Emergence of Institutions

Early advancements in services for people with developmental disabilities can be traced to social reformer, Samuel Gridley Howe, when he established The Massachusetts School for Idiotic and Feeble-Minded Youth in 1848.

Soon after the founding of the Massachusetts school, a number of boarding schools for children with disabilities were opened on the East Coast. The Ohio Asylum for the Education of Idiotic and Imbecile Youth was opened in Columbus, Ohio in 1857.

Early institutions were founded on the principle that people with developmental disabilities could be trained. The number of institutions throughout the U.S. continued to grow, as did the number of people housed in them. Training schools were considered an educational success, offering hope to many families with children with disabilities.

Unfortunately, as the economic conditions changed, so did the commitment to training within these facilities. Before long, the institutions began to be referred to as asylums – more commonly referred to today as psychological hospitals or mental health facilities – in which people with developmental disabilities and people with mental illnesses were housed and served alongside one another. Administrators at these institutions began asking the states to pay for indigent care, believing that they would relieve communities of poorhouses. No longer focused on providing opportunities for interaction with families and communities, these institutions were often relocated to rural areas of the state.

Photo Source: Asylum Projects