Beyond the Feeble Mind: Foregrounding the Personhood of Inmates with Significant Intellectual Disabilities in the Era of Institutionalization

Holly Allen, Erin Fuller


This essay explores the experiences of persons with significant intellectual disabilities at the Vermont State School for Feebleminded Children (later Brandon Training School) in the period 1915-1960.  We discuss the limits of existing histories of intellectual disability in accounting for the distinct experiences of significantly intellectually disabled people. This essay works to correct the tendency to define the nominal intellectual disability of "morons" and "borderline" cases—both in the past and in disability historiography of the past—against the abject, embodied difference of the "low-grade idiot" or "imbecile."  The history we offer has implications for the present-day disability rights movement.


intellectual disability; cognitive disability; cognitive ableism; feebleminded; institutional care; care work; sex; intimacy.

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Copyright (c) 2016 Holly Allen, Erin Fuller

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