DSQ > Summer 2008, Volume 28, No.3

Editor's Note:

Michael Rembis is the recipient of the 2008 Irving K. Zola Award For Emerging Scholars in Disability Studies.

Abstract

In this article, Rembis uses case files and other records from the state training school for girls in Geneva, Illinois, as well as published studies of female juvenile delinquents, to analyze the psychological evaluation of inmates from the perspective of both female experts and their female subjects. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, experts conducting research at Geneva consistently argued that an overwhelmingly high percentage of its inmates were "feebleminded" or "mentally defective." Analyzing the testing that occurred at Geneva reveals not only the importance of eugenics and other psy discourses in the construction of mental "defect," but also the contestation, negotiation, and redefinition that undergirded the formation of historically contingent definitions of impairment. Many disability theorists and activists have viewed impairment as a prediscursive state of being, as politically neutral, given, natural, and timeless. As this article shows impairment is not ahistorical. It too has a history, a genealogy. The ritual of modern psychological examination was a critical new modality of power that greatly affected the lives of its subjects; the examiner observed, measured, recorded, defined, and treated, all through a process in which power relations between scientist and subject were far from equal, but the ritual of the exam did afford its subjects some room for negotiation and redefinition. Young women incarcerated at Geneva actively participated in the examination and in the formation of their own individuality, and in some cases affected not only their own lived experience, but also dominant perceptions of "mental defect" and eugenic commitment.

Keywords:

Evelyn was neat and clean and gave the appearance of being alert and brighter than previous test results would indicate. She was self-conscious and was very anxious to do well on the tests. She was aware of her own limitations and when she became aware of her first failure she remarked, "Something is wrong with my brain." In her desire to do well she became overly anxious and nervous, so that her fingers trembled and she was unable to draw a straight line. Responses were given slowly.

Geneva Psychologist Report, 1930s1

Della was incarcerated in the State Training School for Girls in Geneva, Illinois when she was fifteen years old. Like all of the young women at Geneva, Della was forced to endure a series of mental and physical examinations upon her arrival, at which time, the staff determined she was a "high grade mental defective." Della was paroled after serving nine months, despite the fact that she was "committable [to the Lincoln State School and Colony for the Feebleminded] as far as her intelligence [was] concerned." A parole violation forced Della to return to Geneva, at which time, the staff administered yet another series of examinations and found that her intelligence rating was in "fair agreement with the former Stanford Binet rating." Although she gave the "impression of being brighter" than test results indicated, the Geneva staff ultimately decided to commit Della to Lincoln indefinitely.2

In many ways, Della's experience is representative of the thousands of cases processed through Illinois' reform institutions during the first half of the twentieth century. Results varied. Not every young woman who was incarcerated was labeled a "mental defective," and certainly not all inmates were committed to Lincoln. Yet Della's experience at Geneva is characteristic of the experience of other young women who were forced to endure physical and mental examinations upon their arrival to an institution. In most cases female medical staff and psychologists subjected young women to a number of different examinations during their first two weeks of incarceration. School administrators and staff would then use data obtained during testing to make a number of important decisions, including living arrangements, the type and level of training an inmate would receive while at Geneva, and ultimately whether or not an inmate was "defective" and in need of indefinite incarceration in one of the state's custodial facilities. Mental evaluations conducted on inmates played a critical role in shaping not only the reform process, but also the ways in which reformers viewed the objects of reform.

Della's experience and others like it are important because they offer glimpses into the complex, contested evaluative process that experts used to construct a group of vulnerable young women as "defective." New scientific instruments, most notably intelligence tests, which came to dominate the field of psychology by the 1910s enabled experts to diagnose young women like Della as impaired. That diagnosis rarely went unchallenged, however. Inmates almost never accepted experts' diagnosis or their prescribed course of treatment unquestioningly. They consistently sought to make sense of their "impairment" and their incarceration on their own terms. Their success was measured. Yet they infrequently found themselves completely defeated.

In this article, I use case files and other records from the state training school at Geneva, as well as published studies of female juvenile delinquents, to analyze the psychological evaluation of inmates from the perspective of both female experts and their female subjects.3 Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, experts conducting research at Geneva consistently argued that an overwhelmingly high percentage of its inmates were "feebleminded" or "mentally defective." Although percentages, which initially were between 85 and 95 percent, declined after 1920, they still remained high. Between 1920 and 1950, mental testers claimed that approximately 50 to 60 percent of Geneva's inmate population exhibited varying degrees of "feeblemindedness."4 Proponents of eugenic commitment and the creation of a special institution for "mentally defective" female delinquents cited the results of studies conducted at Geneva more than those from any other institution in Illinois.

Analyzing the testing that occurred at Geneva reveals not only the importance of eugenics and other psy discourses in the construction of mental "defect," but also the contestation, negotiation, and redefinition that undergirded the formation of historically contingent definitions of impairment.5 Many disability theorists and activists have viewed impairment as a prediscursive state of being, as politically neutral, given, natural, and timeless.6 As this article shows impairment is not ahistorical. It too has a history, a genealogy. Drawing from the work of Shelley Tremain and other disability theorists, I argue that impairment itself is "an effect of certain historical conditions and contingent relations of social power."7 This approach to the study of impairment does not deny the materiality of the body, rather, as Tremain argues, it "assumes that the materiality of 'the body' cannot be dissociated from the historically contingent practices that bring it into being, that is, bring it into being as a sort of thing."8

Scholars have analyzed the ways in which various actors utilized apparent physical differences to create what Jennifer Terry and Jacqueline Urla refer to as "embodied deviance."9 This article builds on that scholarship by showing that the clinician's gaze extended well beyond readily identifiable external manifestations of difference. In defining embodied deviance, Terry and Urla argue that it is "the historically and culturally specific belief that deviant social behavior (however that is defined) manifests in the materiality of the body, as a cause or an effect, or perhaps as merely a suggestive trace." They go on to argue that in tracing the history of the idea of embodied deviance, they found that, "classificatory practices at the heart of this notion [of embodied deviance] depended theoretically and pragmatically on making deviance visible." Terry and Urla assert, moreover, that experts' search for signs of deviance privileged sight above all other senses, and favored empirical observation and measurement over other methodologies.10 Della's case and others like it illustrate that experts were not nearly so limited in their quest to "discover" embodied deviance. This article builds upon the literature that explores the "somatic territorializing of deviance" by making systematic study of the ways in which experts used mental evaluations of inmates to render the seemingly invisible visible and by analyzing the contestation that occurred during the evaluative process.

The Rise of Human Testing

Science, primarily eugenics, psychology, and psychiatry enabled experts to cast young sexually delinquent women as "defective." Early-twentieth-century experts and reformers argued that the advent of eugenics and the rise in popularity and stature of psychological testing enabled them to examine more accurately inherent, embodied differences that went undetected in the past. For centuries, healers, scientists, social reformers, and other experts sought a reliable and accurate means of measuring one's mental and moral capacity. In the United States, two early sciences devoted to "measuring minds" were physiognomy, which read an individual's character and temperament in his or her face, and phrenology.11 Phrenology, which grew out of physiognomy, emerged by the 1840s as a popular technique for reading an individual's psychological strengths and weaknesses, or mental "power" through the shape of their head. The new science became especially popular with Americans who valued its self-help style of reform.

After the Civil War, Americans who increasingly turned to institutions and the state to solve society's ills began to lose faith in phrenology, which seemed to lack scientific rigor and focused too heavily on individual improvement.12 Beginning about the middle of the nineteenth century, the advent of the psy discourses, with their attendant technologies of power profoundly and perhaps permanently altered perceptions of normality.13 The rise of Darwinism, eugenics, and statistics also during the second half of the nineteenth century further altered conceptions of normality, which were increasingly rooted not in an individual's character or temperament, but rather the "normal distribution" of a given trait within a "controlled" subject pool, or the "standard deviation" from a socially constructed "mean." Statistics, along with the experiment — within which I would include "standardized" tests — became what sociologist Nikolas Rose refers to as "truth techniques" developed and deployed by social scientists in their "materialization" of "scientific truths."14 Unlike psychological testing, both physiognomy and phrenology emphasized visual observation and relied heavily on the intuitive powers of the expert to "read" an individual, which by the end of the nineteenth century was no longer considered scientific.

During the 1890s, the field of anthropometric mental testing, which consisted of a number of physiological and psychological measurements, and at least initially was considered to be more scientific than earlier methods of measuring mental ability, emerged in the United States and Europe. Although mental anthropometry, which measured strength of squeeze, rate of movement, sensation areas, reaction-time for sound, and other mental and physical processes, seemed much more scientific than earlier approaches to measuring mental ability, even its proponents admitted that they had no larger purpose in mind for the data they obtained. Early in his research, James McKeen Cattell admitted that, "what the individual variation may be, and what influences may be drawn from it, cannot be foreseen."15 For several reasons, not the least of which was the fact that anthropometric mental testing "lacked any theoretical superstructure" and could not yield data with any readily apparent statistical value, mental anthropometry all but disappeared by the beginning of the twentieth century.16

Henry H. Goddard's introduction of the Binet intelligence tests to the United States in 1908 seemed to provide mental testers with the scientific means that had eluded them throughout the nineteenth century. Dr. Clara Harrison Town, director of the Department of Clinical Psychology at Lincoln, argued that psychologists using Binet tests had "come forward with a thoroughly reliable and at the same time practical method of diagnosing the various grades of mental deficiency in the young."17 Walter Clarke, a field secretary for the American Social Hygiene Association, argued that psychologists, by means of a "subtler science," were able to "secure more accurate knowledge of the functioning of the mind than [could] be obtained by examining the promontories and depressions of the skull."18 No longer would scientists interested in examining human variation need to rely solely on visible markers of embodied difference. Intelligence tests and other psychological and psychiatric evaluations enabled scientists to incorporate the inner workings of the human mind into their purview, vastly expanding the parameters and possibilities of their research.19

Nowhere was the influence of intelligence testing and eugenics on dominant notions of embodied difference more evident than in the study of "defective" delinquents. Unlike the subjects of other American eugenic campaigns, most delinquents did not bear readily visible markers of their "deviance." They were not "new" immigrants. Most delinquents were native born and "white," and most bore no outward signs of physical or cognitive impairment. Yet their anti-social behavior signified to eugenic reformers the presence of some inherent "defect." Psychology and eugenics enabled experts and reformers who worked with delinquents — and who sought eugenic explanations for social problems — to codify and quantify that "defect." Experts used new evaluative regimes to construct a group of individuals, who appeared "normal," but who for a number of complex socio-economic reasons did not live "normally," as eugenically "unfit."20

Psychological testing became the means through which eugenicists would make salient and "visible" previously undetectable makers of "defect." As psychologist Kurt Danziger argues, psychology underwent a fundamental change in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century when its practitioners became "decisively committed" to statistical psychological studies that isolated specific human traits. Scientists in a number of disciplines, including psychology, were becoming increasingly interested in statistical studies because they enabled them to form aggregates based on test results, which in turn provided for the individuation of social problems.

Statistical studies became especially popular in the U.S., where they enabled experts and social reformers to focus their efforts on using science and the state to reform groups of individuals rather than the overall social or economic structure. The quantification of psychological phenomena that resulted from statistical studies also lent an air of scientific credibility to psychologists who were eager to prove their practical worth in an American society that was increasingly turning to experts in an effort to solve social problems. As psychologist William Tucker argues, turn-of-the-century psychologists had entered into an "essentially Faustian bargain" when they failed to make a distinction between what he calls an "objective attempt to understand behavior" and the "creation of ideological support for a social order informed by eugenicist and other elitist principles." Psychologists, according to Tucker, had sold their "scientific soul" in exchange for "recognition, influence, and prestige."21

Statistical psychological studies figured prominently in this bargain. They were critical in the efforts of psychologists to be taken seriously. They also, as Danziger argues, "greatly facilitated the artificial creation of new groups whose defining characteristic was based on performance on some psychological instrument, most commonly an intelligence test." "A score on a mental test," according to Danziger, "conferred membership in an abstract collectivity created for the purpose of psychological research."22 In Illinois and elsewhere, individuals conducting research in reform institutions used a number of newly created mental examinations to substantiate preconceived notions concerning not only the existence, but also the measurability of innate difference within a seemingly homogeneous "white" population.

By far the most important tool used by experts were the Binet intelligence tests. The Binet scale consisted of a series of sixty-four tests that were graduated in order of increasing difficulty. Experts who administered the exams sought to obtain three main results. Their primary goal was to objectify their subject's perceived intellectual level or "mental age" by assigning it a numerical value. They also sought to quantify important "practical" data such as an individual's ability to "read, write, draw, use language, use numbers, use money, do errands, imitate, etc." Finally, experts used the Binet tests to classify certain observable characteristics such as an individual's "attitude, his emotional condition, his speech and movements, and various other characteristics of his response and conduct." Mental testers considered individuals who showed more than three years of retardation in intelligence, functioning, or development to be "feebleminded."23 According to Elizabeth S. Kite, the woman who translated the Binet tests for Goddard, even though the expert's "[s]ubjective appreciation of mental states" entered into the diagnosis of "most cases," they could be certain that "Binet's line of definite demarcation" insured that their diagnoses rested upon a "comparatively solid basis of fact."24 Armed with the Binet intelligence tests and their own "subjective appreciation of mental states" a diverse array of experts boldly entered places such as the state training school at Geneva ready to "discover" mental defect.

The complex, dynamic nature of the classificatory process and the elasticity with which experts applied their methods is evident in contemporary observations concerning the prevalence of "feeblemindedness" in different communities throughout Illinois. Upon his examination of the work of mental testers in St. Clair and Peoria Counties, Harrison L. Harley, a psychologist at the Juvenile Psychopathic Institute, found that the number of "feebleminded" individuals that were "discovered" in each county was directly proportional to the "sensitiveness of the social conscience of the community concerned." The number of "feebleminded" persons "discovered" in Peoria County, where the "social effort" was highly organized, was higher than that of St. Clair County where the "social effort" was not very well organized.25 As Danziger argues, the creation of statistical psychological studies, most of which centered upon the measurement of intelligence, "opened up untold vistas" for researchers, because they enabled scientists to create "abstract collectivity" seemingly without end.26 By the early twentieth century, mental evaluations had become an important and powerful means of defining embodied deviance. In the next section, we will begin to explore the complicated evaluative process, what Foucault has referred to as the ritual of the examination.

"Defective Delinquents" and "Brian Touchers": Contestation and the Ritual of the Examination

Thirty years have passed since Foucault first asked historians to write a history of the process of the examination; not a history of tests or experiments or studies, but of the examination itself, with all of "its rituals, its methods, its characters and their roles, its play of questions and answers, its systems of marking and classification." For Foucault, the highly ritualized process of the examination "combined the ceremony of power and the form of the experiment, the deployment of force and the establishment of truth." By holding its subjects in a "mechanism of objectification," the examination "transformed the economy of visibility into the exercise of power." It manifested the subjection of individuals who were perceived as objects and made possible the "objectification of those who [were] subjected." The exam established over individuals a visibility through which the examiner differentiated them and judged them; and through its "documentary techniques," the exam transformed the individual into a "case."27

Foucault believed that the "superimposition" of the power relations and knowledge relations produced in the exam afforded the examination "all its visible brilliance" and ultimately made it possible to "qualify, to classify and to punish." But was the exam, with its techniques of "observing hierarchy" and of "normalizing judgment," a unidirectional process? Foucault seems to think it was; the examination he argues, fixed at once ritual and "scientific" understandings of individual difference. The "pinning down of each individual in his own particularity," Foucault argues, "clearly indicates the appearance of a new modality of power in which each individual receives as his status his own individuality, and in which he is linked by his status to the features, the measurements, the gaps, the 'marks' that characterize him and make him a 'case.'"28

The ritual of modern psychological examination was certainly a critical new modality of power that greatly affected the lives of its subjects; the examiner observed, measured, recorded, defined, and treated, all through a process in which power relations between scientist and subject were far from equal, but the ritual of the exam did afford its subjects some room for negotiation and redefinition. Young women incarcerated in the state training school at Geneva actively participated in the examination and in the formation of their own individuality, and in some cases affected not only their own lived experience, but also dominant perceptions of "mental defect" and eugenic commitment.

Case records from Illinois are full of evidence of young women using the ritual of the examination to assert some semblance of power and control in shaping both their own individuality, and the course of treatment they received. For most young women the exam process began in the courtroom and continued at the Juvenile Psychopathic Institute, or after 1917, the Institute for Juvenile Research (IJR). Another round of examinations began when the young inmate arrived at Geneva. In most cases, experts repeated the examination process several times during the period of incarceration. Experiences similar to that of Helen were not uncommon. Born in October 1921, Helen experienced her first examination at the IJR in November 1930, when she was only nine years old. Psychologists assigned her an IQ of 89, or a "low average intelligence." At the time of her first exam, Helen was living with a cousin in Chicago. She was part of what caseworkers described as a "broken family." Her father was gone, and her mother had refused to take Helen with her to Indiana when she moved there with a new man.

In February 1931, the Cook County Juvenile Court sent Helen to the Illinois Children's Home and Aid Society (ICHAS), who ultimately placed her in the state foster care system. Helen's cousin had refused to care for Helen any longer, because of the young girl's "misbehavior" and "nervousness." Helen remained in the foster care system until November 1937. During that time, she passed through several homes and institutions. She did not adjust well in her first home and was sent to the IJR in July 1934 for a second round of examinations. The psychologist obtained similar results with the IQ tests, but now the psychiatrist determined that Helen was "beginning a psychosis or soon would become psychopathic." The ICHAS placed their young charge in a new home, where she remained for the next six months, during which time, she went to the IJR twice a month for treatment to prevent a "manic depressive psychosis."

Helen entered her first institution, the Mary Judy boarding school, in January 1935, where she once again had a difficult time. In November 1936, she was moved to the Evanston Receiving Home. A month later, the staff at the IJR examined her yet again. This time they declared that Helen was not psychotic and that she possessed an average intelligence. The IJR recommended that Helen be sent to yet another foster home, where she remained until November 1937. In October 1937, Helen's birthmother had returned to Illinois in search of her daughter and after a brief investigation, the ICHAS allowed Helen to live with her. This, however, did not mark the end of Helen's experience with examinations or the state.

In July 1938, Helen returned to the IJR apparently determined to use the only means she knew to escape the custody of her mother. During the subsequent examinations, Helen, whom experts had classified as "average intelligence" on three previous occasions, performed poorly on intelligence tests, resulting in a rating of "dull and backward." Helen was also initially "stolid and resistive" to the psychiatric interview and when she finally began to cooperate, she was "sullen and resentful." Later she became "more friendly but very emotional." The examiner found that, "In spite of her tears she maintained a very suspicious paranoid attitude." Helen apparently felt that everybody hated her and nobody trusted her. She accused her probation officer and various workers from different social agencies of lying about her and of "wanting to get rid of her." She admitted to hallucinations, "particularly of God's voice which tells her that she is a very bad girl." According to the psychiatrist, Helen had "very definite ideas of influence;" she felt that people could read her mind and that certain "people" whom she refused to name were responsible for her misbehavior. The "impression" of the experts at the IJR was that Helen was a "case" of schizophrenia or dementia praecox and that she was in need of custodial care. Although the IJR wanted to send Helen to a state hospital for the psychopathic or insane, she refused to be sent anywhere but the state training school in Geneva, where she said she could be safe from the "evil influences" in her life. Helen got her way; she was sent to Geneva.

Helen entered Geneva at the end of July and one month later became the subject of yet another examination. This time the whole experience was quite different. According to the Geneva staff, Helen was a "very friendly girl who made herself at home as soon as she got in the examining room." The psychologist noted that the "situation and circumstances were familiar to [Helen] since she has been examined so often before." When the experts asked Helen why she was at Geneva, she replied, "Because I can't get along anyplace but in an institution." Helen felt so "at home" in the examination room that she "talked constantly for 2 1/2 hours and it was only when she was told that she had to eat that she was willing to leave." Her examiners noted that during the interview, Helen "made an attempt to diagnose her own difficulties and seemed to have some degree of insight." She even used some of the clinical language that she had heard the adults use when they were discussing her experience. Following the examination at Geneva, experts determined that Helen was not psychopathic or insane, but that she could benefit from talking to a psychologist "occasionally about her problems." The staff was not able to give Helen a Stanford-Binet intelligence test, because "she had had the examination three times before and knew all the questions." She was also familiar with most of the other written examinations. Helen remained at Geneva, and away from her mother, until she was twenty-one years old.29

As Helen's case shows, the ritual of the examination was quite fluid and dynamic, and while mental health experts, the state, and other adults held a considerable amount of power over their young subjects, that power was not absolute. Even within the severely constraining environment of foster homes, state institutions, and the Institute for Juvenile Research, Helen maintained some measure of influence over her own fate and the creation of her own identity. She did not passively receive her individuality from her examiners; she was not simply a "case" to be filed away with other similar "cases." She was, however, caught within a system, a modality of power and knowledge in which experts tried consistently to define her as unintelligent, as psychopathic, as deviant; as someone in need of custodial care; as all of those classifications that figured so prominently in the lives of most young female "delinquents" and their families, and had their roots in dominant understandings of "normal" intelligence and behavior. Helen, like so many of the young women labeled "feebleminded" or "mentally defective," did not accept the identity imposed upon her by experts uncritically, nor did she passively submit to incarceration. Although they rarely escaped the controlling, normalizing gaze of experts, judges, institution administrators, and parents completely, the young women incarcerated at Geneva possessed a measure of agency; some of them in fact were quite savvy.

Inmates at the state training school at Geneva were well aware of the importance of the examination and the power of examiners. They dubbed resident experts "brain touchers" and continually published articles in their school newspaper advising their fellow inmates on how to maintain their composure during the very tense testing process.30 Despite distinct social and cultural disadvantages, as well as an acute sense of fear and anxiety brought on by the exam process, inmates rarely showed signs of being passive or powerless during their evaluations. Many of them, like Helen, were quite talkative during their exams. Inmates made excuses for themselves, they shared their experiences, and they sought their own explanations and interpretations of their incarceration and of the testing process and the results it supposedly revealed. In many cases, inmates who feared they might be classified as "mentally defective," attempted, in their own subtle ways, to undermine experts' authority and persuade mental testers that they were indeed "normal."

By taking an active interest in the exam process, by appropriating the language of their examiners, and by continually voicing their own concerns and insights, inmates shaped the evaluative process in very subtle, but also very meaningful and powerful ways. An inmate's verbal banter, their posture, and their attitude during an exam sent clear messages to mental testers that inmates were not going to be pinned down in their own "particularity" and become part of an "observing hierarchy" without some level of contestation. Inmates' actions, moreover, make salient the looseness of mental classifications that most Americans saw as at once "natural" and "scientific." By going into the exam room with young women like Helen and the female experts who examined them we can begin to reveal the historical contingency of impairment itself.

"I ain't had much schooling": Inmates Strike Back

There is little doubt that incarceration and the ritual of the exam proved quite stressful for inmates. Experts at Geneva administered a whole litany of physical and psychological examinations within the first two weeks of incarceration. In most cases, the staff performed all of the examinations within the first few days of incarceration, while the young women were still attempting to adjust to their new surroundings and cope with the stress of being incarcerated. Although inmates were given group tests, most exams were performed individually and in private — not en masse as they were during World War I — which added stress to the exam process. Mental testers found that Daisy Mae exhibited "poor attention" during her exam, in part because she was "still emotionally upset over being in the institution." Despite their awareness of her emotional condition during the exam, experts classified Daisy as a "borderline mental defective" and assigned her an IQ of 73. Sixteen-year-old Evelyn, who was tested just three days after entering Geneva and who was found to possess a "dull borderline intelligence," was "extremely nervous when she came into the testing room." Psychologists noted that Evelyn's body "quivered as if an electric current were passing through it." She "began to cry before a word was said to her."

Despite the stress of the ritual of the examination, many inmates assumed a confident, cooperative, and sometimes superior posture in the exam room. Elzina, whom experts described as "very talkative at the time of the examination" made many promises regarding her future behavior, but ultimately tried to convince her inquisitors that occasional delinquencies were unavoidable. Elzina ended her exam by stating, "but you know how it is, a girl will get into a little trouble now and then." Yvonne was also very talkative during her exam. Among other things, Yvonne attempted to convince experts at Geneva that although the doctors at the Institute for Juvenile Research "thought she was 'nuts'," she really only had a "psychopathic heart.'" Experts argued that Dora possessed "no insight into her limitations." Yet she remained very much at ease with her examiners. The staff at Geneva commented that Dora even assumed a "rather superior attitude" during her exam, and that she watched the scoring of her exam "very closely." When Daisy Mae did not perform well on her exam, she informed the psychologists that she was worried about her mother and unable to concentrate. She made it clear to the experts that she needed to be certain that her mother was "getting well." The Geneva staff recorded that yet another inmate named Lillian "smiled complacently" throughout her exam as if "nothing which was being done could affect her." Mental testers noted, however, that Lillian frequently queried examiners regarding the quality of her answers and that toward the end of her exam, Lillian "grew solicitous for the welfare of the examiner." According to experts, Lillian wondered aloud if it was not tiring for the psychologists to "talk so much."31

Not all of Geneva's young inmates coped with the anxiety and stress involved with taking the exams in the same manner. While some inmates attempted to remain confident and cooperative, other young women such as Louise possessed a "quarrelsome nature," or like Eleanor, remained "stolid and defiant" throughout the testing process. Some young women simply refused to talk about certain subjects. Experts at the IJR described seventeen-year-old Thelma as a girl who presented "a very dull, inadequate appearance" and someone who was "dull and backward in intelligence." She had gonorrhea at the time of her examination and admitted to having had an abortion at the Cook County Hospital, but examiners noted that she refused "to discuss the reason for the abortion and also refuse[d] to name anyone as being responsible for her pregnancy." According to the experts, Thelma stated "very frankly that she did not consider it necessary to discuss that particular phase of her troubles. She was very vague as to her sex activities and obviously did not wish to tell the truth." Other young women, like Josephine, became "rather aggressive" or "moderately resentful" during the examination. Experts noted that Josephine also "blamed all of her delinquencies and her commitment on Dorothy Hughes, another Geneva ward." Blaming other young women for their apparent delinquencies was quite common among the young women at the IJR and Geneva. The psychologist at Geneva noted that Annabelle "blamed Helen Starck (committed to Geneva with her) for all of her difficulties and claims she 'never would done nothin' if Helen hadn't appeared."32 Inmates knew they were at a distinct disadvantage in the exam room. Yet this did not stop them from asserting themselves in their own distinct ways.

Some inmates like Doris exhibited signs that they simply did not value the exam process and were unconcerned about performing well on tests. Experts described Doris as "a small, white girl" who appeared "alert and much brighter than" test results indicated. Psychologists stated that Doris followed directions well, but that she was unable to concentrate. She grew restless during her exam and became tired; and when questions became "too difficult she became very bored and made no attempt to solve [them]." The Geneva staff also found that Doris "gave very poor attention" when taking a group intelligence test. She guessed at all of her answers and tried to copy from a neighbor. Experts concluded that Doris read well, but that she did not understand what she read. Doris' apparent unwillingness to participate in the ritual of the exam led experts to classify her as a "borderline defective."33

Other inmates knew that their lack of formal schooling would be detrimental to their performance on exams, and they frequently vocalized their concern to mental testers. Although young women such as Della and Evelyn were "very cooperative," they were also very anxious to do their best on tests. Part of inmates' anxiety stemmed from the fact that they were very much, in the words of their examiners, "aware of their limitations." They frequently made comments such as; "I ain't been reading while on parole;" "I can't do much today;" "I ain't had much schooling;" or "Something is wrong with my brain." Psychologists noted that Evelyn was "anxious to be successful," and that she "covered her errors by statements concerning her 'dumbness' in comparison with her brother's brilliance." Experts also found that Evelyn "frequently" used her own nervousness to explain her failure on the exam. Fifteen-year-old Naomi who had only completed the third grade told her examiners that she did not like going to school because her teachers made fun of her. When Annabelle's testing began, she immediately explained to the psychologists that she was "not very smart at school." Although she tried every item on the exam, Annabelle frequently guessed at the answers. Another inmate named Shirley, whom psychologists described as a "thin, pale white girl," was so "nervous" and "unsure of herself" that she grinned and giggled when she was unable to answer a question. She needed constant encouragement, and she added, "I think that is right," or "something like that" to the end of each answer. Geneva's young inmates understood the importance that staff members placed on intelligence tests and the oral interview, and they recognized that they were not prepared to take the exams. Rather than accept their "failure" uncritically, they used every means at their disposal to challenge the outcome of the ritual of the examination.

Sixteen-year-old Sybil's experience at Geneva is emblematic of the contestation that occurred in the exam room. Sybil had quit school after the sixth grade, but was "anxious" to complete the eighth grade when she entered Geneva. She articulated her desire to continue her schooling to her examiners, but because tests showed that she supposedly possessed a "mental age" of eleven and an IQ of 74, psychologists were hesitant to allow her to continue her education. They noted that Sybil was "quite ambitious for a girl of her mental ability and in this respect show[ed] no insight into her limitations." They concluded that she would "profit little from further academic work." What psychologists considered a lack of "insight into her limitations" was most likely a manifestation of Sybil's efforts to define her own identity, despite experts' diagnosis.

Sybil appears to have had some measure of success in her battle with the "brain touchers." Despite test results, Geneva staff placed her in the seventh grade class, where she excelled. The following year the Geneva psychologists, who were determined not to abandon their original mental classification, recorded that, "Sybil's academic progress has been very good in consideration of her mental ability." Eager to reassert their power over Sybil, the experts concluded once again that she had "reached her academic limit." They classified her as, "a borderline defective, very close to dull." Although they grudgingly admitted that Sybil might show some future progress, experts maintained their conclusion that she did not possess the ability to complete the eighth grade. Sybil, who was determined to complete the eighth grade because she "found this very necessary in looking for a job," remained very anxious to continue her education. Unfortunately, it is unclear from Sybil's records if she ever completed her schooling, but her experience remains quite revealing of the struggles between inmates and experts.34

Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, many young women at Geneva remained steadfast in their conviction to chart their own path through Illinois' burgeoning juvenile justice and mental health systems. Some, like Sybil, sought to continue their education despite experts' official pronouncements concerning their "mental ability." They did not always get their way and they did not always succeed in their endeavors; but their challenges to the authority of experts and staff at Geneva and the IJR cannot be denied. Unfortunately for inmates, experts almost always perceived their challenges and their complicated lives as further signs of "defect." In the next section, we will take a look at the ways in which the cumulative effects of test subjects utterances and actions during the exam, as well as their previous life experiences, contributed to experts' creation of impairment.

The Ritual of the Examination and the Creation of Mental Deviance

Intelligence tests and other psychological and psychiatric evaluations enabled experts and reformers to create embodied deviance by providing them with the analytical room necessary to make highly unreliable diagnoses, and the cultural authority to act on those decisions. As previously stated, the Binet tests enabled experts to codify and quantify every aspect of the ritual of the examination. Observation of an inmate's behavior was an important part of evaluation. Experts were well aware that test results were greatly influenced by the testing process itself, which proved to be physically, mentally, and emotionally debilitating for test subjects. They also knew quite well the effects of the added stress of incarceration and the effects of an abusive, neglectful home life and little formal schooling on the testing process. Yet experts attempted in most cases to adhere to their own methodological assumptions, diagnoses, and prescribed courses of treatment. Though they found themselves challenged by inmates, experts' social and cultural biases, which were rooted largely in their effort to maintain the dominant sex/gender system, obscured their perception of the efficacy and reliability of the testing and interview process and their interpretations of test results.35 That they based their assessment of an incarcerated individual's intelligence not only on test scores, which were quite problematic, but also on a subjective interpretation of inmates' actions and utterances during the examination, empowered mental testers to define a broad range of inmates as "defective."36

The most important marker of mental deviance, especially for young female test subjects, was any evidence of experience in "sex matters." Goddard and Helen F. Hill cited, along with a litany of other characteristics, the fact that a young sixteen-year-old woman whom they studied got "very much excited by the company of men," and "attracted the attention of workmen across the street" when the probation officer brought her in to be examined, as evidence of mental "defect." In the same study, Goddard and Hill stated that another young "feebleminded" woman's employer found her to be "boy crazy."37 The experts at the IJR noted that a Geneva inmate named Josephine "told of repeated sex relations" during her examination. In another exam, the IJR staff found Emily to be a "borderline defective" and "dull" in part because she exhibited "every indication" that she had "learned to turn to sexual delinquency for satisfactions which she has not been able to obtain at school or in the home." Emily's "dullness" combined with her "definite physical maturity" and her "crying need for affection and attention" led to her incarceration in Geneva.38 She was, in the words of early-twentieth-century eugenicists, a "feebleminded menace."

Well into the twentieth century, experts asserted that the apparent correlation between "feeblemindedness" and sexual "immorality" was evidence that "feeblemindedness" could be both the cause and the result of "immoral" activity.39 In his examination of Dora, an inmate at the Lincoln State School and Colony, Dr. Edmund Huey claimed that tests showed a "fatal weakness of mental control" and "tendencies to confusion" whenever circumstances became "complex;" that is whenever she was in the presence of men. He concluded that Dora was "emotionally unstable" and at the mercy of her "sexual instinct." Huey argued, moreover, that Dora's "instability" was both attributable to, and evidence of, the fact that she possessed a "feeble mental span."40 According to experts who conducted studies in Illinois' reform institutions, Dora's case is illustrative of the majority of cases involving young "feebleminded" women who were unable to control their own, or men's, "sex instinct."

Young women who came into the exam room pregnant were especially likely to be labeled "mentally defective." Experts at the IJR noted that during her examination Elizabeth, who was five or six months pregnant, appeared "attentive" and "cooperative," and indeed may have scored "slightly higher" if she were not pregnant. Yet they made no attempt to retest her after she delivered her baby. When Elizabeth arrived at Geneva, the psychologists there concluded that, "All examinations agree in classifying this girl as a borderline defective, close to the feeble-minded group." They described Elizabeth as someone who "appeared to be a shallow, superficial girl, completely lacking in insight or understanding;" all characteristics that no doubt influenced their classification, as well as their decision not to retest her. The Geneva staff concluded that, "Elizabeth's adjustment will probably be typical of her classification." Although Elizabeth expressed a desire to continue her education in high school, the psychologists determined that she was "not capable of further academic work." They recommended institutionalization and "training in a more simple field."41

Middle class experts rooted in the dominant sex/gender system that favored white heterosexual male sexual privilege classified young women who were victims of sexual abuse as "mentally defective." Ruth is an example of an inmate whose experience in the exam room was directly affected by the extreme hardship brought on by rape. According to psychologists at Geneva, Ruth appeared very anxious and expressed interest in wanting to talk to someone when they called her in for the examination. Although she appeared upset, the staff proceeded with the intelligence tests. Her examiners later commented that Ruth gave them the "impression of being unstable, and possibly easily disturbed emotionally" during the tests. They reported that she also showed signs of "indecision" and "uncertainty." The experts found that Ruth "blushed a good deal" and seemed quite disturbed and embarrassed. It appeared to her examiners that Ruth wanted to tell them about the experience of being raped by her father, but that she "seemed quite disturbed over the situation and could not speak freely about it." Ultimately, Ruth told her examiners about her rape, but it apparently did little to influence their diagnosis of her "mental ability." No further information concerning the rape was included in Ruth's case file. The file did, however, include the results of the intelligence tests. The psychologists at Geneva found Ruth to be "dull to low average," and concluded that she had reached her academic limit, which was the eighth grade. They recommended high school vocational work in of all things "domestic science."42 In many cases, experts interpreted stories of sexual abuse as either a direct sign of a young woman's inherent inability to control both herself and the men she encountered, as the products of the overactive imaginations of their young test subjects, or as signs of the young women's open willingness to deceive, all of which they classified as evidence of mental "defect."

Another important sign of mental "defect" was a young woman's extreme "suggestibility." Young Della, who was in and out of Geneva between the ages of fifteen and nineteen, was yet another inmate who gave examiners the "impression of being brighter" than test results indicated. Yet when the psychologists at Geneva examined Della, they found her to be a "high grade mental defective." Experts described Della as someone who was "talkative;" who was "quite alert to her surroundings;" and who showed "some degree of common sense." These factors, experts argued, combined with Della's "earnest and sincere manner in speaking," gave them the "impression" that she was a "girl of a higher I.Q." According to the Geneva staff, Della's greatest fault was her "extreme suggestibility." They found that she was "willing to accept any response suggested to her and would change a correct response to an incorrect one if she thought she detected a sign of disapproval from the examiner."43 Experiences similar to Della's were quite common among inmates at Geneva and the IJR. Experts cited signs of "suggestibility" during the ritual of the examination in nearly every case in which an inmate was found to be mentally "defective." Rather than acknowledge the asymmetrical power relations inherent in the testing process and alter either their methods or their findings, the experts at Geneva instead chose to highlight their young subjects' "extreme suggestibility" as an obvious sign of mental "defect."

Although experts classified most of the young women at Geneva as "white" native-born Americans, many of them lived in households where parents spoke little English. Inmates general lack of formal schooling combined with obvious language difficulties contributed to their being labeled "mentally defective." Virginia's experience is one of a number of experiences in which language played a significant role in the evaluative process. When psychologists at Geneva examined fifteen-year-old Virginia — which was only two days after she entered the institution — they found that she was "very quiet, very unemotional." According to her examiners, there was "an immobility about [Virginia] which made testing very difficult." The Geneva staff explained that: "Not by any sign would she show whether or not she grasped the directions." When the examiners asked Virginia if she understood the directions, she invariably said "yes." The staff noted, however, that Virginia also frequently stated that she did not know the answers to their questions, and that she displayed "no embarrassment" when she could not answer their questions. Experts noted that outwardly Virginia appeared cooperative and attentive. Yet they concluded that she seemed to "create a barrier between herself and the examination, which made it difficult to judge the extent of her real participation." Virginia explained to her examiners that Dutch was spoken in her home: "English hardly at all." Despite Virginia's plea, mental testers made no attempt to compensate in any way for their young test subject's obvious language difficulties. In fact, they concluded that Virginia was a "high grade mental defective," and argued that intelligence tests clearly showed that Virginia had been "pushed in school beyond her capabilities." Virginia had been in the eighth grade before her incarceration at Geneva and expressed interest in completing her schooling. The Geneva staff concluded, however, that further academic training did not "appear to be indicated either by her attainment or by her intelligence level."44 In Virginia's case, as well as other cases, cultural and linguistic differences between examiners and their subjects complicated the testing process and significantly affected both diagnosis and treatment.

The experts at Geneva and the IJR showed signs that they were aware of the complicated situations from which their test subjects emerged. Yet they were unwilling to abandon either the testing process or the information it ostensibly revealed. Superintendent Amigh, who was one of the most outspoken proponents of eugenic commitment, observed that: "Very few of the girls have had any training in the choice and use of good books, before entering [Geneva]."45 The teachers at Geneva also acknowledged that many of their pupils never attended school, and knew "absolutely nothing in the line of a practical education."46 Geneva's principal, Charlotte Dye, who was at Geneva the same time as Amigh, asserted that most of the young women who could not read or write were "not deficient but neglected."47 Comments such as, "Her home environment was very unsatisfactory and she had very irregular attendance in school," appear in nearly all of the examination records of young women whom experts classified as "mentally defective." Equally prevalent, however, are comments such as; ".will never be able to do high school work;" ".has reached her academic limit;" ".will profit little from further academic work;" and ".does not have the ability to complete the grades."48 Mental testers at Geneva and the IJR recognized that their subjects came from abusive, neglectful homes and had little or no formal schooling. This alone, however, rarely affected either their diagnosis or their prescribed course of treatment for the young women they examined.

The fluidity of the ritual of the exam provided mental health experts with a degree of conceptual capaciousness that enabled them simultaneously to minimize the possible social and economic explanations of inmates perceived "deviance" and reify the existence of some inherent mental "defect." If a subject's performance on an examination did not meet the expectations of the examiner, or if a subject exhibited behavior that was not defined by the examiner as "normal," then the subject was labeled "feebleminded" or "mentally defective." For example, in his examination of "backward and feebleminded" children, Huey found that Dora was a "good dancer" and a "satisfactory pupil" who could multiply, divide, and read a newspaper with "moderate fluency." Huey also found that Dora was "dull," "unstable," and possessed a "feeble mental span," in part, because she could not define the terms "charity," "goodness," and "justice" in a manner that satisfied him. When Huey asked Dora to define "charity," she replied, "Aren't they the people that come here [to Lincoln] to look after things?" When Huey asked Dora to define "goodness," she replied, "Someone is kind to you." According to Huey, Dora was unable to define "justice." Although the Binet tests only required that the subject define two terms "satisfactorily," Huey concluded that abstractions were "quite beyond" Dora.49 New scientific evaluations created by emerging professionals eager to solidify their position within an expanding welfare state provided experts with the means to cast a group of young, working-class, native born, "white" women who engaged in sexually dubious behavior as inherently "deviant." In most cases, any non-normative behavior or utterance during the ritual of the exam served as a powerful marker of some flaw embedded deep within the test subject.50

Outcomes

Experts unwavering faith in science and in their own ability to discover "defect" often had dire consequences for the young women who found themselves caught within the ritual of the examination, the worst of which was indefinite incarceration in a state institution. Though it occurred in only 5-10 percent of cases, there were young women like Della who were committed indefinitely to the Lincoln State School and Colony for the Feebleminded based largely on the results of examinations. Experts committed Naomi to Lincoln. They committed another inmate named Shirley to the state institution at Dixon. Psychologists offered the following explanation for their decision to commit Shirley:

Shirley is classified as a high-grade mental defective according to two examinations, a group test and an individual test. Shirley is completely lacking in insight and judgment. She is not capable of taking care of herself and will always require strict supervision and care. In view of her previous history and present attitude combined with her low mentality it would appear that Shirley would easily return to her previous delinquent habits. Commitment to an institution for the feeble-minded would offer her and the community the necessary protection.

 

The nexus of delinquency, defect, and protection that proved so critical in the commitment of Shirley to Dixon had its roots in the ritual of the examination. Mental testers classified yet another Geneva inmate, Annabelle, as a "high grade defective" and assigned her an IQ of 61. They described her as "both intellectually and emotionally shallow," and as someone who had "little understanding of her delinquencies." Psychologists concluded that Annabelle would "require close supervision both outside of the institution and within it." They recommended that she also be committed indefinitely to an institution for the "feebleminded."51

Though they possessed considerable power, mental health experts did not always have the last word in the diagnosis or treatment of their young charges. Inmates who fought to have their voices heard during their examinations and struggled to succeed in Geneva's classrooms challenged the notion that they were "unfit" and ultimately played a role in transforming the diagnosis and treatment of adolescent "sex delinquents." Though subtle, the cumulative affect of young women's challenges contributed to the decline in the diagnosis of impairment at Geneva and eventually to an abandonment of eugenic commitment in Illinois by the early 1950s. Other social and scientific factors certainly played an important role in bringing about these changes, but the previously unacknowledged role of the young women themselves no doubt also had an effect.52

Despite significant disadvantages, including being labeled "feebleminded" or "mentally defective," many of the young women incarcerated at Geneva showed marked improvement in their schoolwork. From its inception, the staff at the state training school at Geneva perceived their institution as an educational facility. That perception did not change with the advent of intelligence testing and the apparent realization that most of their inmates exhibited some degree of "mental defect." Upon the completion of a whole series of physical and mental tests, administrators placed their young charges in an appropriate grade level. The teaching staff then began to work with students in acquiring basic skills and knowledge, sometimes with positive results. "It has been the purpose of this school," Superintendent Amigh argued, "to give every girl, as far as she is capable of acquiring it, a good English education, and while the [progress] of many is slow, very satisfactory results have been obtained." Amigh went on to explain that the staff at Geneva instilled a desire to learn in many of the young women through "story telling and by reading aloud to them," and by allowing them access to the books in the school's small library.53 One of the teachers at Geneva explained that of the inmates with little schooling, which tended to be the majority, "many would ordinarily be considered incapable of learning, but by patience, infinite patience, sympathy and tactful management they acquire power to read and write, also to memorize choice selections." Some of her students, the teacher declared, advanced even farther, and expressed interest in continuing their studies in high school.54 Principal Dye declared in 1910 that the young women's progress in school had been "gratifying to both themselves and their teachers."55

While the testimony of institution administrators and staff eager for state funds should be viewed with some skepticism, other evidence suggests that Geneva's inmates were indeed capable of functioning "normally" in the school setting. The State Training School for Girls held its first ever eighth grade commencement on July 31, 1912.56 The staff at Geneva created a first year high school class consisting of English literature, ancient history and English history, and higher algebra, in 1916. They added courses in stenography, typewriting, bookkeeping, business English, business spelling, and penmanship in 1917. The teaching staff, which consisted of one instructor in 1898, grew to thirteen by 1914.57 Although the eighth grade class and the high school class remained small — most of the young women were in the fourth, sixth, and seventh grade classes — they existed, showing that at least some of the inmates at Geneva were capable of advancing beyond their perceived academic limits. Geneva also created a permanent vocational curriculum for those young women who showed "great aptitude" for "mechanical work or fancy sewing."58 By the mid-1930s, Geneva had all eight grades and three years of high school, as well as the vocational program. No one was incarcerated at Geneva who could not read or write.59 Although most of the young women who were in high school were in the ninth grade and many inmates were in the vocational classes, it was clear that they were capable of learning despite their apparently degraded mental and physical state.

Conclusion

The mental testers at Geneva and the IJR, as well as their young subjects, played a vital role in the important, complex evaluate process that formed the core of the eugenic commitment debate and social construction of mental "devience." Experts used the results of intelligence tests and other psychological and psychiatric examinations that they administered to young sexually delinquent women to argue that their subjects were "feebleminded" or "mentally defective" and incapable of living a "normal" life in the outside world. For some young inmates, this meant a long process of training and reeducation that involved a combination of incarceration, parole, and probation that in many cases did not end until the inmate turned twenty-one years old. For other inmates, it meant indefinite incarceration in a state institution for the "feebleminded."

Eugenic commitment remained a very real option for experts and staff at Geneva because of the power and prestige afforded them by the ritual of the examination. Emboldened by the emergence of dozens of new mental and psychological examinations that apparently enhanced the precision of the testing process and numerous public school tracking systems during the 1920s, psychologists felt increasingly confident in their ability to diagnose and treat "mentally defective" delinquents after the First World War. Between 1915 — the year Illinois' eugenic commitment law was passed — and 1950, Geneva staff committed approximately 5-10 percent, or 25-50, inmates each year to one of two state institutions for the "feebleminded." At the center of this whole process was the ritual of the examination; that critical moment, or series of moments, when all of the social, cultural, and scientific forces that defined the eugenic commitment debate collided in the form of the expert and their subject; the moment when theory met practice and practice informed theory, when cultural values became transparent and fears and desires became known; the moment in which identities were formed, negotiated, and redefined.

Experts certainly held distinct advantages in the struggle to define their subjects, but their power was not absolute. The young women who found themselves entangled in the web of the expanding juvenile justice and mental health systems were not the passive recipients of their own individuality; they were not just a "case." The ritual of the examination opened a means through which young female "sex delinquents" could make their voices heard; a place where they could express their demands, desires, concerns, and troubles. Though they often found it difficult to obtain the results they sought, inmates kept trying; and through their efforts to shape their own individuality and their own destiny, they ultimately helped to transform the ways in which experts and reformers viewed the causes of delinquency and the treatment of delinquents. Inmates were able to use the examination, no matter how constraining it may have been, to shape their own identity and in the process influence the definition of impairment itself.

Endnotes

  1. I examined 500 case files from 1930-1960 and 200 discharge cards from 1895-1930, both from Geneva, as well as business office correspondence, internal letters, memos, and publications from the 1895 through the 1950s. Most archival material for Geneva is unprocessed and was being stored at the St. Charles male juvenile facility at the time of the study. Some material related to Geneva can also be found at the Illinois State Archives, the Chicago Historical Society, and University of Illinois, Chicago Special Collections. All cases taken from the unprocessed collection of Geneva records located at St. Charles included "Permanent Final Grade School Record," "Educational Recommendations," psychological and psychiatric evaluations, case history, and social workers' notes. All IQ scores were based on the Stanford-Binet unless otherwise indicated. The information on Evelyn Shegog's case was taken from the unprocessed collection of records from Geneva. Evelyn Shegog was first admitted to Geneva in November 1934. She was tested one week later. She was 14 years 2 months old. Her "mental age" was 7 years 11 months. Her IQ was 56. She was tested again in August 1936 (15yrs. 11mos., mental age 10-5, IQ 69). She was tested again in May 1939 (18yrs 8mos., mental age 12-0, IQ 80). She was classified in 1939 as "dull borderline defective." She was able to read "well." She was paroled in September 1940.
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  2. Della Bolinsky case file. Unprocessed collection from Geneva.
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  3. Ibid.
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  4. Unprocessed Geneva collection. See also: Elizabeth H. Lewis, "State Training School for Girls," in 24th Annual Report of the Department of Public Welfare Springfield: State of Illinois (June 30, 1941): 34-41; Elizabeth H. Lewis, "State Training School for Girls," in 25th Annual Report of the Department of Public Welfare Springfield: State of Illinois (June 30, 1941): 38-49; Elizabeth H. Lewis, "State Training School for Girls," in 30th Annual Report of the Department of Public Welfare Springfield: State of Illinois (June 30, 1947): 178-181. The report covers the years 42/43-46/47 — annual reports were not published for 43-46 because of the war. Elizabeth H. Lewis, "State Training School for Girls," in 31st Annual Report of the Department of Public Welfare Springfield: State of Illinois (June 30, 1948): 137-139; Elizabeth H. Lewis, "State Training School for Girls," in 32nd Annual Report of the Department of Public Welfare Springfield: State of Illinois (June 30, 1949): 209-212; Mary W. Pickerill, "State Training School for Girls," in 23rd Annual Report of the Department of Public Welfare Springfield: State of Illinois (June 30, 1940): 681-689.
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  5. Thinking of mental defect as a fluid state of being enables me to analyze the intersection of gender, sexuality, eugenics, and disability in new ways and ultimately interrogate the social construction of impairment from a novel vantage point.
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  6. The separation of impairment and disability is a result of the rise of the social model of disability, which put simply defines disability as "a form of [socially constructed] disadvantage which is imposed on top of one's impairment, that is, the disadvantage or restriction of activity caused by a contemporary social organization that takes little or no account of people with physical impairments." The Union for the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS) quoted in Shelley Tremain, "On the Government of Disability: Foucault, Power, and the Subject of Impairment," in Lennard J. Davis, ed., The Disability Studies Reader (Second Edition: London: Routledge, 2006): 187. While the social model of disability has been vitally important in the disability rights movement and foundational in disability studies, it, as Tremain argues, leaves impairment "untheorized."
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  7. Emphasis in original. Shelley Tremain, "On the Government of Disability: Foucault, Power, and the Subject of Impairment," 188.
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  8. Ibid., 187
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  9. Jennifer Terry and Jacqueline Urla eds., Deviant Bodies: Critical Perspectives on Difference in Science and Popular Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), Introduction. Natalist discourse in all parts of the world has been rooted in culturally constructed notions of race and citizenship. Gender, class, and ethnicity, moreover, have played a critical role in mediating power relations between individuals and groups, and have greatly influenced both natalist discourse and dominant understandings of race and citizenship. See Gisela Bock, "Equality and Difference in National Socialist Racism," in Joan Wallach Scott ed., Feminism and History (Oxford University Press, 1996): 267-290; Susan Cahn, "Spirited Youth or Fiends Incarnate: The Samarcand Arson Case and Female Adolescence in the American South," Journal of Women's History 9 (December 1998): 152-180; Sander Gilman, "Black Bodies, White Bodies," in Henry Louis Gates, Jr. ed., "Race," Writing, and Difference (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986); Alisa Klaus, "Depopulation and Race Suicide: Maternalism and Pronatalist Ideologies in France and the United States." in Seth Koven and Sonya Michel eds., Mothers of a New World: Maternalist Politics and the Origins of the Welfare State (New York: Routledge, 1993); Ed Larson, Sex, Race, and Science; Mary Nash, "Pronatalism and Motherhood in Franco's Spain," in Gisela Bock and Pat Thane eds., Maternity and Gender Policies: Women and the Rise of the European Welfare States, 1880s-1950s (London: Routledge, 1994); Chiara Saraceno, "Redefining Maternity and Paternity: Gender Pronatalism and Social Policies in Facist Italy," in Gisela Bock and Pat Thane eds., Maternity and Gender Policies.
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  10. Terry and Urla, Deviant Bodies, 2.
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  11. Historian Michael M. Sokal argues that phrenology was, "the most serious nineteenth-century approach to the study of individual mental ability." Michael M. Sokal ed., Psychological Testing and American Society, 1890-1930 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1987): 10-13; Michael M. Sokal, "James McKeen Cattell and Mental Anthropometry: Nineteenth-Century Science and Reform and the Origins of Psychological Testing," in Michael M. Sokal ed., Psychological Testing and American Society, 1890-1930 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1987): 21-45; Leila Zenderland. "The Debate over Diagnosis: Henry Herbert Goddard and the Medical Acceptance of Intelligence," in Michael M. Sokal ed., Psychological Testing and American Society, 1890-1930 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1987): 46-74. Zenderland uses the term "measuring minds." Zenderland, Measuring Minds.
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  12. Sokal ed., Psychological Testing and American Society, 1890-1930, 10-13; Sokal, "James McKeen Cattell and Mental Anthropometry: Nineteenth-Century Science and Reform and the Origins of Psychological Testing," 21-45; Zenderland. "The Debate over Diagnosis: Henry Herbert Goddard and the Medical Acceptance of Intelligence," 46-74.
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  13. Kurt Danziger, Constructing the Subject: Historical Origins of Psychological Research. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Lennard J. Davis, Bending Over Backwards: Disability, Dismodernism, and Other Difficult Positions. (New York: New York University Press, 2002); Lennard J. Davis, Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body. (New York: Verso, 1995); Mark Rapley, The Social Construction of Intellectual Disability. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Nikolas Rose, "Power and Subjectivity: Critical History and Psychology," in Graumann, Carl F. and Kenneth J. Gergen, eds., Historical Dimensions of Psychological Discourse. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996): 103-124.
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  14. Rose, "Power and Subjectivity."
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  15. Mental anthropometry was popularized in the U. S. by James McKeen Cattell, Joseph Jastrow and other experts and quickly came to dominate the field of mental testing. The popularity of anthropometric testing peaked in 1895 when, under Cattell's leadership, the American Psychological Association created a committee to "consider the feasibility of cooperation among the various psychological laboratories in the collection of mental and physical characteristics [of college students.]" Sokal ed., Psychological Testing and American Society, 1890-1930, 10-13; Sokal, "James McKeen Cattell and Mental Anthropometry: Nineteenth-Century Science and Reform and the Origins of Psychological Testing," 21-45; Zenderland. "The Debate over Diagnosis: Henry Herbert Goddard and the Medical Acceptance of Intelligence," 46-74.
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  16. Ibid.
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  17. Clara Harrison Town, "Mental Types of Juvenile Delinquents, Considered in Relation to Treatment," Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 4 (May 1913): 89.
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  18. Walter Clarke, "Prostitution and Mental Deficiency," Journal of Social Hygiene 1(June 1915): 369.
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  19. Danziger, Constructing the Subject; Rafter, Creating Born Criminals.
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  20. Michael A. Rembis, Disabling Sex: Gender, Power, Eugenics and Female Juvenile Delinquency in the United States, 1890-1960. (forthcoming).
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  21. William H. Tucker, The Science and Politics of Racial Research. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994): 72.
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  22. Danziger, Constructing the Subject, 4, 8, 107-113.
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  23. Huey, Backward and Feeble-Minded Children, 9-10. There were many revisions of the Binet test made during the Progressive era. In The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen J. Gould asserts, however, that the Binet test introduced in the United States in 1908 remained the basic means for assessing intelligence throughout the twentieth century. Edmund B. Huey, Backward and Feeble-Minded Children: Clinical Studies in the Psychology of Defectives, with a Syllabus for the Clinical Examination and Testing of Children. Baltimore: Warwick and York, Inc., 1912. Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1981.
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  24. Elizabeth S. Kite, "Method and Aim of Field Work at the Vineland Training School," The Training School Bulletin 9 (October 1912): 84. According to Christine Rosen, Kite was fluent in French and translated the Binet tests for Goddard. Christine Rosen, Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004): 78.
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  25. Harrison L. Harley, "Observations on the Operation of the Illinois Commitment Law for the Feeble-Minded," The Institution Quarterly 8 (December 1917): 102.
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  26. Danziger, Constructing the Subject 112-113.
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  27. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage Books, 1995): 184-194.
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  28. Ibid. By incorporating the voices and actions of the subjects of eugenic, psychological, and psychiatric discourse — young women like Dora and their families — Disabling Sex moves beyond what might be considered a strictly Foucauldian analysis of the formation of scientific discourse and of disabled subjectivities. As scholars have shown, Foucault's work can be helpful in elucidating the complex relationship between knowledge and power and the historically situated sets of practices that restrict the actions of humans generally and of disabled folks in particular. See for example: Shelley Tremain, ed., Foucault and the Government of Disability. (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2005); Shelley Tremain, "On the Government of Disability: Foucault, Power, and the Subject of Impairment," in Lennard J. Davis, ed., The Disability Studies Reader (Second Edition: London: Routledge, 2006): 185-196. Recent feminist and disability studies scholars have, however, raised considerable and important criticisms concerning the extent to which Foucault recognized and appreciated what social philosopher Bill Hughes refers to as, "the ways in which practical sensuous activities constitute social life." Hughes argues that Foucault's notion of the body as a docile locus of power underestimates the subject's role as an agent of self- and social transformation. For Foucault, the body is a medium upon which history is written; it is monitored into existence; it is molded by "a great many distinct regimes." The body is "a product of the play of power; .power 'reaches into the very grain of individuals, touches their bodies and inserts itself into their actions and attitudes, their discourses, learning processes and everyday lives.'" Hughes contends that the "active or creative subject is invisible" in Foucault's work. "The subject," for Foucault, "is a product of expert classification and regulatory techniques." Hughes argues that unlike Foucault, who makes only a "post hoc case for agency," and even then considers it "a discursive product of new reflexive technologies of power," disability studies scholars should recognize that "various forms of embodied praxis" have allowed disabled people to claim the "status of subjects with agency." This article heeds this call by placing young women like Della at the center of its analysis. Bill Hughes, "What Can a Foucauldian Analysis Contribute to Disability Theory?" in Shelley Tremain, ed., Foucault and the Government of Disability. (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2005): 78-92.
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  29. Helen Beardsley case file; Unprocessed Geneva Case Files
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  30. See school newspapers: The Training School Chat and The Campus Gazette. See also, Herman M. Adler, "Report of the Criminologist," Third Administrative Report of the Directors of Departments, Third Annual Report of the Department of Public Welfare (1920): 346.
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  31. Unprocessed Geneva Case Files
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  32. Unprocessed Geneva Case Files
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  33. Unprocessed Geneva Case Files
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  34. Unprocessed Geneva Case Files
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  35. It did not take long for mental testers at Geneva to become well aware of the stress involved in the ritual of the exam and the effects that it had on young women's test scores. Psychologists frequently made comments such as "Lucille seemed disturbed during the tests," or "Elizabeth was a little apprehensive as to the purpose of the test." They recognized that Dorothy had "ability," but that she needed "constant encouragement." Psychologists found that yet another test subject named Dixie was "somewhat anxious and apprehensive." She was also "fearful of errors" on the exams. According to the Geneva staff, Dixie was hesitant at the beginning of each test, but once she started, she showed "considerable persistence." Experts recognized that the emotional conditions that they observed during the exams could very easily affect test scores, and eventually they began to retest inmates whose scores seemed unreasonably low. Irma's examiners initially classified her as "mentally defective," but argued that her Intelligence Quotient (IQ) of 66 was "probably somewhat low because of [her] nervousness" at the time of the examination. Experts retested Irma after her baby was born and found her to be a "borderline" with an IQ of 70. Unprocessed Geneva Case Files
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  36. Several Scholars have made compelling arguments for the social construction of mental "illness" and mental "defect." See: Danziger, Constructing the Subject; Allan V. Horwitz, Creating Mental Illness. (University of Chicago Press, 2002); Rapley, The Social Construction of Intellectual Disability; Rose, "Power and Subjectivity: Critical History and Psychology."
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  37. Henry H. Goddard and Helen F. Hill, "Delinquent Girls Tested by the Binet Scale," The Training School Bulletin 8 (June 1911): 51.
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  38. Unprocessed Geneva Case Files
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  39. On sexuality and feeblemindedness see also Hobson, Uneasy Virtue; Kline, Building a Better Race; Pernick, The Black Stork; Rafter, Creating Born Criminals.
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  40. Huey, Backward and Feeble-Minded Children.
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  41. Unprocessed Geneva Case Files
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  42. Unprocessed Geneva Case Files. Ruth was sixteen when she was admitted and her "mental age" was twelve.
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  43. Unprocessed Geneva Case Files
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  44. Unprocessed Geneva Case Files
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  45. Superintendent's Additional Report, Illinois State Training School for Girls, Biennial Report (1902): 14, 15.
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  46. Teachers' Report, Illinois State Training School for Girls, Biennial Report (1906): 29.
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  47. Teachers' Report, Illinois State Training School for Girls, Biennial Report (1910): 15.
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  48. Unprocessed Geneva Case Files
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  49. Huey, 58-59.
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  50. See Huey for an example of the type of examinations employed by experts. Huey, Backward and Feeble-Minded Children, 173-202.
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  51. Unprocessed Geneva Case Files
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  52. Rembis, Disabling Sex
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  53. Superintendent's Additional Report, Illinois State Training School for Girls, Biennial Report (1902): 14-15.
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  54. Teachers' Report, Illinois State Training School for Girls, Biennial Report (1906): 29.
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  55. Teachers' Report, Illinois State Training School for Girls, Biennial Report (1910): 15.
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  56. School Report, Illinois State Traing School for Girls, Biennial Report (1912): 8.
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  57. Knupfer, Reform and Resistance, 145.
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  58. School Report, Illinois State Training School for Girls, Biennial Report (1916): 7-8.
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  59. Department of Public Welfare, 19th Annual Report (1935/1936): 348.
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Copyright (c) 2008 Michael Rembis



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