Social Policy and Practice Toward Severely Retarded People in America, 1820-1920Philip M. Ferguson
Covering a 100-year period in the history of the social policy and practice toward people with severe mental retardation, Abandoned to Their Fate looks at the lives of people once labeled "idiots," "hopeless," or "unteachable." Ferguson examines what he terms "chronicity," the definition of some of the disabled population as beyond successful treatment or training that would make them suitable for reentry into daily life.
The government, physicians, and families faced the quandary of what to do with people categorized as "feebleminded." Those who failed to respond to education or treatment were institutionalized, kept isolated except for contact with others like themselves, and simply left to a fate of neglect and exclusion. This book centers on a typical facility in New York. The Rome State Custodial Asylum for Unteachable Idiots (later the Rome Developmental Center) adopted a system of "custodialism" that is representative of the pattern of care provided by most American institutions in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many of the treatments lauded in the supposed "golden age" of progressive reform are challenged by Ferguson as popular myths.
Even with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the federal policy of deinstitutionalization, Ferguson contends that the lives of many disabled people, particularly those with severe or multiple disabilities, have not significantly improved. Concluding that for most people in the United States reform has yet to arrive, he draws clear connections between the policy and reform initiatives of the past and present.
"This is a very good book that will reward the reader with thoughtful insights and comparative analysis about the fate of inmates, asylums, and reform in the United States."
—The Journal of American History
"An insightful and well-written history of the institutions for people labeled as mentally retarded in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries."
—Richard K. Scotch, The University of Texas at Dallas