Mental Retardation in America: A Historical Reader / Edition 1

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The expressions "idiot, you idiot, you're an idiot, don't be an idiot," and the like are generally interpreted as momentary insults. But, they are also expressions that represent an old, if unstable, history. Beginning with an examination of the early nineteenth century labeling of mental retardation as "idiocy," to what we call developmental, intellectual, or learning disabilities, Mental Retardation in America chronicles the history of mental retardation, its treatment and labeling, and its representations and ramifications within the changing economic, social, and political context of America.

Mental Retardation in America includes essays with a wide range of authors who approach the problems of retardation from many differing points of view. This work is divided into five sections, each following in chronological order the major changes in the treatment of people classified as retarded. Exploring historical issues, as well as current public policy concerns, Mental Retardation in America covers topics ranging from representations of the mentally disabled as social burdens and social menaces; Freudian inspired ideas of adjustment and adaptation; the relationship between community care and institutional treatment; historical events, such as the Buck v. Bell decision, which upheld the opinion on eugenic sterilization; the evolution of the disability rights movement; and the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Although an estimated two to three percent of Americans have some form of mental retardation, comparatively few historical studies on the subject have been published. Enter this anthology by Trent (social work, Southern Illinois Univ.; Invention of the Feeble Mind) and Noll (history, Univ. of Florida; Feeble-Minded in Our Midst: Institutions for the Mentally Retarded in the South). The 20 selected essays-some previously published, most new-chronicle how individuals with cognitive disabilities have been treated socially, medically, economically, legally, and educationally in U.S. society since the early 19th century. Ranging from William B. Fish's "A Thesis on Idiocy" (1879) to the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (formerly the Education of All Handicapped Children Act) in 1975 and the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, the essays explore the evolution of key issues and public policy relative to mental disability as changes were created by industrialization, urbanization, and war. Many candidly disclose the devaluation and fear that society held for the "feeble-minded" during the era of eugenics. Fortunately, the book moves beyond the dark ages of disability in America, when forced sterilizations and subhuman living conditions in asylums and almshouses were the norm. After World War II, the grass-roots parents' movement resulted in long-awaited reforms in educational and community inclusion. Necessary to understand how past events have shaped legislation and advocacy for the rights of Americans with developmental disabilities, this account brings the world up to date and is strongly recommended for academic libraries, health science libraries, and public libraries wishing to have solid coverage on this subject.-Deborah Broocker, Georgia Perimeter Coll., Dunwoody Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"The book will be of value to scholars concerned with the newly emerging history of disability."

-Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

"Strongly recommended"

-Library Journal

"This is a highly readable and well-edited historical anthology, a wide-ranging collection that deals with mental retardation over two centuries. The book deserves perusal by anyone interested in mental retardation. The plot is powerful, and the questions profound."

-New England Journal of Medicine

"Interesting collection of pieces."

-Gainesville Sun

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814782484
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/2004
  • Series: History of Disability Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 513
  • Sales rank: 543,566
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven Noll is Visiting Associate Professor of History at the University of Florida. He is also an adaptive technology teacher for students with special needs in the Gainesville, Florida public schools. He is the author of Feeble-Minded in our Midst: Institutions for the Mentally Retarded in the South.

James W. Trent is Professor and Director of the Master of Social Work Program at Southern Illinois University, and the author of the award-winning Inventing the Feeble Mind: A History of Mental Retardation in the United States.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Pt. I Before the Asylum
A Selection from Report Made to the Legislature of Massachusetts (1848) 23
A Thesis on Idiocy 27
1 The Legacy of the Almshouse 40
2 "Beside Her Sat Her Idiot Child": Families and Developmental Disability in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America 65
Pt. II Defining and Categorizing: Establishing "The Other"
Report of Committee on Classification of Feeble-Minded 87
The New Classification (Tentative) of the Feeble-Minded: Editorial 89
3 Mongols in Our Midst: John Langdon Down and the Ethnic Classification of Idiocy, 1858-1924 92
4 "Mongolian Imbecility": Race and Its Rejection in the Understanding of a Mental Disease 120
5 Rearing the Child Who Never Grew: Ideologies of Parenting and Intellectual Disability in American History 130
6 The Parable of The Kallikak Family: Explaining the Meaning of Heredity in 1912 165
7 Fictional Voices and Viewpoints for the Mentally Deficient, 1929-1939 186
8 Sexuality and Storytelling: Literary Representations of the "Feebleminded" in the Age of Sterilization 207
Pt. III The Age of Institutionalization and Sterilization
The Eugenical Sterilization of the Feeble-Minded 225
9 The Criminalization of Mental Retardation 232
10 The State and the Multiply Disadvantaged: The Case of Epilesy 258
11 The "Sociological Advantages" of Sterilization: Fiscal Policies and Feeble-Minded Women in Interwar Minnesota 281
Pt. IV From Top and Bottom: Parents and the State in the Mid-Twentieth Century
Hope for Retarded Children 303
12 "Mental Deficients" Fighting Fascism: The Unplanned Normalization of World War II 308
13 Education for Children with Mental Retardation: Parent Activism, Public Policy, and Family Ideology in the 1950s 322
14 "Nice, Average Americans": Postwar Parents' Groups and the Defense of the Normal Family 351
15 Formal Health Care at the Community Level: The Child Development Clinics of the 1950s and 1960s 371
16 A Pivotal Place in Special Education Policy: The First Arkansas Children's Colony 384
Pt. V The Promise and Problems of Community Placement: Back to a Beginning?
U.S. Supreme Court Decision on Capital Punishment and Mental Retardation (2002) 413
17 Historical Social Geography 420
18 The Litigator as Reformer 445
19 No Profits, Just a Pittance: Work, Compensation, and People Defined as Mentally Disabled in Ontario, 1964-1990 466
20 Family Values 494
About the Contributors 501
Index 505
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