In 1901, the New Hampshire Legislature passed legislation to establish a state school for feebleminded children. 60 children living in almshouses throughout the state were admitted to the school in 1903. By 1973, 1100 children and adults with disabilities resided at the institution, some living in sub-human conditions. Thousands of New Hampshire citizens were confined to a life with no meaning or hope for the future. Families were often cut off from friends, family and their community. In the first half of this century eugenics was widely accepted and practiced.
In 1991, with the help of a federal class action law suit, the institution was closed and New Hampshire became the first state to have no institutions for people with developmental disabilities. The area agencies were developed and individuals with developmental disabilities and acquired brain disorders were given supports and services in the community rather than locked up like "inmates." We became the first state in the country to have a total community based system of supports and services.
Below are some resources related to the Laconia State School Trust Funds. This trust, which has been at the NH Treasurer has been modified so that former residents of Laconia State School may have access for limited purposes, as outlined in the attached forms. Use is restricted to former residents for the purposes outlined in the order and the forms.
Lost in Laconia: During a time when people who were branded and stigmatized as “feebleminded” and a danger to society were banished to a life of isolation and total segregation, thousands of children and adults were institutionalized in large state operated institutions throughout the country. In the case of New Hampshire, that place was the Laconia State School. This documentary traces the history of the institution from its initial beginnings as the New Hampshire School for the Feebleminded in the early 1900’s until its closure in 1991.
Using archival footage and current interviews with former residents of the institution, families of former residents, and people who worked at the institution, along with an extensive collection of photos, newspaper articles, and state documents, this documentary examines the social values and cultural ideals of the twentieth century, relative to individuals and families who were labeled “feebleminded”, deficient, or disabled in New Hampshire.
ABOUT THE AUTOR:
Gordon DuBois, has worked for over 40 years in the disability field in Maine and New Hampshire. He worked at the Laconia State School from 1977 until it closed in 1991. Under his guidance a wealth of documents (records, letter, manuscripts, artifacts) were cataloged at the NH Department of Archives and Records Management. DuBois became fascinated with the history of the Laconia State School and to a larger degree the history of disability and the social ideals of the twentieth century that drove the institutionalization of thousands of children and adults first labeled feeble minded, and then mentally retarded.