Sometime during the twentieth century, America became obsessively fascinated with studying the human mind, and institutions for the mentally and physically disabled began to pop up all over the land. This created a secondary location for individuals suffering from mental disorders. Rather than go to a psychiatric asylum, they could pursue help from a professionally staffed school dedicated to their needs.
Seeing the success of these institutions in Massachusetts and Connecticut, Rhode Island decided to build their own in the town of Exeter. The Rhode Island School for the Feeble Minded, also known as The Exeter School or The Ladd Center, was founded in 1907. Originally, it was a farm colony, where its residents would work and learn.
In 1909, with the growth of the resident population, a girls-only dormitory was erected. This success led to attention from various medical groups, who criticized the school for labeling its patients as “feeble minded.” In 1917, the school’s name was officially changed to The Exeter School.
The resident population continued to grow, yet the financial backing could not keep up. The school became overcrowded, underfunded, and the buildings began to deteriorate; however, the state continued to dump its unwanted citizens into the school, hoping they would get help, disappear, or simply cease to be a problem.
During the 1950s, rumors spread into mainstream media that The Exeter School was abusing and neglecting its students. In addition, there was one case of suspected murder brought upon the school, drawing even more attention to the institution and its students.
Somewhere in the 1960s, the facility was renamed once again to the Ladd Center after the school’s first superintendent, Dr. Joseph Ladd. During this time, the school had well over 1,000 patients and no way to properly care for all of them.
Finally, in the 1970s, the school received enough attention to mark the start of its decline. Various organizations and groups rallied to have the students moved to other places that could properly care for the students and give them the attention they need.
The last student removed from the Ladd Center was on March 25th, 1994.
Here is a mini documentary covering The Rhode Island School for the Feeble Minded: