“Lost in Laconia”

“Lost in Laconia”


In March of 2009, cameras were allowed on
the grounds of what used to be Laconia State School. We were only allowed onto certain parts of the campus as some of the land had been transformed
into a New Hampshire State Prison. We had to have a prison officer escort us through the buildings that once held the former residents. We were only allowed to tour certain
buildings because some were still in use for the prison, while the others had been condemned. The buildings we were allowed to enter
showed signs of neglect from the years of standing as distant reminders, reminders of a life once separated, segregated, and forsaken from the outside world. As we entered Felker building, we noticed
the painted walls of days gone by, but also the dirt and ashes of lives
lived and left behind. Memories of the activities here still littered the floor. We were fortunate enough to have been joined by a man that once lived here at Laconia State School. He lived and roamed the halls of
Felker building, his name is Rheal. As we walked through the abandoned and weathered buildings, one couldn’t help but wonder how it all came to this. The school department and the doctors said that… stated that I was retarded, and I went through a battery of tests in Concord, and none
of them were conclusive. They couldn’t say, “this girl’s retarded,” because I wasn’t. So they decided the best place to put
me was the Laconia State School. When I was about 12-years-old, my mother went to court and she said she was going to get me in school. So they went to court and they decided to put… for me to go to Laconia State School. Which I didn’t like. I was put in Laconia because my mother didn’t love and said she didn’t care. That’s all I know. They broke me and my brother away from each other in Franklin. They put me up at the State School Only when my father found it out, they took him out of Franklin and took him back home. They took your brother back home? Yeah But you were left to live at Laconia State School? Right They were been dropped off like a warehouse. And I didn’t know why I was being put away. I didn’t know why my mother was just taking me and my brothers and sisters were being
left home. They didn’t stay long, the parents. They just wanted to drop their children off and get right out as fast as they could. That’s the way it seemed to me, like “ok.” I did my job, took them and brought them back. Which is pretty sad. And it was my first night there When you were 10-years-old? Yeah. Were you scared? Oh yeah. I didn’t, you know, I didn’t know what I was getting into. But I found out pretty fast. I think my mother went a few times but she never took us, you know? She went a few times to visit, but my father never did. He never went to visit. We have 14 in the family, my father couldn’t take care of all of us, and that’s why about five of us had to be put away, but three of us were in Laconia. And my father had a picture of the State school buildings, and he said, “That’s where you’re going.” And my mother said: “No.” My dad put me there. In New Hampshire, the Almshouse, better known as the County Farm or the slang, “Poorhouse,” was the primary means to provide housing for the poor, the indigent, and the feeble-minded. Almshouses, which were the last refuge, were places where all kinds of dependent people ended up. Elderly, people with physical disabilities, people with psychiatric disabilities, and finally people with intellectual disabilities In New Hampshire, each town and then each county had responsibility for the poor and the indigent, meaning people who couldn’t take care of themselves who are lacking clothing or who were lacking a home. There was some sense of social responsibility, community responsibility, for helping out those people. Poverty, or “Pauperism” was interpreted as a character flaw; not a social injustice. The fault was with the individual or family. Lilian Streeter, chairwoman of the New
Hampshire State Board of Charities and Correction wrote in 1915 That’s where a majority of people who were feeble-minded would end up, and, in general, the Almshouse tried to do two things that were to contradictory purposes. One was to provide a refuge a refuge for the poor, the dependent. but the ideology of the late 19th
century said he didn’t wanna make them nice enough to encourage laziness. There was a lot of “passing the buck,” with the Almshouse, and the Almshouse though becomes a place where dependents of all kinds And now during the 19th century, the need for some sort of safety net
was increasing because you have immigrants coming, and you have just more and more people. They don’t have sort of the older kind of safety nets of community and family. Because people were moving around a lot, either from Europe or from different
places in the United States, there weren’t the old kinds of community supports to care for people in a personal way, so the Almshouse got bigger and bigger. Then taxpayers resented those kinds of costs, and that’s another pressure on the conditions in these Almshouses. By the 1890’s, the growing public concern for the conditions found in the Almshouses, along with the increased fear of the feeble-minded, state political leaders, civic organizations, and social reformers,
began to consider building a state-operated, residential school for feeble-minded children. The following document was submitted to the New Hampshire House of Representatives on February 14th 1901, by the New Hampshire Federation of Women’s Clubs The legislature passed a law in 1901 to build a school and appoint a Board of Trustees to oversee the operation of this school. They went to Laconia, at the invitation of the mayor and the city council, and city council turned it around to look at various pieces of property and they came upon a farm that was up for sale that was owned by the Crockett Family. Two hundred and fifty acres of land was purchased from the Crockett Family that consisted of a farmhouse and barn, along with other various buildings in
farmhand cottages. The Crockett house was converted into the superintendent’s home and administrative offices. A dormitory, along with school building were also constructed. The doors of the New Hampshire School for the Feeble-Minded opened in 1903. The trustees selected Dr. Charles Sherman Little, a nationally prominent physician, as the first superintendent. Dr. Little was very much an advocate of the institution as being the place for feeble-minded to live, and sometimes for the rest of their lives, so they wouldn’t infect society. In an article written by Dr. Little for the New Hampshire Magazine, he states: So there were 60 of these children
the ages of 3 and 21 that came to live at the school. And at that time, they were called inmates, that was the language used at that time. The original law establishing the school was amended in 1905 regarding eligibility. Children were kept beyond the age of 21, especially women of childbearing age. The population quickly change from all children, to children and adults. By 1910, the school had a new superintendent, Dr. Benjamin Ward Baker. Dr. Baker was a well known physician, graduate of Dartmouth Medical School. He was born and raised in New Hampshire. It was seen as doctors would make the
best administrators. With the emphasis on segregation, the
goal of the school was to be self-sufficient. Dr. Baker, in his report to the Legislature in 1910, recommended that the state purchase as much land as possible around the buildings to prevent trespassing and to enable the school to raise all the food it needed for the inmates, as well as to feed the horses and cows. There were 96 admissions in that year, with the average age of 11-years-old. Just six years later, they were 293 residents, and overcrowding became a problem. There was always a waiting list, there
was always more people applying for admission than there was
beds available. The very reason the institution was there, was the very reason why it kept growing and getting bigger and bigger. In 1924, the name of the New Hampshire
School for the Feeble-Minded was changed to Laconia State School. The institution’s numbers continued to increase, due to the influence of eugenics. Eugenics was embraced by social reformers as a new science to improve the
conditions of the human race. The term ‘eugenics’ itself is a fairly benign term meaning ‘good birth.’ But the way it is, the policies behind eugenics become harsher and harsher as time goes on, where biological explanations for all kinds of social problems. It’s almost blaming victim where it’s not the environment, it’s the biological background. The family backgrounds of individuals come to explain all kinds of social problems including feeble-minders. And there was these studies done that put forth the thinking that the feeble-minded were out-breeding us people with the good
genes, and if we don’t somehow keep them from reproducing we’re
going to be overrun by all these all this inferior race of people. The idea of the feeble-minded goes from being a burden on society, an economic burden, to a menace. The feeble-minded were seen as a threat to the the continual uplift of what we think now is the gene pool. It became a black mark on the family if they had a child born with disabilities, because that would then be the germ of a thought that “our family in some way is defective,” because this germ plasma carries from generation to generation. Eugenics was seen as a way to solve the
social problems, a form of social engineering. The idea that, if we just carefully engineered who got to reproduce, then we would have far superior human beings. And so the people who had disabilities and other folks as well who were seen as the degenerate classes, I think they were referred to, it was thought to be beneficial to society that these people not be allowed to reproduce, because then these bad genes would mix in and more bad things would happen, and less competent people emerge. In 1917, New Hampshire’s first sterilization law was enacted, which permitted the sterilization of feeble-minded persons. Dr. Benjamin Baker was a strong
advocate of eugenics, especially sterilization. In a paper he
delivered to the American Association on Mental Deficiency, he stated: According to the minutes of the Board of Trustees meetings, candidates for sterilization were reviewed almost monthly. They had us sign a paper for a sterilize operation, that’s the only way we could get out of that school. Initially, a person cannot be sterilized without his or her consent, and the consent of the nearest relative or guardian. However, in 1929, the law was amended to
place the decision making authority in the hand of the superintendent, the Board of Trustees, and two physicians. The consent of the individual was no longer needed. You know, you’re talking about people, maybe some of these people had limited intelligence, maybe they didn’t really understand what sterilization was, and I’m sure that, you know, they didn’t kinfd of sit down with the person and explain the risks of sterilization, the consequences of sterilization. At the Laconia institution, there were 264
sterilization by 1947. Often people will ask me, “Was it just
women who were sterilized or was it men?” It was both men and women, but going over the records, it was probably maybe three women to
every men who was sterilized. They routinely continued with well over 400 sterilizations until 1958, when the practice was discontinued. The vestiges of the eugenic movement remained as children and adults labeled “mentally retarded” continued to be admitted and segregated at the institution. The years during World War I, the Depression, and World War II were difficult for the institution. Because there were fewer resources at home, more and more families applied for the family members to be admitted to the school. Families had few options when trying to
care for their child with disabilities, other than to place the child in private
or publicly funded institutions. By 1942, there were 614 people living at Laconia State School. It was not easy at that time to find the resources that they would need to care for their family member. Parents were encouraged to admit their
child to an institution, or “special school”, by other family members, their doctors,
clergy or close friends. People saw it to be in the child in family’s best interests. When we were babies, the doctor would tell my parents to put us both in a state school. Priests and nuns, and lawyers and other professionals would tell them that they think it’s the right place for them to go. Just the idea of security and a place, three square meals a day and knowing that there’s some kind of safety was all that families hoped for. That was what was recommended, because probably at one point, that would have represented a best practice that your family member would be institutionalized, because that’s where the resources were, and if people weren’t able to care for
their family member, then they had a choice of one. Quite often, parents were told to admit their child to an institution and forget them. Freda Smith, parent and advocate, tells us about her daughter Janet’s diagnosis. One day I was bathing her and she stiffened and screeched and was shaking something fierce and I rushed her down to the hospital. The doctor examined her and said: “Well, we think she’s got brain damage, and how the nerves cross at the neckline she’ll have no use of the left side of her body. Because of the sever brain damage she’ll have seizures,” (she’s an epileptic), “And the best thing for you to do is to institutionalize her and forget about her.” And I just couldn’t believes what I was hearing, I just couldn’t believe that someone could be that cruel, to talk to a parent that way. And I think a lot of people, in the best of all possible worlds, lots of family members, would have wanted the person to stay at home, but if that wasn’t possible, they had to find what was the best alternative available. I don’t think any family members did that without a lot of loss and grief and pain. These institutions were really kind of based on the idea that people needed to be protected from society, but also, society needed to be protected from these people with what they call “feeble-minded.” So they emerged into something that was
different that the Almshouse, but the roots of the institution really are found in the Almshouses. A lot of abuse, a lot. I mean, can you imagine not being able to do anything. Just sit there all day long, not doing anything? I used to cry all the time there, wishing someday I could get out of there. and then the Beatles song came, that one Beatles song, “The Long and Winding Road” I used to hear that and I would cry that I would find the right road and escape from that place, to go home. Because it was, I don’t know, it was hell there, it really was. And I was abused too, they used to slap me around out there too. A lot of the directors and staffs used to hit me in the eye, I would never forget that. They slapped me and pulled my hair, and I’ve been beaten up by other clients too. There was people there that would run around naked and you had to fear for your life because they didn’t know what they were doing, they were very retarded, and it was scary. I mean, I was on a ward with probably 25 women running around naked and jumping into you bed. People being pushed down by attendants, down flights of stairs, in the wheelchairs, that can’t walk anyway, don’t have no capability of walking, can’t talk, can’t walk, can’t use their hands, but still being pushed down a flight of stairs. Now can you make any sense out of that? That’s craziness. Yeah, I’ve seen some pretty bad stuff. They were, like, verbally abusive to the people, you know? They’d talk about them in front of them, you know, and of course they know what you’re talking about. In Blood building you didn’t have your privacy. You had to take your shower with about three girls in the same room, and then another girl was taking a bath, she was in the bathtub while you were
taking a shower and then the attendant was sitting out in front of the doors like you were on display. Your dignity, your rights, everything was just pulled away from you One of the staff people was testifying about a child who had been struck and the gash was near the eye, and she had to take the child down to the doctor and the doctor was going to begin suturing, and didn’t give any Novacaine or anything to numb the area. It took four people to hold the child down, the child screamed and screamed and the staff person said: “Well, why aren’t you giving her the Novacaine?” and he said, “What for? they’re not like us. No brain no pain.” Dramatic changes were about to take place at the Laconia institution with the arrival of Richard Hungerford, the new superintendent in 1952. For the first time, the superintendent
was not a medical doctor, but a teacher. He brought a change in philosophy and began a reform movement. Instead of discouraging parents from
visiting the school, Hungerford invited them in. He was one of the first people in the nation to recognize the potential political power of parents as reform agents, and helped them to organize. We just all got behind him because he was so interested in helping our children, and up to that time nobody had paid much attention to them. He basically said, you know, “Parents, I can’t make the changes that are needed at this school. I can only give you the information that you need to have, to open up doors to you. But you need to be the ones to create change.” Parents of residents at the school, under
the tutelage and with the support of Hungerford, organized and created the New Hampshire Council for Retarded Children, in September of 1953. He even invited parents to film the institution, and a newly created parent organization, the Great Bay Association, did just that. In 1956, they made and paid for a film, “Help Wanted”: Help Wanted has been filmed to help educate all people to the need of institutions for the mentally retarded everywhere, but especially in the state of New Hampshire. The film is in no way meant to criticize
those making their lifework, the care and security of God’s children. How many of New Hampshire’s citizens have ever visited this school at Laconia? Or even realized the reason for its existence? This documentary film depicted life as it was live by the residents and the institution and showed to community groups throughout the state. Try as we travel through these buildings to imagine yourself living under these conditions, and remember that these children have
feelings toward their surroundings. They too need and desire good living
conditions. There are 60 men and boys on each floor of Felker, and certainly there should be at least one supervisor for each of these large groups. In this size dormitory, it’s hard to separate the people by age, and they run anywhere from 16 to 60. The sleeping conditions in Baker building
are appalling; the boys on this floor eat, sleep, and live in this very small area. This is the only recreation space which these men have, down in the corner. There is no other room, no place for them
to go. Most of them cannot go outdoors, they spend all of their time inside. How would we feel in their shoes? Is this living or mere existence? These bedrooms in the Blood building are
used by female patients who are able to assist the attendants on nightly duty. These girls as well as the girls who assist during the day receive no wages for doing work which should be done by qualified attendants. I mean, when I took care of all the little kids in Murphy building, I felt bad for them. I mean, if it wasn’t like, myself and other people were up there, I don’t know what some of those people
would have done if we didn’t take care of them. Please note the four cracked toilet bowls, which must accommodate approximately 43 men. There’s nothing adequate about them. As you can see, each of the bowls is cracked, they have been repaired with cement, and yet they still leak. I can remember someone in Concord making a remark at the time that we were after new bathrooms for the children, and they wanted new toilets, and someone made the remark, they thought it was a waste of money because they wouldn’t know how to operate the toilets anyhow. There were no stalls in the bathroom,
and often not even seats on the toilets. The walls and floors of the buildings were made of brick and tile. Drains were built into the middle of the
floor to facility cleaning which consisted of hosing down walls and floors. Toilets never get washed, bathroom never get washed, floors sometimes don’t get washed. Take special notice of the facility used for
storing the clothes of these children in Tucker building. There is some semblance of order, but it is sadly lacking in convenience. Note the row upon row of boxes stacked so high a ladder is necessary to reach the top. The laundry presents a dismal and dangerous scenes. You will note the clothing piled high on the floor which creates a tremendous problem of correct ownership. Many times a child’s initial wearing is the
only wearing of his own clothing, because his clothes are often diverted
to other buildings. Clothing was always a bone of contention for everyone involved. It was the parents coming in and saying: “Where is this person’s clothing?” and the attendants saying: “It went to the
laundry, I don’t know.” And then, “Well, how come this person’s clothing is on that person?” and it was a case of the clothing being marked, but if there was nothing else in the closet to wear you had to borrow from somewhere, to put something on them. Outside of a television set, which was donated by a friend, there is nothing provided to occupy the minds and hands of these patients. There is ample evidence of a lack of occupational therapist. This kitchen, in the Quimby building must be prepared the food for the entire school with the exception of 60 patients in the Spear and Rice Cottages. Built in the early 1900’s, still using outmoded equipment, it must now serve nearly twice as many patients after nearly half a century of constant use. Large quantities of the food used in the
school are grown on the ground by the patients themselves. Last year, the population at the school
increased by 80 patients. Yet, nothing was done or added to the
budget by our state legislators to accommodate them. Take particular note of this scene where you see some of the patients loading food into the delivery truck. It is plain to see that this is an unsanitary way to handle food Many of the containers are covered by only cellophane or wax paper. The food is usually cold by the time it arrives at the various buildings. Can we not unite and secure more trained
personnel to help Mr.Hungerford, and the dedicated work he is doing under
tremendous handicaps? It’s hoped that all who witnessed this film will
come to a fuller understanding of the extent of the problem now existing at Laconia, New Hampshire. Superintendent Hungerford’s interests in improvements and his alignment with the parents and the families to try and bring about an improvement was, essentially you know, it’s a good strategy for change. The parent’s movement just grew and spread because all the parents at the school were well, most of the parents at the school were interested and Mr. Hungerford helped us and we all had a lot to learn. When the Portsmouth Herald published
pictures of the conditions at Laconia State School, public reaction was of shock and disbelief, and there was a demand to do something Under Hungerford’s direction, physical
changes at the school were taking place consistent with his philosophy. Two cottages were built which were more homelike; there were curtains on the windows, room for private possessions, bedrooms
for 2 and 3 people. He instituted co-educational activities for the residents, and succeeded in having a geriatrics building built. Mr. Hungerford as you know, as you do know I’m assuming, you know by now, was not very well liked by the politicians in Concord, I’ll put it that way. And I think simply because he asked
for to much and he was a little ahead of his time, In the history of the early years of the
New Hampshire Council for Retarded Children, 1953 to 1960, Edna St. John wrote: I think they ran him out of the state, I do. I really think they did. Was it the fact that he was exposing some pretty awful conditions and arousing citizens in New Hampshire? It was that in addition to that fact that he was after more money for the school and he had very far-seeing ideas of what he wanted for the school. The parents circulated petitions in support of Hungerford. One petition alone, in a matter of hours, collecting 1,600 signatures, but to no avail. Hungerford resigned in 1960. In the ‘60s, we had superintendent Arthur Toll, who also kind of continued with this, welcoming parents into the institution. Under Toll’s administration, the emphasis on education continued, but the medical mindset was firmly entrenched. Therapies were the prevalent program for residents, and medication was frequently used to
control and make people fit into a norm. A Work Incentive Program was instituted that was based on a development theory of learning. A small portion of people worked in sheltered workshops. But this institution only went so far in creating good conditions for everybody. The farm program was shut down in 1968 and two years later, the dairy herd was sold. With all the progress that was being
made with the new programs, therapies, and community placements, the number of residents still continued to grow. In 1962, there were 990 residents. By 1970, there were 1,162 residents with a waiting list of 400. Although Richard Hungerford’s tenure as superintendent was relatively short in the 1950’s, the movement he inspired and facilitated, along with later contributions from superintendent Arthur Toll, planted the seeds for a lawsuit that would occur 20 years later. They say Laconia was an easy place to get into, only a hard place to get out of. It’s hard to escape from it, and I can’t forget my mother for even putting me there. Yeah, that’s a problem, a serious problem when I can’t even go out on my own because I’m living in a nightmare down at Laconia State School behind these four walls. When I first came out I had such a blank look, I didn’t even know how to carry on a conversation with anybody. Sometimes I guess I used to think: “Well maybe I am retarded, maybe I am what all these people say I am”. Going through when people were living there in those conditions and seeing the staff to resident ratio, there were a lot of things that were very disturbing. People go there during the daytime, they find a place everything, they find the client, the kids and everything all shaped up, meals are great and stuff like that, but when the lights go down at nighttime, that’s when the screaming starts. That’s when you hear the screams, that’s
what I can’t forget. That’s what I live with in my mind. We’d drop them off after our day, or week vacation or whatever it was, we’d all bring her in, we’d all have a routine, you know, drop off everything, and then we would get in the car and we could all hear her, because you could look up in the building, she was in Floyd at the time, and there was, like, chicken wire, bars in the windows, but you could hear her, the windows would be opened. She would be crying, you know? Crying for her mother. There’s parts of it you’ll never get over. You don’t have to be treated like that again, and I hear that there’s still people that’s in institutions, that makes me sick, because I think it’s awful for anybody to be treated like we did or anybody else. Are you angry at people who did that to you? Yeah, I am. I think I’m looking at it this hindsight now, that it was really awful, you know. I don’t know how else to say it but I didn’t realize it then what I perceived it as it is now. When I was there I couldn’t see the real world, what the world looks like on the outside, because I was spending more time on the inside. I just don’t want to remember those things, it was tough. Despite the gains secured by the lobbying efforts of the parent movement, living conditions at the school remained desolate. I remember while on tour this one time, being taken downstairs in one of the buildings, and it looked like a dungeon to me it was so dark down there. And the residents were just milling around, not doing anything, no one was interacting with them. The Blood building, the Felker building, the Keyes building, the Murphy building, those buildings were just cavernous, dark, dank, hell holes. At the time there were generally 40 people on a ward that you were in charge of, with one other staff person. When you gave them their food you would have to be sure they were sitting down and they were tied to the bench, and then after you fed them, you would untie them and let them roam around. So the only way you really knew if a client had been fed, not knowing them well, was, if they were tied down they needed to be fed, if they were up walking around they had been fed. Nobody ever denies that there weren’t some bad things, nobody can deny the pictures that we saw in Laconia Citizen, and so forth, of terrible toilet facilities, and bathing facilities, and the openness of the living areas. Those things existed. But you have to realize that at the time, we were a state of the art institution. We were among the best in the country. We didn’t know any better. Parents put on more pressure to improve conditions. In 1975, the legislation passed a law: RSA 171-A, which mandated that the division of mental health would establish, maintain, implement, and coordinate a comprehensive service delivery system for developmentally disabled persons. And RSA 171-A reflected these constitutional principles of humane conditions, least restrictive environment, right to adequate treatment and rehabilitation. Jack Melton, a PhD psychologist from the Mental Health Center in Berlin, was appointed the new superintendent in 1975. Dr. Melton brought with him a commitment to reorganization and upgrading the facility. I think when Dr. Melton came in towards the end of it we got the training because we had heard we were going to have training, we kind of laughed. Many times people worked on the wards without having gone through training and we used a buddy system. They were assigned to another staff who had been there. And that isn’t always good, you know. You learn from the person that was working there, and sometimes you didn’t learn the way you should because they had learned the wrong way too. Everything that we did, we did the best
that we could do but because we had no training, it was obvious later on that we weren’t doing it properly. With the realization of the current resident population of 1,100, with 500 staff spread over three shifts, along with the attempt to further improve conditions at Laconia State School, parent groups and civilian advocacy
groups resorted to the power of the court to force change. The State Association for Retarded Citizens, as it was called then New Hampshire ARC, New Hampshire ARC, approached New Hampshire Legal Assistance to look into the conditions at Laconia State School. They had gone to the Justice department, they had gone to law firms, and you know, no one was willing to undertake that kind of lawsuit. Laconia was just so isolated and segregated, we didn’t do the kind of advocacy there that we had done, and were doing at New Hampshire Hospital, so we did very little there if anything. So when we first went there and saw it, I just couldn’t believe the inhumane conditions that people were subjected to. It was worse than the State Hospital, it was even worse than the State Prison, if you can believe that, the lack of privacy, lack of dignity, and the way people were treated. Laconia represented the huge blemish on New Hampshire. It was, you know, New Hampshire was guilty of neglect. Parents filed a class action lawsuit
against the state of New Hampshire on April 12, 1978. The grounds of the lawsuit Garrity Vs. Gallen were that New Hampshire had violated its own law, RSA 171-A, for the provision of minimum amount of services, and in violation of the US Constitution. We argued that by being in Laconia, getting no services, not being exposed to the normal things that most folks who live in the community are exposed to, that the state was actually denying the
right to mentate, their right to think, because they weren’t given the tools to think and process. We were cheated out of 12 years of education. I went to school and all they would do is give us coloring books and crayons to color and cut out pictures to put in magazines and paper dolls and stuff Because they said I would never learn anything, because I have a disability. Part of that lawsuit was to decide what is the least restrictive environment for these people to live in, and how can we best provide services to them and other people who were like them in the State of New Hampshire. There needs to be a community system that I don’t think anybody is going to say, “That’s not needed,” and that was started from darn near scratch. It’s not that there aren’t people trying, but we’re starting from scratch, and that’s going to take some doing. The Garrity Vs. Gallen suit resulted in a court order to reduce the size of the institution and ordered 235 community placements. The court order stopped short of ordering the institution to close, leaving that a voluntary option. Even among professional staff they’re hesitant about, “Schools are not equipped, the average Joe on the street will not treat these people well, we’re going to see an increase in crime,” there was all that, so there were always those debates ranging. So it wasn’t like, “Isn’t this a wonderful
thing.” The administration kept saying this because of pressures from what needed to take place, but we were dealing with really trying to get people to see things differently, and it was really, really, really hard. Melton also was instrumental in the class action suit. He carefully supported the efforts of the plaintiffs and worked very hard to implement the court ordered plan. We were lucky that we had a particular individual, Jack Melton, who was not defensive, and was not fighting the questions or the concerns; he was certainly fighting for the well-being of individuals and the responsible treatment of his staff. The average person outside of Laconia State School doesn’t realize the caring that goes on, on the part of staff who worked there. You know, 95% of the staff, 98% percent of the staff who worked, were wonderful people, and they were pretty much torn apart when they’d go home and read the paper to find out how bad they were all day long. The majority of the frustration had to do with the way that society viewed the state school. It was a case of everybody looks at the employees of the state schools being bad people which, having worked at the state school; I know that the people there were not bad people. It was a case that society had made the state school the way that it was. You had to treat staff as victims also because they were merely carrying out what was the accepted social policy. We knew that there were problems and once those problems were acknowledged in public, they also became a common understanding not only of problems but a need for action. Concurrently with the lawsuit, the
state develop the plan called “Action For Independence.” Action For Independence call for the development of any of your agency’s systems. We started forming and making services that would not only take care of people who you would take out of Laconia State School. But also the people who were already in the community. People with developmental disabilities, even with severe developmental disabilities could live in the community given appropriate, as I say given appropriate supports, and they could flourish much better than they could in an institutional environment. As the community support system increased its ability to support people, it became feasible from an economic and
fiscal point of view to place individuals in the community. Having a family who was told a message a long time ago, “This is the right choice for you to put your child up at Laconia State School,” and then for society to say again “Oh no, no, no, no, now we know what’s best, we’re changing the rules all over again.” And they were very skeptical and scared and fearful of their loved ones getting hurt. It was great having them come back home, but people weren’t ready to accept them because people with disabilities were sort of foreign to them, they weren’t used to them, the way some of them acted. Of course they got an invasive, not in my backyard. So we get problems trying to get home in certain areas. People around the country, and including New Hampshire, still couldn’t see folks living in the community with significant disabilities, even though a lot of people were living in the community. But this myth had been developed about Laconia State School, those were the people with the most severe disabilities, people who were dangerous, who could never live in a more homelike setting. And of course none of that made sense in, when you sort of begin to know folks at Laconia. In 1986, Rich Crocker became the last superintendent of Laconia State School. You couldn’t do well by the residents who lived there and placing them out, and not do well by the other group of victims who were the employees. And so taking control of that personnel system and doing all of that training all kind of fit together for me. Rich Crocker did a really brilliant job of kind of managing the personnel functions of Laconia and paid a lot of attention to career guidance for people, it was an option for people in the institution to actually become home providers. I thought Arthur Toll was a builder, I thought that Jack Melton increased the professional staffing of the facility immeasurably, and I thought that Richard Crocker introduced an educational system a continuing educational system, which greatly benefited the clients. I just believed that if I wanted to hold people accountable for doing their job, then I had to be willing to train them appropriately to do it. And although there was an orientation training program in existence when I got there, which was not bad. We really increased the opportunities and increased the support for all levels of staffs to have training. It was during his administration that the institution was slowly and carefully downsized, to the extent that the governor announced it was not economically viable to keep it open any longer. The population dramatically changed from 800 to 900 people in the late ’70s, by 1990 there were kind of fewer than 100 living there. So the sheer numbers started decreasing. The Area Agency System, in a few years, under its belt, and they were beginning to kind of development program that they were doing, vendor systems were beginning developed where there were provider agencies providing residential services and day program and evening; by 1988, the beginnings of some of the employment services in the state. We were doing something that doesn’t come along very often. Chances to do the kinds of things that we were doing, to provide services, to redesign our services, to provide them state-wide, to say maybe we can do this without the institution, and to provide all of the supports to be able to do that, that was exciting. Those things do not come along very often in a career, or in life. The culture of the people that I was working with that helped a lot of people move out of Laconia State School were ecstatic about the last day of Laconia State School and the ceremonial locking of the door, never to have it opened again. Because we felt that it was a civil rights movement and we, a lot of people were free and liberated, hopefully never to go back again. On January 31, 1991, the doors of Laconia State School closed for the last time. A new era dawned, the closing of the doors of Laconia State School. For New Hampshire, this marked the end of a dominant service paradigm of institutional care. This is a very, very important day. A day
to commemorate the closing of a book of 90 years in history that Laconia has written, and a day to celebrate what has been the first in the Nation, closing of institutional systems and opening up of communities. People who in the past who had experienced segregation, isolation from family and friends, and who were considered detriments to society, emerged from the back wards of the institution. Once the good work started in New Hampshire, once you place more and more people out, there was more communication, more people were ready. But you were the first, and you should get mighty credit for it, you are the first state who can say: “We no longer need an institution.” We take our hats off to New Hampshire; you are umber one. In less than one century, public policy has changed from a model of exclusion to inclusion. From sequestering in institutions those labeled as feeble-minded, to regarding those with developmental disabilities as citizens belonging to families and communities. This change was not easily attained, nor was it the story of smooth or continuous progress. It came about as many changes do as a result of the efforts of a relatively small number of vitally interested and committed individuals. And now the place is closed. I hope all who were there are now participating in a fuller life. A life that many others take for granted
which many, on the other hand, had to struggle. To those who did contribute, may God bless you unendingly. There’s an extreme intelligence with people with disabilities, and I think if we can get quiet enough, and learn from them, I think that we can be better people. I think it sums it up, if I had to do it over again I would do the same thing I did. I wouldn’t change it. Yeah? Why? I loved them As the rise and fall of Laconia State School fades into the archives, thoughts and memories of those who experienced it, it is up to us as people, to never have anyone ever be “Lost in Laconia,” or anywhere else in this world, ever again.

Author: Kennedi Daugherty

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