The Girls and Boys of Belchertown
A Social History of the Belchertown State School for the Feeble-Minded
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: University of Massachusetts Press
Title Page, Copyright
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There were no signposts, only memories. It was a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in late spring. I was attending an Amherst College reunion with my wife and young son. We had a couple of free hours. On a whim, I decided we would try to find what was left of Belchertown State School, ...
A Note on Terminology
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Throughout history, there has been a tendency to describe people by their disabilities. Some have decried this tendency because it masks the essential humanity of those so described, making it easier for the rest of us to ignore them and to dismiss them as less than fully human—or worse. ...
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Word came on the wire too late in the day for that week’s Belchertown Sentinel to report it; the edition of February 18, 1916, had already gone to press. But someone rang the school bell—and most of the town’s two thousand residents guessed why. Dozens took to the streets in celebration. ...
2. “Idiots for Life”—The Language of State Care
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From the beginning, the state institution at Belchertown was called a “school.” This was not mere euphemism. Although by 1922 quarantine had replaced education as the principal motivation for state care, the possibility of teaching the feeble-minded, which had inspired nineteenthcentury reformers, was still a motivating factor. ...
3. The Officer and the Dentist
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The Belchertown State School was designed according to the “cottage plan”—the dominant structural and operational model of the day for such facilities.1 Earlier institutions had utilized a single large, centralized structure for housing residents and staff and doing training. ...
4. Working at the State School
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For seventy years, Belchertown State School was the largest employer in town. As we’ve seen, one of the Board of Trade’s principal objectives in 1916 in lobbying for the new state school was to create jobs, and within months of its opening in November 1922, the school employed 125 people— 30 percent of them residents of Belchertown itself.1 ...
5. Family and Friends
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Benjamin Ricci and his wife, Virginia, were expecting their first child. It was May 1947 and Ben, who had finished high school in 1941 and served his country honorably in World War II, was now a freshman at Springfield College in western Massachusetts. Like most expectant parents, he and Ginnie were full of hope and expectations for their future life ...
6. The Tragedy of Belchertown
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The front page of the Springfield Union on March 15, 1970, was packed with grim news. One article reported the misfiring of rockets by a U.S. helicopter into American troops north of Saigon, killing three and wounding nineteen. But it was another front-page story, published above the masthead with the banner headline “The Tragedy of Belchertown,” ...
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The idea of suing the state’s mental health bureaucracy to obtain redress for the appalling conditions at Belchertown State School was Ben Ricci’s. It isn’t clear when the idea first took form in his mind—whether before or after his sabbatical to do research in Norway during the first half of 1971. ...
8. Ghosts and Graveyards
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An eerie quiet settled over the former Belchertown State School. Boarded-up buildings stood abandoned. Thick weeds, brush, and small trees sprouted in the fertile soil, overgrowing pathways and lawns. Disrepair and decay spread. The occasional trespasser reported odd things happening: sharp fluctuations of temperature, ...
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Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 17 illus.
Publication Year: 2012