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Letters and Journals of Samuel Gridley Howe

Creator:  (editor)
Date: 1909
Publisher: Dana Estes & Company, Boston
Source: Available at selected libraries
Figures From This Artifact: Figure 1

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Page 36:


The happy story moves on to a happier climax. In 1851, the Joint Committee on Public Charitable Institutions visited the school and reported that:


"The experiment seems to have succeeded entirely. The capacity of this unfortunate class for improvement seems to be proved beyond question. The school, however, must be abandoned unless adopted by the Legislature and put upon a permanent footing. Meantime, an institution has been regularly incorporated under the name of the 'Massachusetts School for Idiotic and Feeble-minded Youth,' and the corporation is composed chiefly of persons who have been connected with the Institution for the Blind while the experiment for training idiots was going on in that establishment."


The Committee went on to recommend that five thousand dollars be paid regularly to the treasurer of this school, under certain provisions.


So the School for Feeble-minded was established, and continues to this day; as noble, helpful, and beautiful an institution as even Massachusetts owns.


In 1852 appeared the fourth Report; "being the third and final Report on the Experimental School For Teaching And Training Idiotic Children; also the first report of the trustees of the Massachusetts School for Idiotic and Feeble-minded Youth."


In this Report my father says:


"When the first steps were taken in this matter by the Legislature of Massachusetts, in 1846, it was the common belief -- indeed, one might say that with very rare exceptions it was the universal belief -- in this country, that idiots were beyond the reach of the most zealous educator's skill, and almost beyond the reach of human sympathy. . . .


"Our law considered them as paupers, but classed them with rogues and vagabonds; for it provided that they should be kept within the precincts of the House of Correction.


"The most melancholy feature of the whole was that they were condemned as worthless and incapable of improvement; and the law required their removal from the only place where they were comfortable, the State Lunatic Asylum, whenever it was necessary to make room for the less unfortunate insane, and it sent them, not to another asylum, but to the houses of correction. There was not, throughout this whole continent, any systematic attempt to lift them out of their brutishness. Even in Massachusetts, where the maniac is made to go clad and kept in mental quiet, -- where the blind are taught to read, the mute to speak, yea, and even the blind mute to do both, -- even here the poor idiot was left to that deterioration which certainly follows neglect. He had but little talent given him, and by neglect or abuse that little was lost, until, growing more and more brutish, he sank unregretting and unregretted into an early grave, without ever having been counted as a man.


"Now, besides this institution, there has sprung up a large and respectable private school in this Commonwealth (at Barre, organized by Dr. Wilbur); and the Legislature of the State of New York has organized one there upon a liberal footing. It has been shown here and elsewhere that even idiots are not beyond the educator's skill; and consequently, from every part of the country come up eager inquiries from anxious parents, in whose breasts the hope has dawned that something may yet be done for children whom they had considered as beyond hope.


"Even this measure of success, though it is only a part of what has been obtained, should give confidence and courage to those who enter new fields of practical religion. It should show that as no depth of sin places men beyond the redeeming love of the All-Beneficent, so no depth of ignorance ought to place their neighbour beyond their earnest efforts for his relief. . . .


"The results are abundantly satisfactory. . . .


"Eighteen were dumb, or used only a few detached words in an interjectional sense, -- as 'Mamma!' Of these, only ten remained. Four now talk, that is, use more or less words with meaning; two begin to do so; and four are still mute. Of the whole number, only four knew their letters. Of the remaining twenty-four, only twelve remained over a year. Of these twelve, eight now know their letters and can make out single sentences, and some can read simple stories.


"It is true that these children and youth speak and read but little, and that little very imperfectly compared with others of their age; but if one brings the case home, and supposes these to be his own children, it will not seem a small matter that a daughter who it was thought would never know a letter, can now read a simple story, and a son who could not say 'father,' can now distinctly repeat a prayer to his Father in heaven. . . .


"Such are some of the results of the Experimental School for Teaching and Training Idiotic Children, as far as they can be set forth in numbers and words; but as was observed before, the principal result, being of a moral nature, cannot well be so set forth. It is a delicate ordeal which public institutions of beneficence pass in rendering a report of their works. They may not be able to render a full account of all the good they do, even if they would. The balance, however, in which some would weigh the worth of their works is not fit for the purpose. One might as well weigh diamonds upon hay-scales. For instance, they say the State has granted seventy-five hundred dollars for this Experimental School, and by the showing of its friends there has been but a score or so of idiotic children in any way benefited; while with the same amount of money we might have sent many gifted young men to college or taught hundreds of children in common schools, and they would have been worth more to the State than all the idiots that ever were or ever will be in it.

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