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Maine History Online
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Pownal State School and the Issue of Institutionalization

Residents, Pownal State School, ca. 1937
Residents, Pownal State School, ca. 1937
New Gloucester Historical Society

By Candace Kanes

Images from New Gloucester Historical Society

From 1907 when the Maine Legislature decided to establish a school for "idiotic and feeble-minded" children until 1996 when that institution closed its doors, doctors, social workers, parents, legislators and community advocates discussed and debated the nature of the problem of developmental disabilities in children and adults and the best way for the state to care for those individuals.

What seemed like a good idea to one generation appalled another. The Maine School for the Feeble-Minded became Pownal State School, then Pineland Hospital and Training Center and, finally, Pineland Center. Its campus in New Gloucester grew and changed over the years as did its population.

The institution that became Pineland had, at its largest in the late 1950s, some 1,700 residents, some hundreds of staff at any time, and some 50 buildings. Its imposing campus served many needs: care and treatment of persons with mental retardation, a place for orphans, unruly youth, or those too poor to live elsewhere, and care and treatment of youth with psychiatric needs.

At times the residents of the institution were largely forgotten by most people in Maine. At other times, they and the facility were closely scrutinized.

The history of Pineland offers insights into Maine's treatment of persons with disabilities and a window into national movements and beliefs about such care over nearly a century.