eugenics: A Bibliographic Review," Annals of Science 36
(1979), 111-123; and Garland Allen, "Genetics, Eugenics, and
Society: Internalists and Externalists in Contemporary
History of Science," Social Studies of Science 6, 1
(February 1976), 105-122. Allen examines the eugenics
movement with a class-based analysis that emphasizes the
importance of corporate funding (especially see p. 119).

42. See Nicolas Hahn, The Defective Delinquency Movement: A
History of the Born Criminal in New York State, 1850-1966
(Ph.D. Dissertation, S.U.N.Y. Albany, 1978), p. 115 and "Too
Dumb to Know Better: Cacogenic Family Studies and the
Criminology of Women," Criminology 18, 1 (May 1980), p. 6.
See also Nicole [Hahn] Rafter's edited work White Trash: The
Eugenic Family Studies. 1877-1919 (Boston: Northeastern
University Press, 1988) which contain eleven of these
pedigreed studies. Rafter's introduction to the volume
offers an important analysis of this literature and its
place in the social history of the Progressive Era, marred
only by an insistence on the overarching importance of
social control. She concluded, "Those who stood to gain
from eugenics were professionals involved in the new
business of social control." (pp. 14-15)

43. Henry Goddard, The Kallikak Family: A Study in the
Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness (New York: Macmillan, 1912).
Goddard based the book on the geneology of Deborah Kallikak,
a twenty three year old resident of the Vineland Training
School. The name is a pseudonym coined by Goddard,
combining the Greek terms kallos (meaning beauty) and kakos
(meaning bad). Goddard, through his field worker Elizabeth
Kite, traced Deborah's geneology back to the Revolution.
During that time, Martin Kallikak, a continental soldier,
had an affair with a tavern maid. The offspring of this
union was feeble-minded and it is from him that Deborah
Kallikak descends. Conversely, Martin Kallikak's legitimate
offspring "married into the best families in the state .
[and] are doctors, lawyers, judges" (p. 29). The Kallikak
story was used in general psychology textbooks as late as
the 1950s, detailing the hereditarian nature of mental
retardation. See Goddard's preliminary study, "Heredity of
Feeble-mindedness," American Breeders' Magazine 1, 3 (1910),
165-178 for more examples of Goddard's field work. For a
devastating account of the intellectual fraud perpetrated by
Goddard in the work (for example, the retouching of
photographs of Deborah's relatives to make them look more
"retarded") see J. David Smith, Minds Made Feeble: The Myth
and Legend of the Kallikaks (Rockville, Maryland: Aspen
System Corporation, 1985). Smith's work explains the


excesses of the hereditarian position, but is less
successful in understanding Goddard in the social context of
his time. For an evaluation of Smith's ahistorical
analysis, see Michael Sokal, "Introduction" in Michael
Sokal, editor, Psychological Testing and American Society.
1890-1930 (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University
Press, 1987), pp. 16-17. For more on the life and career of
Henry Goddard, see Leila Zenderland, Henry Herbert Goddard
and the Origins of American Intelligence Testing, (Ph.D.
Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1986). See pp.
355-467 for an analysis of Goddard's hereditarian beliefs
which led to the publishing of The Kallikaks.

44. Mental Defectives in Virginia, p. 3. Elizabeth Webb,
chief investigator for the Virginia State Board of Charities
and Corrections, which released the report, studied field
worker techniques under Goddard at Vineland. Dr. A. S.
Priddy, Superintendent of the Virginia State Colony stated
in his 2nd Annual Report that, "[t]he findings of Dr.
Goddard as to the family history of patients in his
institution are evidently stated with true conservatism, and
. . if true and accurate family histories would be secured
in institutions, generally, it would be found that bad
heredity exists in even a greater per cent," Second A.R. of
the Virginia State Colony for the Feeble-Minded. 1915.
Virginia State Library, Richmond, pp. 15-16. For another
Southern example, see C. Banks McNairy, "Heredity as it
Relates to Feeble-Mindedness- A Speech before the North
Carolina Medical Association, Greensboro, June 17, 1915,"

45. Henry Goddard, "Sterilization and Segregation,"
September 1912 article in The Child, reprinted in David
Hammack, editor, The Russell Sage Foundation, Microfiche
#102 CH 12, p. 11; Herman Matzinger, "The Prevention of
Mental Defect," J.P.A. 23 (1918-1919), p. 20. According to
Leila Zenderland, Henry Goddard, while recognizing the value
of sterilization, also saw its potential drawbacks and
instead favored institutional segregation. See Zenderland,
Henry Goddard. p. 438-439.

46. Eighth B.R. of the Superintendent of Florida Farm
Colony, 1932-1934, Vault files, G.S.C., p. 7. See also the
many articles in the American Breeders' Magazine (published
from 1910 to 1914) and its successor the Journal of
Heredity, often written by major figures in the field of
eugenics, such as Davenport, Laughlin, Goddard, and David
Starr Jordan.

47. Moya Woodside, Sterilization in North Carolina: A
Sociological and Psychological Study (Chapel Hill, North
Carolina: Univeristy of North Carolina Press, 1950), p. 195.
See also Harry Landman, "The History of Human Sterilization
in the United States," American Law Review 63 (January-

February 1929), 48-71; Paul Popenoe and Norman Fenton,
"Sterilization as a Social Measure," J.P.A. 41 (1935-1936),
60-70; and Harry Laughlin, "Further Studies on the
Historical and Legal Developments of Eugenical Sterilization
in the United States," J.P.A. 41 (1935-1936), 96-110. See
also three studies of individual states and their
experiences with the eugenics movement. Rudolph Vecoli's
"Sterilization: A Progressive Measure?," Wisconsin Magazine
of History 42 (1960), 190-202, answers the question in the
affirmative by tying sterilization into the overall program
of progressive state action to improve society. He stated
that "the reformer's assumptions that individualism must be
curbed in industry and politics facilitated his acceptance
of the same principle in the sphere of human breeding" (p.
202). Philip Jenkins' more recent "Eugenics, Crime, and
Ideology: The Case of Progressive Pennsylvania,"
Pennsylvania History 51 (January 1984), 64-78 also puts
eugenics clearly in a progressive mold, as science became
the vehicle by which "social and political elites were
attempting to control lower-class newcomers" (p. 65).
Jenkins' article shows that even in a state where the
"political leaders were deeply influence by eugenic thought"
(p. 65), passage of sterilization legislation was not
assured. Patrick Curtis' Eugenic Reformers. Cultural
Perceptions of Dependent Populations, and the Care of the
Feebleminded in Illinois, 1909-1920 (Ph. D. Dissertation,
University of Illinois at Chicage, 1983) details the
development of Illinois' policy toward feeble-minded
individuals. Curtis maintains that eugenic reformers in
Illinois, who succeeded in passing an involuntary permanent
commitment law in 1915, failed in their objectives because
many of the persons committed under the law "were not a
eugenic threat" (p. 207). To Curtis, the "fears of
transition and disorder" (p. 214) motivated the eugenics

48. The historical issues of eugenics have become
polemicized by their relationship to the contemporary
disputes over the heritability of intelligence and the uses
of standardized tests of intellectual measurement. See Leon
Kamin, "The Science and Politics of IQ," Social Research 41,
3 (Autumn 1974), 387-425; Franz Samelson, "On the Science
and Politics of IQ," Social Research 42, 3 (Autumn 1975),
467-488; and Kamin's reply in Ibid., 488-492 for an
introduction to the dispute. For more on this issue, see
below, Chapter Three, note 9.

49. Henry Goddard, "Sterilization and Segregation", in
David Hammack, editor, The Russell Sage Foundation,
Microfiche #102 CH 12, p. 9; "The Pedagogics of Eugenics,"
Unsigned Editorial, American Breeders' Magazine 3, 3 (1912),
p. 223. See also the important article by Edgar Doll, "The
Problem of the Mental Defective," School and Society 10, 242
(August 16, 1919), 187-191. Doll, a respected psychologist

and Goddard's successor at Vineland, reflected the
hereditarian point of view, but opposed sterilization as
"ineffective" (p. 191) and favored special public school
classes as a major remedy for the problem of mental

50. G. B. Arnold, "The Feeble-Minded in Virginia from an
Institutional Standpoint, A Paper Given in Richmond, April
12, 1935 to a joint meeting of the Children's Division and
the Mental Hygiene Division of the Virginia Conference of
Social Work," Virginia State Library, Richmond, p. 1.

51. Albert Deutsch's The Mentally Ill in America (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1949) is the classic treatment of
the humanitarian impulse. Gerald Grob's Mental Institutions
in America and Mental Illness and American Society, 1875-
1940 (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press,
1983) treat humanitarian concerns as an important, though by
no means the only, rationale for treatment of the mentally
ill. Individual institutional histories often stress the
importance of humane motives in the organization of these
facilities. Elizabeth Brown and Sarah Genheimer, Haven on
the Neuse: A History of Caswell Center. Kinston, North
Carolina, 1911-1964 (New York: Vantage Press, 1969) and
Benjamin Whitten, A History of Whitten Village (Clinton,
South Carolina: Jacobs Press, Inc, 1967) are two examples of
this genre for the South. Both are written by former
institutional officers.

52. For a contemporary view of the relationship between the
need for provisions for the feeble-minded and other social
welfare reforms, see Ira Hardy, "Schools for the Feeble-
Minded: The State's Best Insurance Policy, A speech read
before the Southern Medical Society, Jacksonville, Florida,
November 14, 1912," N.C.C.-U.N.C., p. 15.

53. James McCulloch, editor, The Call of the New South.
Southern Sociological Conference. 1912 (Nashville,
Tennessee: S.S.C. Press, 1912), p. 9. For information on
the S.S.C.'s role in Southern reform, see Dewey Grantham,
Southern Progressivism, pp. 374-385.

54. Marcus Fagg, "Report on Florida to the N.C.C.C.,"
Proceedings of the N.C.C.C.. 1912 (Fort Wayne, Indiana; The
Fort Wayne Printing Company, 1912), p. 503.

55. Martin Barr, "The Hows, the Whys, and the Wherefores of
the Training of Retarded Children," p. 211.

56. "Report of the Kentucky Mental Hygiene Survey, 1923,"
Reprinted in Gerald Grob, editor, Mental Hygiene in America:
Four Studies, 1921-1924, p. 138. For another Southern
example of this paternalism, see the A.R. of the State
Training School for Feeble-Minded of South Carolina, 1920.

It reported, "The inmates of this Institution are commonly
referred to as 'children' regardless of their ages" (p. 6),_
A.R., South Carolina State Archives, Columbia. See also
David Rothman's insightful essay, "The State as Parent:
Social Policy in the Progressive Era" in Willard Gaylin, et.
al. Doing Good, pp. 69-95. Rothman explains, "[i]ts
[Progressivism's] proponents were so attached to a
paternalistic model that they never concerned themselves
with the potential of their programs to be as coercive as
they were liberating" (p. 72). For a powerful critique of
Rothman and his tendency to overlook the nuances and
variations of Progressive thought, see Gerald Grob, "Doing
Good and Getting Worse: The Dilemma of Social Policy,"
Michigan Law Review 77 (January-March 1979), 761-783. Grob
postulates that "not all Progressives were hostile towards
different social groups; some were able to empathize and to
appreciate the value of cultural heterogeniety" (p. 776).

57. For the best example of this belief, see Robert Wiebe,
The Search for Order. "The heart of progressivism," wrote
Wiebe, "was the ambition of the new middle class to fulfill
its destiny through bureaucratic means." (p. 16). See also
Stephen Skowroneck, Building a New American State: The
Expansion of National Administrative Capabilities. 1877-1920
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982).

58. Dr. J. C. Carson, "The Multiple System of Institutional
Control," J.P.A. 14 (1909-1910), 93-100. For examples of
this trend in other states, see Dr. A. C. Rogers, "The Board
of Control System," J.P.A. 14 (1909-1910), 101-104 for
Minnesota; and Dean Collins, "Children of Sorrow: A History
of the Mentally Retarded in Kansas," Bulletin of the History
of Medicine 39 (January-February 1965), 53-78. Kansas also
exemplified the move to professionalism. Its state board,
organized in 1905 as a Board of Control of Charitable
Institutions, was re-named in 1914 as the State Board of

59. Dr. Moorhead Murdoch, "State Care for the Feeble-
Minded," J.P.A. 18 (1913-1914), p. 34.

60. "Socially inadequate" is a term invented by Harry
Laughlin of the Eugenics Record Office in 1921. This
category was designed to replace the "defective, dependent,
and delinquent" label then commonly used since it was
"shorter and more business-like". Laughlin went on to
explain that the category represents "a condition whereby
the individuals included are unable to meet the demands of
organized society in properly caring for themselves and in
behaving towards their fellows in the manner required of
useful citizens." Harry Laughlin, "The Socially Inadequate:
How Shall We Designate and Sort Them?," American Journal of
Sociology 27, 1 (July 1921), 54-70. Quotes are from p. 57.
"Reports to the General Assembly of South Carolina," South

Carolina State Archives, Columbia; "Reports of Georgia State
Boards," Georgia State Archives, Atlanta. Virginia's
experience appeared similar. In 1908, the state created a
State Board of Charities and Corrections. In 1922, it was
disbanded and re-organized as the Board of Public Welfare.
It became fully bureaucratized in 1929 in its final re-
organization as the Department of Public Welfare, R.G. 42,
State Board of Public Welfare Minutes, Virginia State
Archives, Richmond. For Kentucky's experience, in moving
from a State Board of Control for Charitable Institutions in
1906, through five bureaucratic changes to a Department of
Welfare in 1936 see Report of the Department of Welfare of
the Commonwealth of Kentucky. 1937-1939, p. 7.

61. Fifth A.R. of the South Carolina State Board of
Charities and Corrections, 1919, p. 25, South Carolina State
Archives, Columbia; "Report of the Georgia Training School
for Mental Defectives" in A.R. of the Georgia State Board of
Health for 1923, p. 11, R.G. 26, Sub-Group 1, Series 1,
Georgia State Archives, Atlanta.

62. Feeble-Minded and Epileptics in Institutions, 1923, p.
25. The total institutionalized feeble-minded population
rose a dramatic seventy-eight percent during this twenty
year period.

63. "Abstract of the Mississippi Mental Hygiene Survey,
1919," Mental Hygiene 4, 3 (July 1920), p. 683. See also
Dr. Byron Biggs, "A Conception of the Superintendent's
Responsibilities," J.P.A. 28 (1922-1923), 119-123. Biggs
wrote that "[the purpose of the institution] is to serve the
state at large, while its service to the individuals
committed or admitted to it, is secondary" (p. 119).

64. See Robert Dalleck, The American Style of Foreign
Policy (New York: Signet Books, 1983). Dalleck viewed
imperialism and overseas expansion as an integral part of
the Progressive mindset. The rhetoric of imperialist
responses to the problems of turn-or-the-century America
sounded quite similar to the comments of those concerned
with the problems caused by the feeble-minded. Imperialist
answers, Dalleck suggested, "demonstrated a wish not simply
to return to the past or to embrace the desirable features
of the present, but to invest the modern world with as many
symbols and practices of earlier times as possible" (p. 41).

65. Martin Barr, "The Imperative Call of our Present to our
Future," J.P.A. 7 (1902-1903), p. 8.

66. Unsigned editorial, J.P.A. 3 (1898-1899), p. 146.

67. See Paul Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order in
America. 1820-1920 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard
University Press, 1978), passim; and Anthony Platt, The

Child Savers: The Invention of Delinquency, 2nd Edition_
(Chicago: University of Chicago Pres, 1977), pp. 74-100.
For the personal mix of religious moralism and scientific
reasonong, see Leila Zenderland, Henry Goddard, pp. 110,

68. See Samuel Hays, The Response to Industrialism, pp. 71-
89. While many Progressive era reformers stressed the
importance of personal failure as a major cause of social
pathology, others recognized its roots in social and
economic conditions. See John W. Chambers II, The Tyranny
of Change: America in the Progressive Era. 1900-1917 (New
York: St. Martin's Press, 1980), pp. 119-125; and Robert
Wiebe, The Search for Order, pp. 168-171.

69. Dr. Helen McMurchy, "Relation of the Feeble-Minded to
Other Social Problems," p. 233. For more on Dr. McMurchy's
role in the Canadian eugenics crusade and the fight against
feeble-mindedness, see Theresa Richardson, The Century of
the Child, pp. 64-66.

70. C. Banks McNairy, "President's Conception of our Task-
Presidential Address to the 1923 Meeting of the A.A.S.F.M.,
Detroit, Michigan, June 17, 1923," J.P.A. 28 (1922-1923), p.
96. See also, the comments of Alice Morrison at the 1904
Association of Medical Officers of American Institutions for
the Idiotic and Feeble-Minded meeting, Alice Morrison,
"Comments on a paper given at the 1904 A.M.O. meeting,
Faribault, Minnesota," J.P.A. 8 (1903-1904), p. 45.

71. Morton Keller, Affairs of State: Public Life in Late
Nineteenth Century America (Cambridge, Massachusetts:
Belknap Press, 1977), p. 467.

72. Martin Barr, "The Hows, the Whys, and the Wherefores of
the Training of the Feeble-Minded," p. 211; Walter Fernald,
"The Burden of Feeble-Mindedness," p. 98.

73. Henry Goddard, "The Improvability of Feeble-Minded
Children," J.P.A. 17 (1912-1913)), p. 126. Goddard's work
at Vineland helped make it the leading center in the United
States for the study of feeble-mindedness. While there in
1912, he coined the descriptive term 'moron' to identify
higher-level feeble-minded individuals.

74. Dr. Charles Bernstein, "Self-Sustaining Feeble-Minded
Persons," J.P.A. 22 (1917-1918), p. 150. Bernstein became
the leader of the colony plan of supervision and a proponent
of the movement for community treatment of feeble-minded
individuals. See below, Chapter Three.

75. "Report of the South Carolina State Board of Public
Welfare, 1920," South Carolina State Archives, Columbia. p.

76. 1916-1918 Biennial Survey of Education, Department of
Interior, Bureau of Education (Washington D. C.: U. S.
Government Printing Office, 1921), Vol. 4, p. 714. For the
role of Henry Goddard and the Vineland Training School in
the growing special education movement, see Leila
Zenderland, Henry Goddard, pp. 235-354.

77. "Rhode Island Social Welfare Survey 1924," in Gerald
Grob, editor, Mental Hygiene in America, p. 75. See Stephen
Schlossman's review of David Rothman's Conscience and
Convenience in the Harvard Educational Review 52, 1
(February 1982), 77-83, for an analysis of this type of
Progressive thought. Though Schlossman stated Rothman does
not believe that humanitarianism motivated reformers, he
concluded Rothman feels that their vision was "distinctive
mainly for its celebration of pragmatic 'open-ended,
informal, and highly flexible policies'" (Schlossman, p. 77,
quoting Rothman, p. 43).

78. Joseph Mastin, "The New Colony Plan," Proceedings of
the N.C.C.C., 1916, p. 244.

79. Richard Milburn, "The Problems of Feeble-Mindedness,"
J.P.A. 13 (1908-1909), p. 56; Lewis Terman, "Feeble-Minded
Children in the Public Schools of California," School and
Society 5, 111 (Febraury 10, 1917), p. 161. See also
Charles Davenport, "Eugenics and Charity," Proceedings of
the N.C.C.C.. 1912 (Fort Wayne, Indiana: The Fort Wayne
Printing Company, 1912), p. 281.

80. Dr. William Cornell, "The Organization of State
Institutions for the Feeble-Minded in the United States,"
J.P.A. 25 (1920-1921), p. 25. David Rothman's "The State as
Parent" in Willard Gaylin, et. al. Doing Good, especially
pp. 69-88, offers a concise summary of the needs versus
rights dicotemy.


First- All plans and permanent improvements
of the institution should be made with a
view to eventually caring for . 1,000
children. Second- the institution should give
preference to the high grade mental defective
. Third- . the Caswell Training School
will always have to care for a certain
number of low grade untrained deficients . .
Fourth- the Caswell Training School should act
as a laboratory for the study of mental
defectiveness . Fifth- North Carolina should
have a sterilization law . .
(Kate Johnson, North Carolina Commissioner of
Public Welfare, 1925)1

In the period 1900-1940, those concerned with the

feeble-minded refined their methods of classifying their

subjects and embraced a variety of solutions to the problems

they posed. Intelligence testing and its many variants

became the standard means of identifying and classifying the

feeble-minded, although by 1940, critics had successful

altered earlier "scientific" models, while social and

behavioral definitions had grown in importance.

Regarding the actual treatment of the feeble-minded,

reformers and public officials proposed and implemented

various approaches. Institutionalization, criminalization,

colony-type arrangements, special education, and

sterilization each gained wide support for a time.

Moreover, concern about particular classes of the feeble-

minded, notably females and those involved in criminal

activities, evoked specifically targeted responses. Yet by

1940, largely because of an inability to resolve competing

claims, the lack of sustained support for any one solution,

and the financial exigencies of the depression,

institutionalization, with relatively little provision for

training or education, remained the dominant method of

programming for the mentally retarded.

During this forty year period, the South both followed

and stood apart from the rest of the country. For a variety

of reasons, including its poverty, its low level of public

services, its commitment to racial segregation, and its

generally conservative orientation toward governmental

functions, the South processed a smaller percentage of its

potential feeble-minded population that did other sections.

Like practitioners in other sections, however, professionals

in the South utilized many of the solutions advanced during

this time period. And like the rest of the nation, the

South retained institutionalization as the primary response

to the problems of the feeble-minded.

While institutionalization remained the overwhelming

choice in the search for solutions to the feeble-minded

problem, medical doctors, scientists, educators, and

psychologists suggested alternative methods of ameliorating

the consequences of mental retardation. The growth of

intelligence testing provided a hoped-for method for the

objective analysis of mental levels. By the mid-1920s, the

discovery of more complex hereditary laws allowed genetic

studies to progress beyond the simplistic gene trait

theories postulated by Charles Davenport.2 Moreover,

innovative superintendents challenged the efficacy of

institutional care by returning patients to community

settings, providing a model for the deinstitutionalization

movement of the 1970s and 1980s.3 Special education

classrooms proliferated, offering community alternatives to

placing high-level persons in institutions. However, fiscal

retrenchment in the 1930s forced the abandonment of many

alternatives to institutionalization. Psychologists and

educators, moreover, used the new testing measures more as a

tool in the commitment process than as a device to implement

remediation strategies for retarded persons.

During this period, eugenic sterilization, which

provided another alternative to institutionalization, also

came into use. The rationale for this procedure assumed

feeble-minded persons could be de-institutionalized only if

they could not procreate and therefore bear feeble-minded

offspring. Thus in many states, sterilization and release

from the institution went hand in hand. Sterilization,

however, never became the panacea its more ardent proponents

hoped. In spite of these alternative programs, then, the

desire to remove the feeble-minded by committing them to

institutions persisted in the field of mental retardation.

The need to define accurately feeble-mindedness and its

various sub-categories plagued experts and laymen alike

during this forty year period. The fuzziness of the

definition also provided difficulties in establishing

programs to remediate the problems of feeble-mindedness. In

1915, Frederick Kuhlman, superintendent of Minnesota State

School for the Feeble-minded, expressed his dissatisfaction

that "in no state . does the law attempt to define what

constitutes feeble-mindedness."4 Tennessee's 1928 statute

reflected this non-specificity. "The term 'feeble-minded'

shall include persons with such a degree of mental

defectiveness from birth or from early age," it stated,

"that they are unable to care for themselves and to manage

their affairs with ordinary prudence, and that they are a

menace to the happiness and safety of themselves or of

others."5 In 1910, Henry Goddard, using the newly designed

Binet Standardized Intelligence Test, attempted to clarify

the terminology by creating a new category under the rubric

of feeble-mindedness- the moron. Morons, of whom Goddard

declared "the public [are] entirely ignorant," composed the

highest level of mental defectiveness and required different

methods of training and education than those appropriate for

the lower classifications of idiot and imbecile.6 By 1927,

Goddard, then at Ohio State University, explained that

morons "are not hopeless and incurable mental detectives,

but merely the lowest group of the body politic .

capable of becoming, in a limited way, regular members of

the social group."7 While Goddard held out hope for

morons, however, many other experts considered them the most

dangerous category of mental defective. Indeed, it was in

the moron classification that the belief in feeble-

mindedness as deviance reached its full fruition. Writing

in 1919, Edgar Doll, then Goddard's colleague at Vineland,

wrote that "the moron, wherever we find him, is a constant

source of danger."8 In the very year Goddard spoke of the

promise of the moron category, that very class, composed

almost entirely of individuals with criminal histories or

sexual problems, comprised forty-four percent of the total

institutionalized population. This increasing

institutionalization of morons occurred in spite of the 1923

warning by C. Banks McNairy at the A.A.S.F.M. meeting in

Detroit that the "moron and the defective delinquent must

eventually be handled by the community."9

The 'discovery' of the moron class led to calls for

better methods of intellectual measurement. The development

of the Binet-Simon standardized intelligence tests provided

the first empirical scientific method of determining the

intellectual capabilities of feeble-minded individuals.

These tests also enabled psychologists and educators to

place persons more accurately within the newly specified

sub-categories of feeble-mindedness. Developed in France in

1906 as diagnostic tools for educational remediation by Dr.

Alfred Binet, the tests took on a different function in the

United States. Educational measurement experts in the

United States used the instruments as a standardized basis

for categorizing levels of mental deficiency, believing they

could solve the problems associated with subjective medical

classifications.10 Goddard used Binet's test questions,

standardized them on feeble-minded children in the 1910s,

and added the concept of a mental age equivalency for the

three levels of mental retardation- idiocy, imbecility, and

feeble-mindedness.11 In 1916, Dr. Lewis Terman of Stanford

University standardized the Binet test on thousands of

normal and feeble-minded children and introduced the idea of

the Intelligence Quotient (I.Q.). The I.Q. helped to take

into account the age and experience of the test taker,

neither of which could be considered by using Goddard's

mental age equivalency figures. The A.A.M.D. assigned each

level of feeble-mindedness (the term now "used generically

to include all degrees of mental defect") its own range of

I.Q. scores.12 Idiots tested out with scores of twenty-five

or lower, imbeciles were determined to have I.Q.s ranging

from twenty-five to fifty-five, and morons were classified

as having scores ranging from fifty-five to seventy-five.

These tests represented an ostensible advance in objective

identification of feeble-minded individuals and they did

offer a method of evaluation not based on value-laden

observation. "They [intelligence tests] enabled us to

explain feeble-mindedness," proclaimed Dr. Charles Bernstein

of New York's Rome State School in 1925. The tests also

"simplified the diagnosis, and furnished data for

training. "13

While the testing movement offered some hope for

easier, more scientific identification of feeble-minded

individuals, it also suffered from problems of question

bias, inadequate standardization, and poor administration.

Goddard's and Terman's use of the techniques of standardized

testing also raised doubts over the efficacy of the entire

procedure itself. When first administered on a large scale

basis in 1917 to males entering the Army, the tests revealed

an astonishing 47.3 percent of the test-takers as feeble-

minded. The median I.Q. scores for Southern males proved

even more frightening. Only Virginia males even averaged as

high as the moron range; for the others, the Army Alpha Test

proclaimed the sobering news that approximately fifty

percent of male Southerners were imbecilic (See Table

3.1).14 These figures, arrived at through the most advanced

scientific testing procedures, reinforced fears concerning

the increasing danger posed by the feeble-minded. The use

of I.Q. testing verified to many that feeble-mindedness

appeared on the rise. Far from being Social Darwinists, the

hereditarians involved in the testing movement were

primarily concerned with the survival of the unfit, and with

preventing, in the words of a North Carolina superintendent,

"this ever-increasing blight upon society."15

Opposition arose, however, to the uses, and frequent

abuses, of intelligence testing. While psychologist R. H.


Median IQ Scores of Southern Males

1917 Army Alpha Test

Rank Among States1

South Carolina
North Carolina

Median Alpha 10 Score2

Source: Data from Herbert Alexander. "A Comparison of
the Ranks of American States in Army Alpha and in Social-
Economic Status", School and Society (16, 405, September 30,
1922), pp. 389-390.

1. Only forty-one states were tabulated in the data.
Florida was not among them.

2. "Average" intelligence is scored at 100.00 on the
Army Alpha test.

Haskell looked back in 1944 on "the infallibility of the

Binet test, of the psychometric method, of the M.A., of the

I.Q. soon to follow [which] became a fetish to be worshipped

and protected from all doubt and attack, particularly in the

educational field. .," some professionals did raise

questions over the efficacy of intelligence testing as a

single measure of feeble-mindedness.16 Even as early as

1914, Dr. Frederick Kuhlman of Minnesota had stated that

"there is a need for both social and mental criterion; a

need for multiple standards of identification."17 In 1916,

J. E. Wallace Wallin, a St. Louis based psychologist,

reported on his use of the 1911 Goddard revision of the

Binet tests on Iowa farmers. "Not a single one of these

persons could by any stretch of the imagination be

considered feeble-minded," he concluded. Yet, according to

the test results, "every one of the above individuals would

be feeble-minded."18

The debate over testing also spilled over into a more

public forum. In 1922-1923, Walter Lippmann, the social

critic and newspaper editor, wrote a series of articles in

the New Republic attacking the whole moral and intellectual

basis of the intelligence testing movement. While critics

such as Wallin and Kuhlman recognized the place of testing

as a part of a larger identification process for feeble-

minded individuals, Lippmann argued that what "Binet started

is in danger of gross perversion by muddleheaded and

prejudiced men." While Lippman attacked the Army tests in

the public forum, psychologist Abraham Myerson did the same

within the profession. In a scathing 1924 article, Myerson

and Maurice Hexter blasted the intellectual presuppositions

of psychologists involved in the army tests. "These tests

might be used, and in fact are being used, we believe," they

warned, "by certain people- not to advance science or in the

scientific spirit, but for race discrimination and in the

spirit of propaganda."19 Myerson and Hexter believed the

tests simply verified, through scientific means, pre-

existing beliefs about the intelligence of immigrants,

blacks, and lower class groups.

The use of intelligence testing persisted, although

tempered somewhat by the disputes over the claims by some of

its more vociferous proponents, especially Harry Laughlin.

In the early 1920s, Laughlin's vigorous attacks on the

intelligence of immigrants politicized the debate even

further. In a time of intense nativism, Loughlin's

hereditarian and racial beliefs found a large audience. In

hearings before the House Committee on Immigration and

Naturalization in 1922, Laughlin, as the Committee's expert

eugenics agent, expressed his opinions on the importance of

intelligence testing. "If it had been possible to have

applied a mental test for the native mental abilities of the

immigrants who are now in the United States, and to have

drawn the line between low-average C and inferior D," he

announced, "there would have been refused admission 45.6

percent of . [the] aliens who are now in the United

States."20 Nativist feeling reached its high water mark

with the passage in 1924 of the Immigration Restriction Act.

While historians debate the importance of Laughlin to the

bill's passage, there can be no disputing that his testimony

raised doubts about the use of testing and the heritability

of intelligence. In 1924, Joseph Gillman, a University of

Pittsburgh sociologist, attacked both Laughlin's methods and

his findings. He concluded that Laughlin "attempted to

conceal his preconceptions in the elusiveness of technical

statistical inaccuracies."21

Gradually, the A.A.S.F.M. recognized the importance of

other factors in the identification of mental retardation.

American practitioners looked to the British definition of

mental deficiency, which centered on its social, rather than

its intellectual, aspects.22 In discussing a paper

delivered at the 1921 A.A.S.F.M. meeting, Dr. S. D. Porteus

of the Vineland Training School commented that it would be

wise to "not place too much dependence on intelligence tests

alone."23 By 1939, the Terman-developed Stanford revision

of the Binet intelligence test had been regraded to overcome

the bias previous versions had shown toward immigrant groups

and lower social classes. Simultaneously, psychologist David

Wechsler had developed an alternative test, the Wechsler

Bellevue Scale, which explicitly attempted to overcome these

problems.24 Presiding over the 1936 A.A.M.D. meeting,

Vineland's Edgar Doll spoke of the need for a new three-part

definition of feeble-mindedness. This new method of

identification would consist of "social inadequacy, due to

low intelligence, which has been developmentally

arrested."25 Doll's criteria remain the basis for the

present-day definition of mental retardation as written in

the 1983 A.A.M.D. Classification in Mental Retardation.

"Mental Retardation," it provided, "refers to significantly

subaverage general intellectual functioning existing

concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and

manifested during the development period."26

While institutional leaders argued over the definition

of feeble-mindedness, they also appeared perplexed over

commitment procedures and the methods states used to admit

persons to institutions. Commitment procedures varied

widely from state to state, reflecting differing

interpretations of retardation and its causes and

consequences. In a 1967 article summarizing commitment

procedures, educator John Clausen wrote that "legal

definitions have been prominent in England. In the U.S.A.,

however, such definitions have seldom been referred to in

the professional literature .. ."27 American practioners

seemed more apt to rely on medical and educational criteria

for identifying feeble-minded individuals. There often

appeared, in the words of a social worker examining

provisions for retarded persons, a lack of "an exact

definition of the condition to require this form of

treatment [commitment]."28 Since states, not the federal

government, operated institutions, there existed a variety

of differing commitment procedures, a circumstance that

often made admission difficult. No peculiarly Southern

pattern developed in setting criteria for commitment; states

often simply followed precedents established in the

commitment of mentally ill individuals to mental hospitals.

This usually involved application to a local court, where a

judge would issue an order to commit based on testimony.

Verification of mental deficiency had to be corroborated by

an expert medical witness.29 Kentucky and Mississippi,

however, showed little faith in medical judgements, instead

relying on a jury to determine the necessity of


The 1915 Illinois commitment law, enacted in hopes of

providing a model for the nation, adopted both social and

medical criteria and assumed institutionalization was an

appropriate response for feeble-minded individuals who posed

a menace to their community. This law exemplified the

political arena in which the debate over feeble-mindedness

was fought. The law passed, according to the chairman of the

State Charities Commission, because its legislative backers

"laid great stress upon the necessity of such a law for the

protection of the feeble-minded themselves, and by never

mentioning the race improvement side of the problem in our

efforts in the legislature."31 During the first forty years

of the twentieth century, state courts both North and South

upheld these various commitment procedures providing they

allowed for hearings and appeal proceedings, the presence of

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