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Public Aid For The Feeble-Minded (1889)

Public Aid For The Feeble-Minded

by Mrs. George Brown, of Barre, Mass.


Editor’s Note:  This entry was a presentation at the Sixteenth Annual Session  of The National Conference Of Charities And Correction Held In San Francisco, Cal., September 11- 18, 1889.

In an assemblage like this Conference, it must be an axiomatic proposition that the State should educate all its dependent children. It is not charity: it is simply providing for those of its own household, as when it furnishes schools for the well-endowed. I can see no reason why the means for such education should not be appropriated from the general school fund, without lobbying or begging. The question, then, is, In what respects must this provision for the feeble-minded differ from that given to others?

When the first tentative experiments to elevate the feeble-minded in this country were made in the year 1848, the primary idea of both Dr. Howe and Dr. Wilbur was the same; i.e., to educate like others, so far as possible. The thousands of pupils since trained in the thirteen State institutions and numerous private schools through the country testify, without question, that a goodly number can be thus educated. It has also been proved that the feeble-minded pupil cannot be classed with the well-endowed, as the former must be helped more, be individually instructed. His steps are slow, and the rapid pace of his normal brother paralyzes all effort; while, associated with those of his own plane, his mental eye brightens, and he takes courage. Therefore, special schools with special appliances must be furnished, as for the deaf and blind. How large a number should be gathered in one place and how long the period of school life should last are relative matters, as the progress of the pupil and local surroundings differ. In determining these points, it would be wise to study the varied experiences of training-schools in this country, as given in their published reports, and also to note European methods.

Within a few years, schools for exceptionally backward children, called “auxiliary,” have been established in Germany, with satisfactory results. Into these departments have been gathered all pupils unable to make equal progress with their companions in the national schools. The German Minister of Education thinks these auxiliary classes should be instituted in every town numbering twenty thousand inhabitants. From their experience, they also judge that one instructor can efficiently teach only twenty pupils, and should himself be a person of superior ability. Norway gives to its intellectually weak children similar instruction, compulsory, as for normal children, and paid for out of the general fund. The Norwegian pupils comprise four divisions,- those able after two or three years’ special instruction to enter the ordinary schools; those who by continuing can be brought to confirmation; those sent to special imbecile institutions; and the uneducable, who are returned to their homes.

But the wide difference between this class and all others is the fact that, for the majority, State care must be given throughout their lifetime; since, however far some may progress in ability to care for themselves, the many remain little children, weak in will, weak in moral power, without homes, and must be delivered from temptation. This after-care must be very similar to that which the harmless insane require,- simple dwellings, plain food, intelligent classification, with continuous supervision, are the necessities.

The sexes must live apart, but with land contiguous to their homes. The girls equally with the boys should cultivate the gardens, raising therefrom table supplies. Classifying the inmates with a due proportion of the ablest and most helpless, the former, under direction, can do the work for the latter, thus minifying the expense.

When the village almshouse is properly managed, it should care for the few harmless insane and feeble-minded that legally come within its jurisdiction. I know this proposition is heretical in the eyes of philanthropists generally; but there is no necessity for conducting an almshouse upon unchristian principles that does not equally pertain to an insane asylum, or an institution for the feebleminded.

All will acknowledge that this life-care must be made as economical as is consistent with the comfort of these unfortunates; and the taxpayer who grumbles at the burden must be taught that such care as has been described is less expensive than the neglect which multiplies the number of helpless persons and swells the calendar of crimes. For the satisfaction of the tax-payer, it may also be stated that in this class the average duration of life is somewhat less than for the well-endowed. No experiment has yet been made in this country whereby the lowest cost of support for such a class can be accurately computed. The New York State Custodial Asylum for Feeble-minded Women, in its report for 1888, gives the weekly cost as $2.43 for each of its 200 inmates. This estimate is below that of some of the county almshouses. To each of these adult asylums of the future trained graduates of the schools should be assigned as helpers.

Transcribed from:

Proceedings of The National Conference Of Charities And Correction at the Sixteenth Annual Session Held In San Francisco, Cal., September 11- 18, 1889.


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How to Cite this Article (APA Format):  Brown, Mrs. George (1899). Public aid for the feeble-minded. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from