Also known as the Experimental School for Teaching and Training Idiotic Children, Massachusetts School for Idiotic Children, Massachusetts School for Idiotic and Feeble-Minded Youth, Fernald Boys Home, The Walter E. Fernald State School, and most recently, The Walter E. Fernald Development Center.
I recently found a death record from 1899 in Waltham, MA which stated the cause of death for a 10 yr old boy as "Maramus" [Marasmus = severe undernourishment] and the indication “Inmate S.F.M.”. Being the curious type, it led me to ask "What exactly was "S.F.M."? Turns out, it was the School for the Feeble Minded.
Like many institutions, it seems it at least started with good intentions only to dart off track into the dark abyss by the latter part of the 19th century & as late as the last part of the 20th Century. Reminds me of an old phrase my grandmother would use "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions". The site now known as the Walter E. Fernald Development Center is technically closed today, but appeals were in process as late as Feb 2013. I didn't look into the most recent history of the place, but I pray they learned from their ignorance and found light and wisdom. Somehow I doubt it though. It's just my opinion, but as an individual with a Master's Degree in Mental Health Counseling I feel our mental health system in this country is STILL disgraceful. However, let's not digress and get back on focus.
The establishment, originally named "The School for the Feeble Minded" through the current name of "Walter E. Fernald Development Center" makes it the oldest developmental disabilities institution in the country. It was originally located in South Boston, but in 1888-89 removed to Waltham, MA and at it's largest incorporated 180-200 acres and house approimately 2500. It was founded in 1848 by Samuel Gidley Howe, who was also founder of Perkins Institute for the Blind.
Apparently, Howe's mission was to create an environment in which to lead disabled youths into higher functioning members of society through education & skills training. The residential institution offered traditional schooling with skills training such as sewing, housekeeping, weaving, shoe repair, broom making, & rag rug making, as well as music, dance and athletics. However, by the time the 3rd superintendent, Walter E. Fernald took over, its mission had apparently been on a downward slope and under Fernald's direction the mission became focused on medical experiments and Negative Eugenics, in short - sterilizations. Why the place still holds his name is beyond me, but I'll stop before I get any higher up on my soap-box and simply suggest gathering further information from the following sources with a variety of perspectives:
Christmas in Purgatory:
http://mn.gov/mnddc/parallels2/pdf/undated/Xmas-Purgatory.pdfAlthough there is not a statement that says "Christmas in Purgatory" included pictures of this school - somehow I feel confident they visted there.
1856 Historical Overview of Mental Health in Massachusetts:
CBS 60 Minutes Report:
City of Waltham Essay
Hell on Earth - The American Eugentics Movement and the Fernald Boys Home
Asylum Projects Reserve Preterius
Jstor Biography of Walter E. Fernald
1932 New England Journal of Medicine : The Walter E. Fernald Plan for the Examination of Retarded School Children
Hall of Fame - Leaders & Legends in the Blindness Field - Samuel Gridley Howe
Samuel Gridley Howe Website
Amylynne (Baker) Murphy