Friday, April 24, 2015

Mayflower Hall: Pennhurst State School, Pa

Pennhurst State School opened its doors in 1908. The institute wasn't complete or ready to accompany the amount of children and adults who began to flood into her domain. New buildings had to built. Staff needed housing and some of the "patient" buildings had to be temporarily used for other purposes. 

Pennhurst wasn't meant to be used as an insane asylum, yet the mentally insane came anyway. In the beginning, Pennhurst tried to weed some of these people from the institute. But over time, this was hard to accomplish. The goal of Pennhurst was to educate the handicapped, to perhaps give them a future in life, a job skill or vocation. But if you were thought to be to far gone for any help, then you basically rotted away in your bed. 

The view in the early 1900's was to reform or educate mentally retarded children to become "hopefully" someone who could be more self sufficient in the future, learn a occupation. This was the school part of Pennhurst. Children were taught basic lessons, music and crafts. But many needed to learn how to feed and clothe themselves. Even using a toilet was a taught skill. But because of the huge amount of people, this skill became obsolete

It was also determined that mentally retarded people or people with low IQ's would become future criminals. And if you were a mentally challenged woman,  you were considered worse then the men. You might conceive and give birth to a genetic nightmare, therefore spoiling the gene pool further. Therefore, it was imperative to prevent this possibility. Segregation failed. Abortions were performed at Pennhurst. 

The resident at Pennhurst were mentally or physically handicapped. Epileptics and orphans. And then there was the criminally insane. People were misdiagnosed and given the wrong medications for their conditions. Staff was overburdened and often unqualified to handle the many issues that arose. Restraints were used to handle unruly patients. People were lumped together by gender, conditions and age.But this was also a mess because of the misdiagnoses.

 Failed surgery or complications from infection was the main cause of death at Pennhurst.  Other causes were from disease, birth defects and abuse at the hands of another resident. 

And that was just the problems in the beginning.... 

Author Tamera Lawrence