A (Very) Abridged Sexuality and Disability Timeline

In Antiquity

The Spartans in Ancient Greece toss deformed babies into a pit.
 The first recorded reference to IDD is described in an obscure document called the Therapeutic Papyrus of Thebes.
“Defective” infants or “changelings” were seen as products of the devil; were left to die.
Datheus, archbishop of Milan, founded the first asylum for abandoned infants. “As soon as the child is exposed at the door of the church, it will be received in the hospital and confined to the care of those who will be paid to look after them.” Conditions at such institutions were custodial at best, and most children did not survive.
Martin Luther (15th century): “it is the Devil’s power that he corrupts people who have reason and souls when he possesses them.  The Devil sits in such changelings where their souls should have been.”
If a child survived, “care” meant life incarceration in prisons, barns, attics or dungeons, typically with chains, and providing the most basic of custodial services.
Between 1400 and 1700 more than 100,000 women executed as witches. Many of these women had some form of mental illness or other age-related disability.
Girolamo Cardano recognizes the ability of the deaf to reason.
Elizabethan Poor Laws forced people with disabilities out onto the street. Many were given a cap to collect alms in (fabled origin of the term handicap). Others provided entertainment and endured humiliation in return for food and shelter.

Early Colonialism

First US Almshouse built in Boston to house the poor
Pauper Auctions: The “worthy poor” are auctioned off to the lowest bidder to be “cared” for. The caretaker was paid to provide food, shelter and clothing.  For women, the arrangement frequently also included meeting the sexual needs of the “caretaker.”
Locke divides MH/IDD: Herein seems to lie the difference between idiots and madmen, that madmen put wrong ideas together and reason from them, but idiots make very few or no propositions and reason scarce at all.
Village newcomers were warned that the town would not provide for misfortunes. People with MH/IDD were loaded into a cart and dropped off in the next town

Late Colonialism

In France, Joseph Pereira teaches a deaf/mute youth to speak and write, proving educability.
1st Hospital in Philadelphia segregates MH from IDD. IDD patients are moved to the hospital cellar where they are placed on display for a small fee.
 Virginia enacts a law that provides support to “idiots, lunatics, and the mentally unsound.”
Valentin Huay establishes the Institute for Blind Children in France. He discovered that people with impaired vision could learn to read raised letters.
1776-91ce US Constitution and Bill of Rights are written and ratified. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Phillipe Pinel removes the chains of a man incarcerated in the Saltipere, ushering in an age of enlightenment and “moral” treatment for people with IDD/MH. “I am convinced that the only reason these maniacs are so unmanageable is that they are deprived of fresh air and liberty.  I dare hope for great improvement if different means are used.” 

Early US & Transition into the Victorian Era

Jean Gaspard Itard, while working at a school for the Deaf in Paris, teaches Victor, a boy known as “The Wild Boy”, who had been living in the woods of Aveyron, simple language, skills, and “good manners.” When Victor fails to perform up to Itard’s standards, he is abandoned.
Pinel in France and Dr. Benjamin Rush in the US begin to classify mental illnesses
Thomas H. Galludet begins his journey to learn how to teach Deaf people. His success is marked by the opening of the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons in 1817. This marked the first US attempts to educate people with disabilities.
Louis Braille, a student of Valentin Huay, invents the raised point alphabet.
Dorothea Dix sends report to MA Legislature after traveling 2 years throughout the state and found many “idiots” chained, caged, and confined to rooms. Samuel Gridley Howe presents the report to the MA legislature. “Man is not made better by being degraded.”
Howe opens the MA School for Idiotic and Feebleminded Youth in Boston, which aims to teach skills for independence to people with IDD.
Samuel Gridley Howe: Institutions as moral treatment. “Not only would all the idiots who should be received into it be improved in their bodily and mental conditions, but all the others in the State and the country would be indirectly benefited. …it would be demonstrated that no idiot be confined or restrained by force; that the young can be trained for industry, order and self – respect; that they can be redeemed from odious and filthy habits and there is not one of them of any age who may not be made more of a man, and less of a brute by patience and kindness directed by energy and skill.
The first “sheltered workshop” is run at the Perkins Institute for the Blind in MA.
Gordon Lincecum writes the first eugenics legislation, recommending the compulsory, forced sterilization of those with undesirable genes
Francis Galton, 1867. Used Darwin’s theories of evolution and development of plant and animal species to understand human traits. He created the ‘science’ of eugenics, which dominated the attitudes, policies and practices of societies and governments toward ‘defectives’ until the mid-20th century. The term ‘eugenics’ is translated from the Greek: “better born.”
Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin, coins the term Eugenics, referring to a social application of Darwin’s Theory of evolution and Mendel’s work around heredity.
In Pace v. Alabama, the SCOTUS upholds anti-miscegenation laws, which prohibit interracial marriage.
Howe’s school is relocated to a colony in Waverly, MA by Gov. Butler. “Give them an asylum, with good and kind treatment; but not a school…A well-fed, well-cared for idiot is a happy creature. An idiot awakened to his condition is a miserable one.”
A. Johnson: (from: Concerning a Form of Degeneracy, 1898) “admission as a pupil of the training school should be the first step towards permanent care; … with few exceptions, …all pupils of the school, from the lowest to the highest grade, ought to be permanently retained in the safe kindly, maternal care of the state….They must be kept quietly, safely, away from the world, living like the angels in heaven, neither marrying nor given in marriage.”
Madison Taylor, AB, MD, in his address delivered before the Association of Superintendents of Schools for Feeble-Minded Children: “And lastly, one word as to the value of castration. This is a most delicate subject, but some considerable experience gives me the conviction that it is often necessary to adopt this course, no matter if it be shown to be in a sense an evil.  Assuredly the procreation of offspring from those of feeble minds is to be emphatically deplored.  I might almost say it is never to be desired.  If, then, procreation may be laid aside, what is the value of the sexual instinct to those defectives?  Undoubtedly, much harm results from a cultivation, or even retention, of these instincts, especially where they are morbidly increased.  The conclusion seems clear, then, that it is wise, when in doubt, to remove the organs which the sufferers are unfit to exercise normally, and for which they are worse in the unnatural cultivation or use. On this point many prominent authorities are boldly advocating extreme measures of relief, of which castration is the chief.”

Early 20th Century

Minnesota bans the marriage of “of any woman under the age of 45 or any man of any age that was likely to father children, if either partner was epileptic, imbecilic, feeble minded, or afflicted with insanity.”
Martin Barr: “Of all dependent classes, there are none that drain so entirely the social and financial life of the body politic as the imbecile, unless it be its close associate, the epileptic.”
More state schools begin to open. Wrentham in 1906, Belchertown starts construction in 1915.
Indiana passes the first compulsory sterilization law in the US.
Charles Benedict Davenport, funded by a number of prominent, wealthy US families, founds the Eugenics Records Office, which conducts heredity “research” and holds the heredity records for families
Alfred Binet develops a metric for measuring intelligence. The Binet-Simon Inteligence Scale is used to measure IQ:
 As used in France (by creators):
  • Uses “mental age” to measure intellectual capacity—high and low—against the norm. In theory, one’s mental age would match their chronological age
  • Believed it would allow education to be tailored so that the educator could adapt to suit their needs
  • Viewed intelligence as able to be increased.
  • I.Q.=MA/CA x 100
As used in the US:
  • H.H. Goddard uses the scale on children and is shocked to find an entire population of “feebleminded” previously undiagnosed
  • Used to sort children so they could be “trained according to their inheritance and channeled into professions appropriate to their biology.”
  • Viewed intelligence as a fixed variable.
Henry Goddard releases a study of the Kallikak family—The progeny of Martin Kallikak, Sr. who sired two lines: one feebleminded and one “good.”Locally, Charles Davenport published The Hill Folk, a look at the heredity of a “defective” family in Western MA.
Dr. Walter Fernald, 1912: Burden of Feeble-Mindedness. “The social and economic burdens of uncomplicated feeble-mindedness are only too well known. The feeble-minded are a parasitic, predatory class, never capable of self-support or of managing their own affairs. The great majority ultimately become public charges in some form.”
Fernald: “The most important point is that feeble-mindedness is highly hereditary…. No feeble-minded person should be allowed to marry or to become a parent…. The normal members of a definitely tainted family may transmit the defect to their own children. Certain families should become extinct. Parenthood is not for all.”
Fernald: “They cause unutterable sorrow at home and are a menace and danger to the community…. Every feeble-minded person, especially the high-grade imbecile, is a potential criminal…. At least 25 percent of the inmates of our penal institutions are mentally defective…. It has been truly said that feeble-mindedness is the mother of crime, pauperism, and degeneracy…. It is most important that the physician should recognize the so-called “borderline” cases, where the intellectual defect is slight, and is overshadowed by the moral and criminal tendencies….”
The UK passes the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913, which establishes a procedure to identify, certify, and deal with “mental defectives.” The MDA1913 was the first comprehensive legislation that deprived people with IDD/MH and “moral defect” of their civil liberties.
Goddard names new menace: “We have recognized…the moron, and have discovered he is a burden; that he is a menace to society and civilization.” Morons, mental defectives, the generally feebleminded, become the main target of eugenics’ forced sterilization.
Butler: “When we view the number of feeble-minded, their fecundity, their lack of control, the menace they are, the degradation they cause, the degeneracy they perpetuate, the suffering and misery and crime they spread – these are the burdens we must bear.”
Margaret Sanger opens the Birth Control League, which contines today as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. There is much controversy surrounding Sanger, her funding connections to Eugenicists, and the ways in which the BCL opperated in its early days. However, the contemporary PPFA works to provide health care and reproductive health options throughout the US.
Sanger believed that the eugenics movement and the birth control movement were good partners because they both sought to “assist the race toward the elimination of the unfit.” However, she was a negative eugenicist, believing that social intervention to reduce reproduction among the unfit was a sufficient intervention:  “we [do not] believe that the community could or should send to the lethal chamber the defective progeny resulting from irresponsible and unintelligent breeding.
“As an advocate of Birth Control, I wish to take advantage of the present opportunity to point out that the unbalance between the birth rate of the “unfit” and the “fit”, admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization, can never be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between these two classes. In this matter, the example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken classes, should not be held up for emulation to the mentally and physically fit though less fertile parents of the educated and well-to-do classes. On the contrary, the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective.”
Fernald, 1917 “The work of training and caring for the feeble-minded being primarily a medical problem, the institution is divided into medical districts, each district being under the immediate supervision of an assistant physician…the daily life of the children is closely watched over by a physician.”
Edgar Allen founds, the Ohio Society for Crippled Children , now known as the Easter Seals organization. It becomes the model for many modern charity organizations for people with disabilities.
Harry H. Laughlin, director of the ERO, drafts guidelines for a federal compulsory sterilization law which would later be used by the Nazi party as its model for genocide. (Side note: Laughlin, himself, would have been a candidate for sterilization under his own guidelines, finding out later in life that he suffered from epilepsy.)
Fernald: “The ultimate responsibility for the care and training of the feeble-minded must be decentralized. If cared for at all, the majority of the vast number of the feeble-minded must be protected and helped by individuals and organizations in the local community under highly specialized direction….The problem of the moron is largely economic. The idle defective has no money, feels inferior and does his worst. The defective who works all day at good wages seldom makes trouble. The industrially trained defective can always get work….Our newer knowledge of unselected defectives verifies our belief that there are good defectives and bad defectives but seems to show that the good vastly outnumber the bad.”
In Buck v. Bell, the SCOTUS affirms (8-1) the forced sterilization of Carrie Buck, a young woman living at the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, who had been born of parents at the colony and had given birth to a daughter while living there. She and her sister, Doris, were both forcibly sterilized, with Doris not finding out the nature of her opperation until much later. In his majority opinions, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.”
Goddard: “The problem of the moron is a problem of education and training. As for myself, I think I have gone over to the enemy with but one reservation. This may surprise you, but frankly when I see what has been made out of the moron by a system of education, which as a rule is only half right, I have no difficulty in concluding that when we get an education that is entirely right there will be no morons who cannot manage themselves and their affairs and compete in the struggle for existence….The feeble-minded do not generally need to be segregated in institutions….in the community these morons will marry and have children. And why not? Moreover if moronity is only a problem of education and the right kind of education can make out of them happy and useful hewers of wood and drawers of water, what more do we want?”
The Tuskeegee Institute opens. Experiments begin on share croppers in Macon County, AL. Researchers knowingly infected uninformed subjects with syphilis to study its effects. The Institute was closed in 1972. It led to the creation of national research standards regarding testing on human subjects.
Many other experiments were conducted on vulnerable populations throughout the mid 20th century, including:

  • The “Fernald Science Club” was exposed to radioactive isotopes in their Quaker Oatmeal (1946-53). The “Science Club” was also later given radioactive calcium, orally and via injection. There were also collections of cerbro spinal fluid from babies. (1956)
  • Hepatitis infection at Willowbrook (1964)
  • Medical experimentation by the Nazis during WWII
  • Unauthorized and unnecessary spinal taps on children at Boston Children’s Hospital (1896)Use of prisoners as test subjects: infecting them with diseases like cholera, malaria, and bubonic plague, performing experimental testicular transplants, and exposing them to radioactive materials. Prisoners in OR and WA had their testicles irradiated, and were subjected to a vasectomy at teh end of the experiment, to “keep from contaminating the general population with radiation-induces mutants.”
  • Sonoma State Hospital in CA gave irradiate mild and performed unecessary spinal taps on children with disabilities. (1955-60)
  • Dioxin (a compund used in Agent Orange) and other herbacides were injected into prisoners at the Holmesburg Prison in PA (1951-74)
  • The “Monster Study” in which children at the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’s Home were subjected to verbal abuse and threats to test if that method of instruction would cure their stutterring (1939)
  • Children at Bellevue Hospital in NYC were subject to electro shock experiments that caused a number of the patients to become violent and suicidal.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act, creating a program of federal assistance for people with disabilities
Protesting that their requests for employment to the Works Progress Administration had been stamped with a “PH” for physically handicapped, over 300 members of the League for the Physically Handicapped in NYC stage a nine day sit in.
The Nazi Party in Germany cites the US as an ally in the Eugenics movement and commends H.H. Laughlin for his dedication to forced sterilization as a means of preventing the passage of unfit genes.

Mid 20th Century

F. Kuhlmann, President of the American Association on Mental Deficiency: “We learned from those recognized as mental defectives that they were incorrigible at home, and burdens to the schools; that they were sexually promiscuous, that they stole and robbed; that they depended on others for a living, received most of charity’s contributions; that they married young, raised large families that they could not support, many of whom were in turn mentally defective, and growing up in poverty and neglect, were preparing to repeat the cycle.”
Lou Gherig, the notorious Iron Horse of the New York Yankees, dies from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In 1939, while at a celebration in his honor at Yankee Stadium, he told the world, “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
Rosemary Kennedy, sister of the US politicians John F. (president), Robert (senator, presidential candidate), and Ted (senator), undergoes a prefrontal lobotomy in an attempt to cure her ID. The operation fails, resulting in total incapacity, and Rosemary is permanently moved to the St. Coletta School for Exceptional Children in Wisconsin.
Skinner v. Oklahoma: The US Supreme Court rules the compulsory sterilization of prisoners in Oklahoma unconstitutional because the legislation singles out those who have been convicted two or more times for crimes “amounting to felonies involving moral turpitude” for vasectomy. The law was ruled unconstitutional because penalties excluded white-collar crime, not due to the rights of prisoners. In his majority opinion, Justice William O. Douglas speaks against the idea of the ideas affirmed in Buck v. Bell, but not specifically against the ruling.
Dr. Howard Rusk fathers rehabilitation medicine while trying to improve the lives of veterans injured in WWII. His methods focus on treating the emotional, psychological, and social aspects of disability.
Parents of people diagnosed with IDD found the Association for Retarded Citizens (known today as the Arc). The group becomes one of the largest IDD service agencies and lobbies on behalf of people with IDD. Many parents refused to have their children institutionalized, and the courts were reluctant to commit the individual to the institution without the consent of the parents.
Springfield Union News: The eugenicists “now doubt that it is either possible or wise to improve the human stock by applying genetic principles, and that far more must be discovered about the relation of heredity to growth and of both to environmental influences before we can undertake to improve social man with the aid of biology alone.”
DSM-I published: defines IDD as Mental Deficiency, either Hereditary or Idopathic, with the classifications of mild, moderate, and severe.
The American Association on Mental Deficiency (now AAIDD) defines IDD as >1 standard deviation below average IQ (~85). If applied today, this would include about 16% of the US population. Severity Classifications are: Borderline, Mild, Moderate, Severe, Profound.
John F. Kennedy, 1961: President Kennedy announced his intention to appoint “a panel of outstanding scientists, doctors, and others to prescribe a plan of action in the field of mental retardation.” He added, “The central problems of cause and prevention remain unsolved, and I believe that we as a country, in association with scientists all over the world, should make a comprehensive attack.”
Loving v. Alabama: SCOTUS strikes down the anti-miscegenation laws of sixteen states (Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida, Delaware, West Virginia, Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, Missouri, Kentucky, and Oklahoma), and legalizes interracial marriage.

A series of exposés

  • 1966: Christmas in Purgatory
  • 1970: Tragedy at Belchertown
  • 1972: Willowbrook
  • 1972: “They get angry. They Bleed. They need love.”
DSM-II published, changing the definition of IDD as Mental Retardation: Borderline, Mild, Moderate, Severe, Profound, and Unspecified.

Late 20th Century

Independent Living movement begins, grass roots effort by disabled people to acquire new rights and entitlements, control over their lives. Begins to reshape relationship of disabled people with physicians and other rehab professionals. Disability Rights Movement locates problem not in the individual but in the environment (attitudes and barriers, lack of services). Judy Heumann, woman with a disability, starts the first political action group for people with disabilities (Disabled in Action).
MA Commision The governor sends a panel to several institutions throughout MA. They find deplorable conditions.
Ricci v. Greenblatt. Class action lawsuit in Massachusetts due to the poor quality of care, overcrowding and lack of support services to residents of the Belchertown State School. The subsequent consent decree eventually expanded to include any person who was resident of any state-run facility. It mandated improved conditions and services and led to the eventual beginning of the community services movement.
The AAIDD redefines IDD as 2+ SD below the mean, lowering the threshold for ID from 85 to 70. Severity Classifications are:  Mild, Moderate, Severe, Profound.
Stump v. Sparkman: SCOTUS allows judicial immunity for a judge who had granted the petition of a mother to have her 15-year-old daughter sterilized for the reason that she was “somewhat retarded.” Stump (the judge in question) granted the petition the same day it was filed without interview or medical evaluation. The young woman who was sterilized was told she was having an appendectomy and did not learn of her sterilization until trying to conceive years later.
Family Planning Perspectives finds that 70% of US hospitals fail to follow the DOHHS guidelines regarding informed consent for sterilization.
California, the most zealous of states in the arena of compulsory sterilization, repeals its laws allowing the “asexualization” of those deemed to have hereditary instability. In all, 20,000 Californians were sterilized under these laws during its 70 year reign (almost 1/3 of all US sterilizations).
DSM-III published: listing IDD as Mental Retardation: Mild, Moderate, Severe, Profound, and Unspecified.
Genetic screening and testing to prevent the birth of “genetically defective” children becomes increasingly possible due to technological advances.
Congress passes the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, authorizing the U.S. Justice Department to file civil suits on behalf of residents of institutions whose rights are being violated.
Last legal compulsory sterilization is performed in OR.
Poe v. Lynchburg Training School and Hospital: A suit filed by the ACLU on behalf of the 8,000 women who had been forcibly sterilized a the institution during the mid-20th century. The court ruled against the ACLU on the grounds that, although the law had since been repealed, it had once been upheld as constitutional…as held via Buck v. Bell.
Roe v. Wade, in re MOE, 385 Mass. 555: The MA Supreme Court gives power to the Probate Court to determine whether or not to grant guardian positions for sterilization. Justice Nolan in his dissent: “The court speaks of human dignity in connection with the free choice to be sterilized. It is difficult to think of an experience more degrading to human dignity than a sterilization ordered by a judge who is empowered by the court to read the heart and mind of the incompetent ward and forever bar the ward from bringing forth a child.”
The AAIDD redefines IDD as an IQ of 70. Severity Classifications are:  Mild, Moderate, Severe, Profound.
A collaboration between David J. Smith, Steven Selden, and Stephen J. Gould discredits Goddard’s study of the Kallikaks by finding original coppies of the study to contain manipulated images of the family members and by interviewing the surviving members of the clan. From an examination of Deborah Kallikak’s academic records from the Vineland Training School, Smith deduces that it was likely that she had what is now considered a learning disability rather than IDD.
A young woman with IDD is brutally sexually assualted by a group of boys from her high school in Vineland, NJ. To prove the woman’s disability, the prosecutor waived the rape shield law, allowing the young woman’s sexual history to be admitted into evidence. The young men were convicted, but freed during appeals. None began serving their prison sentences until 1997.
In City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, SCOTUS rules that localities cannot use zoning laws to ban group homes from opening in a residential area.
The American with Disabilities Act becomes federal law extending the protections of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act to include privately owned companies.
Deinstitutionalization of state-supported institutions for mentally retarded and mentally ill allow them to live and work in the community. While positive in many ways, deinstitutionalization in combination with inadequate funding for services to support people who have been deinstitutionalized, also has meant an increase in homelessness among people who have mental disabilities.
The AAIDD continues to define IDD as an IQ lower than 70. Severity Classifications are changed to: Intermittent, Limited, Extensive, Pervasive.
Hernstein and Murray publish The Bell Curve, a modern interpretation of eugenics, focused on intelligence across race.
Cindy Wasiek, a woman with IDD living in Philadelpiha PA, is sterilized at the request of her mother after a 7 year long court battle. SCOTUS Justice Souter refused to grant a stay of the sterilization until the court had heard the case.
DSM-IV published with no changes in its definition of IDD, despite lobbying from advocacy groups.
The Other Sister is released, showing a fairy tale story about a woman with disabilities (played by Juliette Lewis–who is not disabled) who leaves the institution she was sent to by her parents as a child and moves back home to become a grown up. She succeeds in passing a college course, getting a job and an apartment, and finding a partner who she eventually marries. This is one of the first depictions of people with IDD as autonomous and sexual beings in popular culture.
The FDA clears Viagra for sale as the first effective oral treatment for impotence. Shortly thereafter, the world goes bonkers.

21st Century

MA DDS Human Rights Policy put into place
The AAIDD continues to define IDD as an IQ lower than 70. Severity Classifications are: Intermittent, Limited, Extensive, Pervasive. This change defines the three areas for functional deficits as: Conceptual, Social, and Practical.
Ethical Analysis begins on “The Ashley Treatment,” a medical procedure in which high-dose estrogen treatment over the past two years, her growth plates were closed and her prospective height reduced, her uterus was removed to prevent potential discomfort from menstrual cramps or pregnancy in the event of rape; and also her breast tissue, because of a family history of cancer and fibrocystic disease. The procedure was done at the request of her parents so they would be able to care for her longer to avoid residential care.
MA DDS enacts the Self-Determination Policy
Victims of forced sterilizations in NC, rallied by Elaine Riddick, who was given a hysterectomy at the age of 13 after giving birth to her son conceived through a sexual assault, are awarded reparations in the amount of $50,000. The reparations were then written out of the budget.
DSM-V published: changes a diagnosis of Mental Retardation to Intellectual Disability and removed the mild/moderate/severe/profound classifications.

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