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Idiocy: And Its Treatment By The Physiological Method
"The institution whose foundation-stone is to be laid, will be like a last link in a chain -- it will complete the circle of the State's charities, which will then embrace every class whose infirmities call for public aid. It has long included the deaf mutes, the blind and the insane and it is now to include the idiots -- a class far, far more deplorably afflicted than either of the others.
"The ceremony will be fleeting and soon forgotten; the building itself will in time decay, but the institution will last while the State lasts; for when the people once recognize the claim of any class of unfortunates, there is no fear of their ever repudiating the debt of charity. The bonds lie deep in the heart of humanity as the foundation-stone you now lay lies deep in the bosom of the earth."
Even we, though a stranger, unable to appreciate the elevated tone of these aspirations, were rendered capable of expressing cognate feelings by the contagious influence of the engrossing topic. We said, "God has scattered among us, rare as the possessors of talent or genius, the idiot, the blind, the deaf mute, in order to bind the talented to the incapable, the rich to the needy, all men to each other, by a tie of indissoluble solidarity. The old bonds are dissolving; man is already unwilling to contribute money or palaces for the support of indolent classes; but he is every day more ready to build palaces and give annuities for the indigent or infirm, the chosen friends of Jesus Christ. To see that stone, token of a new alliance between humanity and a class hitherto neglected, is the greatest joy of my life; for I, too, have labored for the poor idiot.. . ."
These were a few of the transient expressions of the lasting feeling evinced at that memorable meeting. Once awakened in our bosoms, these feelings live for ever, and our actions are only their translation in deeds and monuments.
To render these feelings into facts, one nation after another has acknowledged its duty towards the idiot. In Switzerland, Dr. J. Guggenbuhl began to study cretinism in 1839, and opened his school on the Abendberg in 1842, simultaneously with that of M. Saegert, at Berlin; both, it is said, without having any knowledge of our practice, or of our four successive pamphlets on the treatment and education of idiots, already published and exhausted. In 1846, Dr. Kern established a school at Leipsig; and the writings of Drs. A. Reed, Twining and J. Conolly gave birth to the first English institution at Bath. In 1848, Sir S. M. Peto devoted his own mansion, Essex Hall, Colchester, to the same destination. Scotland opened her first institution in 1852; and in June, 1853, was laid by Prince Albert, the corner-stone of the school of Earlswood, Surrey. Nearly all the nations of Europe followed these examples.
As early as 1842-3, Horace Mann and George Sumner had become familiar with our personal labors at Bicêtre, on which they wrote approvingly, sending over the seeds which soon rose from American soil. Dr. S. B. Woodward, Dr. Backus, of Rochester, New York, Judge Byington, Dr. S. G. Howe, Dr. E. Jarvis, and Dr. H. B. Wilbur, all of Massachusetts, were the first to move the public opinion of the Legislatures of their respective States. Indeed, Dr. Backus went so far as to report a bill to the Senate, at Albany, on the 13th of January, 1846, for the purchase of a site, and the erection of suitable buildings, for an asylum for idiots. This bill passed the Senate, and was at first concurred in by the Assembly, but subsequently rejected on political grounds. In 1847 it met with a similar fate. Massachusetts, a few days behind New York at the start, succeeded sooner. The 22d of January, 1846, the Hon. Mr. Byington offered a resolution to the Legislature, for the appointment of a commission to investigate the condition of idiots in that State. The resolution passed the House; Dr. S. G. Howe, Judge Byington, and G. Kimball were appointed Commissioners. Their report was favorable to the formation of an experimental school for idiots, which was opened in October of the same year, and remains in its permanent organization under the able supervision of Dr. Howe.
But private enterprise moves faster than political bodies. Dr. H. B. Wilbur had already opened in July, at Barre, Massachusetts, the private institution which he left only at the call of the State of New York, and which Dr. George Brown has since so successfully conducted.
In 1851, the State of New York established an experimental school at Albany, for which the services of Dr. Wilbur were secured. The result of this experiment, purposely carried on under the eyes of the Legislature, was so satisfactory that a permanent State institution was erected in 1854.
In 1852, a private school had been founded in Germantown by Mr. J. B. Richards, which soon became the "Pennsylvania Training School for Idiots," at Media. The States of Connecticut and Ohio opened their institutions, respectively, in 1855 and 1857; Kentucky in 1860; and Illinois in 1865. Thus the United States has eight of these schools, in which nearly one thousand children are constantly in training. And this is only a beginning. All the Western and Southern States will soon possess similar establishments; and the city of New York, with its immense suburbs, cannot much longer send its idiots to the northern climate of Syracuse, depriving them of the warmth of the sea-shore, and of the visits of their friends. But more, New York city must have its institution for idiots, because it contains the mature talents and growing capacities in all the branches of human inquiry, whose concourse must be insured to perfect the method of treatment of these children, and to deduce therefrom the important discoveries justly expected in anthropology.