In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Maine History Online

Maine History Online
MHS (Maine Historical Society)
Header Graphic

Institutional Care: From 'Feeble-Minded' to 'Disabled'

This Exhibit Contains 26 Items
1
Girls, New Gloucester Hall, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Girls, New Gloucester Hall, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Item 25640 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

Institutions were long thought to be the most humane and most modern way for society to care for people who had been labeled "feeble-minded," "idiot," "moron," "defective," "deficient" and "retard."

Maine's institution, like many, was called a "school."

Begun as the "Maine School for the Feeble-Minded" in 1908, it became "Pownal State School" in 1925.

The designation of "school" stuck, although classroom education was a small part of the mission of the institution.


2
Hill Farm, New Gloucester, ca. 1937

Hill Farm, New Gloucester, ca. 1937

Item 25636 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

When the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded opened, the "patients" lived at Hill Farm on the New Gloucester property.

As the population of the facility grew rapidly, so did the building of large dormitories.

Gray and Staples halls were the first dorms. Planners had thought residents would live in small units, but that was not practical due to the ever-growing number of residents.


3
Pownal Hall, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Pownal Hall, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Item 25642 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

By the 1840s, some physicians in Europe and America began to believe that "idiots" could be educated and began making distinctions among people with developmental problems to clarify who could be educated and who could not.

The institutions that opened in the late 19th century often had doctors as superintendents.

Their goal was to educate the residents in basic academic and social skills, with the intention of returning them to the community as teens or young adults.


4
Cumberland Hall, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Cumberland Hall, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Item 25633 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

Separating those with development problems into institutions was believed to be an economically sound approach -- as well as to provide a quiet, calm setting for the residents to complete their studies.

The Maine School for the Feeble-Minded apparently followed this trend. The enabling legislation passed in 1907 specified that the residents of the new facility would be between ages 3 and 21.


5
Barns, Valley Farm, New Gloucester, ca. 1937

Barns, Valley Farm, New Gloucester, ca. 1937

Item 25651 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

The vision of what institutions should and could do often butted up against realities -- especially economic ones.

The per-patient costs were higher than anticipated and, as the institutions got larger, the quality of care suffered.

Similar concerns hampered other state institutions as well.


6
Kitchen staff, Pownal State School, 1936

Kitchen staff, Pownal State School, 1936

Item 25629 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

The population grew rapidly for several reasons. First, some medical personnel and caregivers had a goal of sending all developmentally disabled persons to insititutions.

Also, judges sometimes sent people to the facility because they were poor or orphans with no one to care for them.

In one well-known case, the state removed residents of Malaga Island off Phippsburg from the island in 1912. Many of the residents were mixed race and some, when removed from the island, were sent to the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded.

Graves in the cemetery at Malaga were dug up and reinterred at the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded cemetery.


7
Kitchen, Pownal State School, New Gloucester, 1938

Kitchen, Pownal State School, New Gloucester, 1938

Item 25632 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

Further, the institution never kept to the original legislation specifying that it would serve those ages 3-21. Older persons were residents and few people left at any age, at least legally.

Over the years, many residents escaped from the facility, some permanently.


8
Kitchen, Pownal State School, ca. 1938

Kitchen, Pownal State School, ca. 1938

Item 25631 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

The post World War I era changed ideas about care for persons with developmental issues -- in Maine and elsewhere.

At the New Gloucester facility, a new superintendent, Dr. Stephen Vosburg, arrived in 1919.

He brought with him new ideas about the facility's population and appropriate treatments.

America viewed persons with developmental problems as potential criminals and dangerous to society. These ideas affected how communities and institutions dealt with persons with developmental disabilities.


9
Dining hall, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Dining hall, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Item 25634 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

For example, many professionals believed that retardation was hereditary. The method to stop the "spread" of mental retardation was sterilization.

It was an era of a belief in eugenics: selective human reproduction to ensure that the "best" people with the "best" genes reproduced -- and those with "defective" traits would not reproduce.

Vosburg argued in favor of sterilization for what he called the "subnormal" population in Maine.


10
Valley Farm, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Valley Farm, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Item 25650 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

In 1925, a state law permitted sterilizations of persons deemed to be mentally deficient.

Also in 1925, the facility Vosburg headed changed its name to the Pownal State School, dropping what had become an out-of-date term, "feeble-minded."


11
Laundry, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Laundry, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Item 25635 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

Along with eugenics, the post World War I era brought the use of intelligence testing.

The tests differentiated levels of disability and hence, suggested different care options.

Still, most doctors urged parents of children born with developmental problems to place them in institutions immediately after birth.


12
Students in classroom, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Students in classroom, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Item 25645 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

In the 1930s, while institutions like Pownal State School continued to grow, many began to realize that changes were needed.

First, it was too expensive and impractical to think of institutionalizing everyone who had developmental disabilities.

Some professionals began considering the benefits of community-based care for those with less severe disabilities.

This included the idea of "special education" in public schools for those children who could function in the community.


13
Boy Scouts, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Boy Scouts, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Item 25646 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

In addition, education was stressed more for some residents of Pownal State School.

The institution provided elementary level academic training as well as training in many skills: residents worked on one of the two farms, in the kitchen, the laundry and the hospital.


14
Boy Scout Troop, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Boy Scout Troop, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Item 25647 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

Girls and women learned sewing and other crafts and boys and men learned a variety of manual skills -- all tailored to the ability of the person.

The school had a woodshop and print shop and some students learned how to repair machinery of various types.


15
Woodshop, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Woodshop, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Item 25653 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

Pownal also had Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops that participated in parades and other events outside of the institution, as well as giving members opportunities within the school.

While the stigma of developmental problems would remain for many years, these activities suggested to residents and the community outside of Pownal State School that developmental problems did not equate with "criminal" or "dangerous" behavior.

A new era of care had begun as a new term, "mental deficiency," was being used.


16
Print shop, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Print shop, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Item 25643 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

As the public and professionals began to think differently about persons with "mental deficiencies," they also began to re-examine the institutions.

Despite the word "school" in many institutions' names, the facilities had become institutions increasingly more custodial than educational.

The problem was exacerbated by the Great Depression of the 1930s and the shift of many domestic resources to the war effort in the early 1940s.


17
Playground, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Playground, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Item 25641 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

Funding was tight, but the population of the school continued to grow, reaching about 1,100 by the end of the 1930s.

The growth was fueled, in part, by the use of Pownal State School to house people without economic means, problem youths and others who did not meet the intent of the facility

Dr. Nessib S. Kupelian, who served as superintendent of Pownal from 1938 to 1953, envisioned Pownal State School growing to serve more than 7,000 residents.

In 1939, there were 51 buildings and some 200 employees. The facility was like a small city with its own water system, farms and power plant.


18
Marjorie Kessell, Pownal State School, 1936

Marjorie Kessell, Pownal State School, 1936

Item 25638 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

In the post-World War II era, Pownal State School, like many other institutions was increasingly in the public's awareness as commissions, interested citizen groups, former patients and former employees criticized conditions within the facility or raised questions about its method or effectiveness.

Gov. Frederick Payne, at the suggestion of the Maine Federation of Women's Clubs, appointed a visitation committee that reported on Pownal State School in January 1951.

The report was quite critical. It cited instances of abuse of residents and a lack of constructive work on their behalf.

Kupelian and other staff defended their institution and the Maine Legislature appropriated funds for staff increases and other changes.


19
Nurses, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Nurses, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Item 25639 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

A new superintendent, Dr. Peter W. Bowman, led the institution into its next phase.

Public scrutiny and criticisms continued, however.

The new superintendent was sensitive about the comments and attempted to ensure that employees treated patients appropriately. He stressed professionalism and training for staff.

A Parents, Friends and Associates group advocated on behalf of the institution.


20
Residents, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Residents, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Item 25644 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

Bowman also sought to increase the number of staff members and funding for buildings or renovations to upgrade the institution.

New buildings were built, including Bliss and Kupelian halls, which opened in 1949, and housed hundred of children in open wards.

In later years, Kupelian would come under fire for poor conditions "warehousing" residents.


21
Hill Farm, Pownal State School, ca. 1953

Hill Farm, Pownal State School, ca. 1953

Item 25630 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

As part of Bowman's efforts to upgrade facilities and increase staff, the facility undertook censuses to determine numbers of patients and staff.

The cards, which included photographs, helped Bowman and others at the institution justify their pleas for staff and for funds for facilities improvements.

The buildings shown here, Hill Farm, closed in 1961, by which time the institution had long since abandoned the founding concept of a farm where the "feeble-minded" could work and the institution be self-supporting.


22
Vosburgh Hall, Pownal State School, ca. 1953

Vosburgh Hall, Pownal State School, ca. 1953

Item 25652 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

Vosburg Hall, which opened in 1937, also was a residential building. It closed in 1983.

At the time of the census, it housed 132 residents, had a supervisor, an assistant and 13 attendants.

The census notes that Vosburg needed a supervisor, two assistants and 21 attendants.


23
Sign, Pineland Hospital, New Gloucester, ca. 1957

Sign, Pineland Hospital, New Gloucester, ca. 1957

Item 25648 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

With each new philosophical era of the institution came a new name.

In 1957, the facility became the Pineland Hospital and Training Center.

The name suggested the new focus: Bowman, like his predecessors, was a medical doctor, and believed in a medical model of treatment.

He added a dentist and psychiatric employees. The name of the facility became "Pineland Hospital and Training Center."

All reference or labels about the "condition" of the residents was gone.


24
Yarmouth Hall, Pownal State School, ca. 1953

Yarmouth Hall, Pownal State School, ca. 1953

Item 25654 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

Pineland Hospital and Training Center was accredited in 1963, by which time it was a psychiatric hospital for children as well as a facility for mentally retarded persons.

More residents were being released into the community, as were patients nationwide. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, caregivers, families and others questioned whether institutions provided the best care -- or the best opportunities -- for persons with disabilities.

For residents with severe disabilities, the options were more limited -- and the conditions of treatment brought continued criticism.


25
Children's menu, Pownal State School, 1943

Children's menu, Pownal State School, 1943

Item 25637 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

By 1970, Pineland had lost its accreditation and, in 1971, Bowman lost his job as superintendent.

In 1973, the facility's name was changed yet again. "Pineland Center" as it was now known had dropped any reference to "medical" as well as to "disability."

The national trend of deinstitutionalization and community-based care affected Pineland. The patient population decreased to fewer than 500 by the mid-1970s.


26
Dietary for officers and employees, Pownal State School, 1943

Dietary for officers and employees, Pownal State School, 1943

Item 25649 info
New Gloucester Historical Society

Pineland stayed in the public eye. Again, national trends played out in Maine as Pine Tree Legal Assistance filed a class action suit in 1975 alleging that Pineland did not provide adequate care.

The suit resulted in a consent decree in 1978 that created care standards and set a goal for a smaller institution. The institution's progress was monitored by the courts until 1981.

Criticisms of poor care continued, however, and, along with continuing changes in philosophies of care for developmentally handicapped persons and rising costs, led to a state decision in 1991 to close Pineland.

It closed in 1996.


This Exhibit Contains 26 Items
Back to previous page