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Needs Of Feeble Minded Children

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

WE enter upon a new century of work showing greater possibilities and demanding a yet greater advance, and it is here that mothers can help us. Statistics show in the United States alone one hundred thousand mental defectives, and of these but about eight thousand are provided for in the twenty-four large institutions now in existence. Many of these institutions are already filled to repletion, and unfortunately with a large proportion of the idiot or untrainable class. In this respect the English are far wiser than we, for even with the title of "Homes for Idiotic and Mental Defectives," they do not admit the idiots into their training-schools but care for them in asylums apart; the economic and moral value of such an arrangement being self-evident.

Not alone from this standpoint will our work require a similar arrangement in the near future; we not only need more space with entire concentration of energy upon our legitimate work of training, but a new element not included in the last census will soon be pressing for admission. Results of legislation under the compulsory education act show in the city of Philadelphia alone 1O21 truants, "children not to be desired in the regular grades." The committee reports: "There are some children who are mischief-makers in the regular schools who are better out than in." Special schools are to be opened for those who are incorrigible or who need special assistance in study. This is but following similar experiences in England and on the Continent, based upon corresponding pressing needs. Some of these children doubtless are backward from mere physical defect which may be overcome, but a large majority of these "mischief-makers" in the schools will soon be proven "mischief-makers" in society and, recognized as defectives, they will naturally drift into training-schools for the feeble-minded. To receive and train them and also to care for present demands we must be freed from our untrainable population, and turn our asylum-wards into workshops and school-rooms. The providing of homes for idiots and for epileptics must therefore be the first step in clearing the way for extending the work of training mental defectives; but to this view the public must be educated, and who can do this so ably as the mothers?

Furthermore, the training of an abnormal person, especially if such training is not begun early, covers a period four times that required for a normal child. A continuous stream flowing in from the public schools, of children tested and proven mental or moral defectives, and the necessity of their permanent sequestration recognized, will soon overcrowd our training schools unless there be some additional outlet. And just here we come face to face with the great question of the future, the unsolved problem of the past, a question asked of us every day: "For what are you training the imbecile? What place can be found for this child who will never grow up?"

Society must be protected from pollution and tragedy on the one hand, and on the other the innocent imbecile must be protected from punishment for heedless or reckless transgression, for which he is absolutely irresponsible. Both sides will demand therefore permanent sequestration. But where, and how? For a way must be prepared for the crisis which even another decade may force upon us....

Points which should commend themselves to the thoughtful consideration of every humanitarian association, and which for the common welfare need to be thoroughly ventilated are:

First. Education of the public as to the dominating power of heredity.

Second. Enactment of laws preventing the marriage of defectives or of their immediate descendants, coupled with yet more stringent measures for the imbecile, dictated by science and already proven by experience.

Third. Early recognition of defectives, and separation of trainable from untrainable classes, with suitable and distinct provision for each.

Fourth. National provision for the permanent sequestration of the imbecile under such conditions, dictated by moral and economic considerations, as shall be best conducive to the happiness of the individual and to the safety of the community.

I bring to you no mere opinions, but convictions founded upon a living experience. Apart from all family ties, I have consecrated my best energies to this work. For twelve years, in a training-school numbering over a thousand, I have eaten and drunk, walked and slept with the imbecile; both here and in Europe I have personally examined over five thousand, and I know whereof I speak. I know all that you have to fear from the imbecile. I also know his needs, his rights and the protection he demands at our hands, and I appeal to the great heart of motherhood in behalf of your own, and these, whom the French have so touchingly named "Les Enfants du bon Dieu,"

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