Library Collections: Document: Full Text
The Origin And Nature Of Our Institutional Models
Writers of the period waxed rhapsodic over their own benevolence and drew an idyllic picture of the new trend: "... Here and there, scattered over the country, may be 'villages of the simple,' made up of the warped, twisted, and incorrigible, happily contributing to their OWN and the support of those more lowly, -- 'cities of refuge,' in truth; havens in which all shall live contentedly, because no longer misunderstood nor taxed with extractions beyond their mental or moral capacity" (Kerlin, 1885, p. 174). "... God's innocent ones ..." (Kerlin, 11886, p. 288) were to reside "... in harmony with the spirit of a progressive age and a Christian philanthropy" (Rogers, 1888, p. 105) in " . . . noble institutions of the times -- those temples sacred to the restoration of fallen humanity, nearer Christ in his work than half the shrines dedicated in his name . . .." (Green, 1884, p. 269). These Institutions were being "... sustained . . . by an abounding popular sympathy . . . " (Kerlin, 1886, p. 291) and were "... supplementing the work of the creator" (Pickett, 1885, p. 449).
If the institution was to be a Garden of Eden, it needed lands and gardens, and sure enough, an emphasis on gardening and farming developed. Thus, Osborne (1891) stated: "Ample acreage (not less than one acre per patient) will be provided for the proper seclusion of defectives from the stare of the idle and curious . . .." Kerlin (1885, p. 165) described the Connecticut institution as being "... beautifully situated on a large farm . . .", and by 1915, Schlapp (1915, p. 322) was able to say: "Most of our institutions are beautifully situated in the country." To this day, the phrase "happy farm" (much like "funny farm") is occasionally heard in reference to state hospitals and institutions for the retarded.
2. The idea developed that if there was to be special protective care, it would be advantageous to congregate larger numbers of retardates together. If institutions had to serve both an educational and custodial function, and if, for several decades, the educational department of an institution turned over more graduates to the custodial department than the latter discharged (usually because of death), then it followed that institutions were under multiple pressure to grow. And grow they did. For instance, in Massachusetts, the first call by the trustees for substantial enlarging of the institution came in 1881, and this enlargement was to accommodate not only the "improvables" but also the "unimprovables" (Kerlin, 1885, p. 159). In Ohio, the transition from the smaller educational to the larger custodial institution was aided greatly by a disastrous fire in the year 1881. "Perhaps no trouble weighed more heavily upon the management than an effort to prevent the reconstruction of the building as an educational institution for feebleminded children." The issue was "squarely met," and $400,000 was appropriated to construct the "... best built and the best appointed institution in the world . . ." -- for 600 residents (Kerlin, 1885, pp. 163-164).
It is fascinating to trace the enlargement of institutions, and the fitful process of rationalization that accompanied it. First, to make room for rationalizing the enlargement, the pioneers' ideal of the small institution had to be destroyed. Paradoxically, this was done by accusing small institutions of "hospitalism": "It is the small institution against which may be pronounced the objection of moral "hospitalism." The large, diffuse, and thouroughly classified institution is another affair, and can be to its wards and employees as cosmopolitan as a city" (Kerlin, 1884, p. 262). "The growth of our institution to the proportion of a village, as earnestly urged by the superintendent, divides the board. The conservative element, which from the beginning has considered an institution of fifty or sixty children as the ideal, is still struggling against the inevitable. But thanks to Ohio, which continues to show us the way, in which all progressive States will follow" (Kerlin, 1885b, p. 369).
As usual, the irresistible trend toward enlargement was, at first, rationalized as being for the benefit of the resident. One detects the sentiment, present perhaps in all generations, that it is better for the deviant if he associates with his own kind: "We find that we must congregate them to get our best results. It is only from a large number that we can select enough of any one grade to make a group or class." "In order to have companionship, the most necessary thing in the education of all children, we must have large numbers from which to make up our small classes of those who are of an equal degree of intelligence" (Knight, 1891, p. 108). "We have also proved that we must have large institutions if we would get the best results; for, while the training of the imbecile must always depend mainly upon individual effort, yet the types are so diverse that it is only from considerable numbers that classes of a general degree of development are secured" (Knight, 1895, p. 153). "I believe that a large state institution is the best place for the feeble-minded or idiotic child" (Johnson, 1901, p. 410).