That was the original name for the Walter E. Fernald State School on Trapelo Road in Waltham.
I’m only less than 100 pages into The State Boys Rebellion, a book about some of the boys who were residents the school in the fifties, but it’s one of the most fascinating non-fiction books I’ve read.
The IQ ranges used then are now considered antiquated and offensive:
50-69 = Moron
20-49 = Imbecile
Below 20 = Idiot
It is now believed that a good majority of the boys at Fernald were of normal IQ range, but put there because they were either orphans or undereducated.
It’s terrible to hear how the boys were treated, and how some of the intelligent residents were fed radioactive oatmeal as an experiment sponsored in part by Quaker Oats and led by MIT. The conditions were absolutely deplorable.
In 1972, a movement for mental health reform ended the admission there for children although the facility still exists as the Walter E. Fernald Association for adults. However, it will be closed by 2007.
It’s fascinating because the school is right in Waltham — and reading the book, with the old residents recalling going from North Station to Park Street and taking the commuter rail to Waverly Square…it’s easy to imagine.
And on the flip side, at the same time there was the prestigious and private McLean, just down the street from Fernald, but treating Boston’s elite and other big names such as Sylvia Plath, James Taylor, and Susannah Kaysen, protagonist of Girl Interrupted. Two totally different worlds. For more information on McLean, and the rise and fall of the hospital, I suggest reading Gracefully Insane.
Waltham certainly has its share of mental health history. There was also Metropolitan State Hospital, which I think is either demolished or will be soon.Filed under Greater Boston (General) | Comments (18)