Bridgewater Biographies: Stories of the So-Called Defective Delinquents

In 1911 the Massachusetts State Legislature targeted any “individual who, by the demonstration of persistent aggravated antisocial or criminal behaviour, evidences a propensity toward criminal activity.... ‘’ The law, creating the designation of “defective delinquency” used vague language in defining what made someone a Defective Delinquent. The label placed on so-designated people was thus subjective and inconsistent.

This exhibit portrays four unique stories of people with different backgrounds, races, and genders. The reasons each was labeled a Defective Delinquent also differed. The one thing that all of these people had in common was the label placed on them by the courts.

What are some themes you see throughout these stories?

Dixie Dan Winmill

Dixie Dan Winmill was born in 1921 in New Jersey, and died in 1962. Winmill was considered a Defective Delinquent by society and was sent off to the State Farm in South Bridgewater Massachusetts in 1938 due to assault and battery. During his time at the institution, Winmill composed a letter to the State Farm recognizing his bad behaviors. He was later released from the State Farm on April 9th,1954 but was placed into another institution shortly after. In 1962, Winmill escaped this institution and fled to Connecticut where he was run over by a train in North Haven. The local newspaper stated, “Police said the casualty had fled from a state medical clinic in Gardner, Mass., where he had been a patient”. It is unknown whether Dixie Dan Winmill’s death was intentional, though despite the tragedy, his brother was able to identify his body.

On April 1st, 1954, Winmill wrote in a letter to Miss Levy, “I have been now sixteen years and two months and I have learned my lesson.”

Delores Wilson

Delores Wilson was an African American woman born on October 30th,1934 in Boston Massachusetts. Throughout her childhood, Delores and her step-sister, Lillian Wilson, were moved from foster home to foster home in the Boston area. When she was thirteen, Wilson was placed in the W.E. Fernald State School for unknown reasons. She resided there until she was sixteen when she was sentenced by Judge P. Sarafield Cunniff to the State Farm at Bridgewater due to “refractory conduct.” There are many holes in Delores Wilson’s story including why she was designated a Defective Delinquent, whether she was ever released from the State Farm, and when she died. Similar to Wilson, many pieces of other Defective Delinquent’s stories are still unknown.

Wilson was sentenced by Judge P. Sarafield Cunniff to the State Farm at Bridgewater due to “refractory conduct.”

George Whidden

*Trigger Warning Topics of Rape and Incest are included in this panel

George Whidden was born in Everett Massachusetts on September 6th, 1900 and was diagnosed with dwarfism. Whidden and his seven siblings all lived with their grandmother which meant that he did not receive much guidance and attention. Because of these circumstances, Whidden’s writes, “My grandmother never told me what was right or wrongin regard to sex problems and I got in wrong with my sister. I had never been out anywhere because of my crippled condition and my sister did not refuse.” This is a quote from George Whidden’s testimony in 1932 when he was arrested for incest and raping and impregnating his younger sister. Whidden states that this was his first time doing anything of the nature and that he is, “guilty of committing the act and I am very sorry for everyone’s sake that I did such a thing.” According to the medical examiner from The State Farm, George Whidden “fully realizes the predicament” and that this “is a case where a young man, never having the guiding hand of a mother or father.” George Whidden did not know right from wrong due to his lack of social interaction.

This document includes George Whidden’s narrative detailing his offence and the medical examiner’s assessment of it.

Louis Chambers

Louis Chambers was an African American man, born in 1913, in North Carolina. He was considered a Defective Delinquent because he committed a heinous crime. In 1927, Louis Chambers was arrested for stabbing a boy his own age and was later arrested again for assault and battery. In 1930, Chambers became an official resident at Bridgewater due to his prior convictions, there he was labeled as “M.D.D. #45”. Chambers was one of the few designated Defective Delinquents who did in fact commit violent crimes.

On August 23rd, 1940, the Chief of Police in Springfield, Massachusetts, wrote in response to James L. Maloney, Superintendent of the Department of Correction at State Farm Police Comissioners, that ‘...at the time of [Louis Chambers’] commitment eleven years ago... he was a menace to society although after you have had him under your observation for eleven years you would be in a better position to judge his future conduct.”

What does this reveal about the justice system, if a man who knew Louis Chambers personally asked someone who had not seen him for eleven years to decide whether he should be paroled?

Reflecting on These Stories

These are just four stories of people who were designated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as Defective Delinquents. While the state reduced each of them to only a number, it is our job to remember their names and tell their stories. At the final room at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Israel, visitors are asked to remember one name and face and repeat their story. We ask you to do the same. Remember that although you may have encountered terrible stories, each of us are worth more than the total of the worst things we have ever done.

“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.’’

– Bryan Stevenson

These Parole Officer’s Report Sheets include the Institution numbers of people designated as Defective Delinquents.

This is the final room in Yad Vashem. Those who enter, see 600 of faces and millions of names of those who were in the Holocaust
This is the cemetery where people who had attended the Fernald School were buried. Their tombstone’s have numbers on them instead of their names. Similarly, those considered Defective Delinquents were dehumanized and as a result reffered to as numbers.