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Richard Turcotte: Remembering Pownal State School

This Exhibit Contains 17 Items
1
Richard Turcotte, Lewiston, ca. 1970

Richard Turcotte, Lewiston, ca. 1970

Item 23920 info
Maine Historical Society

Richard Turcotte was about 30 years old and living at the Pownal State School in New Gloucester in 1944 when an editorial writer described the institution as "The Compassionate Heart of Maine" and a place for the state's "perpetual children."

Within a decade of that editorial, Turcotte was living on his own in Lewiston, working to support himself.


2
Vosburgh Hall, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Vosburgh Hall, Pownal State School, ca. 1937

Item 23921 info
Maine Historical Society

An Androscoggin County Probate Court judge in 1925 followed doctors' assessments that Turcotte, then 11, was "a fit subject for Pownal State School."

Richard Turcotte's mother, Phillipine Lacroix Turcotte, died when he was about three. His father, Eugene Turcotte, died earlier in 1925.

Parentless, with no immediate relatives nearby, Turcotte lived with neighbors for a while, then, in December 1925, was sent to live at Pownal State School.


3
Staff members, Pownal State School, 1941

Staff members, Pownal State School, 1941

Item 23922 info
Maine Historical Society

Governor Percival Baxter noted in 1925, the year Turcotte arrived at Pownal, that "735 feeble minded are now being cared for." He said the legislature's work to increase the capacity of the facility "must continue until practically every feeble minded person is in the State's care."

Many in Maine and elsewhere believed that the "feeble minded" were dangerous, likely to be criminals, and should not reproduce.


4
Maybelle Finley, Pownal State School, ca. 1940

Maybelle Finley, Pownal State School, ca. 1940

Item 23923 info
Maine Historical Society

Turcotte's photo album sidesteps these and other issues related to the facility.

Instead, it shows his views of his home and the people he cared about who were part of Pownal State School.

Maybelle Finley, shown here, was a staff member at the Pownal School. The photo appears to be staged, perhaps as a publicity shot.


5
Frank Finley, Pownal State School, ca. 1940

Frank Finley, Pownal State School, ca. 1940

Item 23924 info
Maine Historical Society

Turcotte clearly was friends with the Finleys. He probably took this snapshot of Maybelle's husband, Frank, and their dog.

On the back of the photo is written, "Richard Turcotte from Mr. and Mrs. Finley."

Various staff members probably replaced parent figures and other adult relatives in the lives of young Pownal residents.

Turcotte was about 30 when this photo was taken. Since the photo is signed "Mr. and Mrs." the Finleys apparently were in some position of authority in relation to Turcotte.


6
View of Pownal State School, 1939

View of Pownal State School, 1939

Item 23925 info
Maine Historical Society

This view of Pownal State School and some of the grounds is an almost idyllic landscape scene, suggesting Turcotte's fondness for the school that had been his home for 14 years when the picture was taken.

The year the picture was taken, Pownal State School had more than 1,000 patients, 200 employees, and 51 buildings.


7
Three residents, Pownal State School, ca. 1940

Three residents, Pownal State School, ca. 1940

Item 23926 info
Maine Historical Society

Turcotte's view of Pownal State School as a peaceful landscape is continued in this picture of three friends sitting on Adirondack chairs near trees on the grounds of the facility.

The adult residents of the school likely were friends of Turcotte.

The Maine Legislature passed a bill in 1907 to establish "a home for the care and education of idiotic and feeble minded between the ages of three and 21."

However, many of the residents of Pownal State School were older adults, a number of whom probably had resided at the facility since they were school-aged.


8
Pownal State School, ca. 1950

Pownal State School, ca. 1950

Item 23981 info
Maine Historical Society

Young residents at Pownal State School attended school and, if able, held various types of jobs on the campus.

Turcotte was in the seventh grade at Pownal.

Records note that he was "quiet, orderly, very sensitive, and tried hard to learn."

He reportedly was interested in arithmetic, history and drawing.

However, he was said to have "lost interest in school" and was excused from further classes after seventh grade.

Records in the 1930s suggest that classroom instruction lasted only through the sixth grade.


9
Valley Farm, Pownal State School, ca. 1945

Valley Farm, Pownal State School, ca. 1945

Item 23954 info
Maine Historical Society

During the 1920s, the facility built and developed two farms, Hill Farm and Valley Farm.

The farms included a dairy, piggery, and slaughter house.

Some residents worked on the farms. Many, including Turcotte, had jobs in other areas and were reportedly being trained in those jobs.

The superintendent in the 1940s, Dr. N. S. Kupelain, said that about 60 percent of the Pownal residents were incapable of supporting themselves.


10
Camping, Bradbury Mountain, Pownal, ca. 1940

Camping, Bradbury Mountain, Pownal, ca. 1940

Item 23927 info
Maine Historical Society

In 1929, the school began a Boy Scout troop, known for re-enacting Indian ceremonial dances and pageants.

There also was a Camp Fire Girls group which, among other things, carried out several service projects.

It is not clear whether Turcotte was part of the troop, but his album contains a number of photographs from camping trips at Bradbury Mountain in the 1940s and 1950s, when Turcotte was an adult.


11
Pownal State School band, ca. 1955

Pownal State School band, ca. 1955

Item 23980 info
Maine Historical Society

The school offered a variety of entertainments and activities. For at least some time, it had a baseball team.

Concerts and other activities were on the schedule for residents. Movies were shown, field days held, and religious services offered.


12
Richard J. Turcotte, Pownal State School, ca. 1945

Richard J. Turcotte, Pownal State School, ca. 1945

Item 23929 info
Maine Historical Society

When Richard Turcotte left school at age 12, he was assigned to work in the hospital kitchen.

The hospital was built in 1931, after years of lobbying by the Pownal School administration.

Turcotte apparently kept the job for most of his time at Pownal and, when he left the institution, he found maintenance work in hospitals.


13
Richard Liberty, New Gloucester, ca. 1945

Richard Liberty, New Gloucester, ca. 1945

Item 23931 info
Maine Historical Society

Richard Liberty was a younger resident at Pownal who apparently became friends with Turcotte as he appears in several photos in Turcotte's album.

He may have worked with Turcotte at the hospital.


14
Nurse, Pownal State School, ca. 1945

Nurse, Pownal State School, ca. 1945

Item 23953 info
Maine Historical Society

Turcotte probably worked with this nurse at the hospital.

His photos focus on the location and his friends -- both staff and fellow residents.

Absent from the photos are any indication of problems at the facility -- overcrowding, inadequate clothing, lack of "rehabilitation," staff shortages and patient abuse.

All were charges leveled in a report issued in 1947 that grew out of an investigative visit to the facility by the Maine Federation of Women's Clubs.


15
Bernice Childs, Edith Young, ca. 1955

Bernice Childs, Edith Young, ca. 1955

Item 23982 info
Maine Historical Society

Turcotte's records note that he asked to leave the facility to work at Mercy Hospital in Portland, probably in 1953. The request apparently was granted, although the records contain no confirmation.

Turcotte's photos from the 1950s and beyond show glimpses of his life outside Pownal.

Bernice Childs and Edith Young also had been residents of Pownal State School and probably were released about the same time Turcotte was.

Childs, who died in 1966 at age 65, lived in Portland. Young, who was born about 1910, probably was motherless or an orphan when she went to Pownal State School.


16
Robert and Vinnie Hoffman, Kennebunk, ca. 1960

Robert and Vinnie Hoffman, Kennebunk, ca. 1960

Item 23995 info
Maine Historical Society

Turcotte remained friends with Robert Hoffman, also a former resident of Pownal.

Hoffman married Vinnie Hall after he left Pownal and the couple lived in Kennebunk, where Vinnie Hall Hoffman grew up.

Turcotte and other former Pownal residents, who had lived like family at the institution, often retained their connections.


17
Lorris Thellen, Old Orchard Beach, ca. 1970

Lorris Thellen, Old Orchard Beach, ca. 1970

Item 24022 info
Maine Historical Society

Richard Turcotte also made new friends in the community when he left Pownal State School.

He lived in Lewiston for most of his life after Pownal. He worked at St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston for some time and also spent time working at Central Maine Hospital.

He may have met Thellen at CMH.

Richard Turcotte died at the Auburn Nursing Home May 26, 2001.


This Exhibit Contains 17 Items
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