Elevating and Amplifying Erased Voices: What’s Happening Today?

Formerly known as The Bridgewater State Farm: Department of Correction, the Bridgewater State Hospital continues to function today as both a correctional facility and a mental health facility. Despite research surrounding the necessity to separate people who have convicted of crimes from people convicted of crime who also needed mental health assistance, Bridgewater still functions with these two groups together. The mental health center is a medium security facility that houses male inmates (who were identified as sex offenders), and those who have been civically committed as sexually dangerous persons, in addition to people with disabilities and mental health issues.

The End of “Defective Delinquency”


Even prior to the 1911 “Defective Delinquent” Law, the common view of disability, held by people like Walter Fernald, was that people with disabilities were broken, needed to be fixed, and the way to accomplish this was by putting them in institutions. Starting in the 1950s, parents of young people with disabilities began fighting for the end of institutions. A decade later, while the civil rights era was in full swing, disability activists including Ed Roberts and Judy Huemann began the fight for independent living and disability civil rights. They also fought to change the commonly held view of disability as a “broken person.”

Judy Huemann

In 1977, Judy Huemann and her fellow protestors were immensely frustrated at the lack of respect they were receiving from political leaders regarding their fight for 504 (see next panel.) This led to a 25-day occupation of the government building in San Francisco. In a society where people with disabilities were not able to freely exist, they forcefully took up space and refused to go unnoticed. The officials turned off the water, cut the phone lines, but they did not give up. After continued frustration, Heumann and other leaders devised a new plan where they would fly to D.C to continue their work. Eventually, after more hard-fought days, Section 504 went through, and still to this day, the 504 sit-ins are one of the longest occupations of a

Ed Roberts

Roberts, founder of the independent living movement, was the first student with a complex disability to attend UC Berkeley. While there in 1962, he, along with the university, worked to build the Physically Disabled Students Program, a program run by and for people with disabilities. This program provided services, helping all members of the community live successful, independent lives on campus. Then in 1972 Roberts founded the Center for Independent Living. Roberts opened doors for people of all abilities to live fulfilling and independent lives and helped the world see this as possible. Through the center, a nationwide movement was born.

ADA - Disability rights activists fighting for the passing of the Americans With Disabilities Act
Judy Huemann - 504 Sit-In
Ed Roberts - Blocking traffic, protesting

The Disability Rights Movement led hunger strikes, sit-ins, and open dialogue all over the country, including able-bodied, disable-bodied, nuerotypical, and non-nuerotypical people.

Since the mid-twentieth century, disability rights activists have fought for “The Social Model” rather than continuing to live by “The Medical Model.” The defective delinquent law was conceived under the medical model which effectively sees disabled people as broken and in need of medical repair. The medical model places people in institutions, hides them away from society, and tries to cure them. The social model, trumpeted by people like Ed Robers and Judy Heumann, on the other hand, strives to change society to be more accessible for people with disabilities rather than trying to change the people themselves. Where do we see the state of disability in our American future?

End of “Defective Delinquency” Through Film

Titicut Follies

In 1967 a documentary came out called Titicut Follies exposed Bridgewater as the horrendous and cruel place that it was, and some believe still is. In addition to the doctor’s exposed inability to properly care for the patients and inmates, correction officers and social workers appeared as bullies, including ordering inmates to strip naked.

In addition to the doctor’s exposed in-ability to properly care for the patients and inmates, correction officers and social workers appeared as bullies, including ordering inmates to strip naked.

The same year, the film was banned. The Massachusetts Attorney General and Supreme Court declared that it violated prisoner’s privacy. In 1969, the court allowed certain people to view the film for educational purposes. Not until 1991 could the public view the film because every patient in the film had died and it no longer violated their privacy. The film inspired national outrage [comment]about the inner workings of Bridgewater and institutions like it that were deeply rooted in the 1911 “Defective Delinquent” Law.

Still from Titicut Follies

Crip Camp

One defining reason that the “Defective Delinquent” program came to an end in 1971 is the traction that disability rights gained in the late 1960s. Camp Jened was a summer camp founded in 1951 for people with disabilities in the state of New York that became a springboard for the disability rights movement and independent living movement in the United States. In the 1960s through the 70s, the camp became increasingly influenced by counterculture. Campers and counselors at this camp, including Judy Heumann, James LeBrecht, and Bobbi Linn, became disability rights activists and were on the forefront of the fight for the American with Disabilities Act in the coming decades. Disability rights advocates fought to end the “Defective Delinquent” designation during this

Still from Crip Camp

Fighting For Themselves, As Self-Advocates

Defective delinquency laws harmed thousands of people who had no other legal recourse to help them. How have laws changed since then?

Section 504

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a law that prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability from any programs receiving funding from the federal government.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law on July 26th, 1990, is a piece of civil rights legislation that guarantees people with disabilities the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life. People are still fighting for equal rights in society as people with disabilities. This fight is not over.

Letter to an editor of a newspaper about the committee trying to pass Question 1: Prohibiting discrimination against handicapped persons. (October 3rd, 1980)
Shown here are cards that deaf and mute people sold to support and advocate for themselves. Disability legislation in the late 20th century led to changes in the ablist environment of America and gave more opportunities to people with disabilities to advocate for themselves.
Disabled People’s Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence (1990)

The 21st Century

Walter Fernald led the charge in creating the 1911 Defective Delinquent Law. The institution named for him is sitting vacant today. What should happen to that institution for the future?

The Fernald School

After The Fernald School’s closure in 2014, the land is currently vacant and unused. This land is thought to be the perfect property for Waltham to help alleviate some of the crises and difficulties in Waltham.

Possible resolutions include using some of the open land as a playground designed for people with developmental disabilities, removing the illegal dump site behind the Belmont House at Fernald, and equine therapy on the Fernald land for children with special needs.

Another proposal includes rehabilitating the Marquardt/Thom and Tarbell buildings to provide housing for seniors, veterans, lower income workers, and people with disabilities. Concerning establishing an education site at Fernald, the committee is proposing a national museum commemorating the developmentally disabled at Fernald. Lastly, there is a resolution to use Fernald buildings and land for public vocational training.

Right now, some of the buildings on the land will soon be demolished. Once the public is educated on what occurred on this property, then the buildings could be used for productive purposes rather than remain vacant.

Images of the Fernald School after its closing in 2014.

Juveniles Without Parole: The Incorrigibility Standard

While the 1911 Defective Delinquent Law (D.D. Law) was made over 100 years ago, there are still designations that act in similar ways today. The Incorrigibility Standard of 2020 allows children as young as 13 to be sentenced to life without parole or Juvenile Life Without Parole (JLWOP) across the United States. Kids designated as “incorrigible” are legally considered unable to change, and like with a defective delinquency designation, the government could sentence the designee to an indeterminate detention. Such a designation stands in contrast with neurological science which has demonstrated that the human brain continues developing and changing into a person’s mid-twenties. Yet, similar to the D.D. Law of the past century many children designated today as incorrigible are either cognitively disabled or mentally ill. Many were abused and many were suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction. A final similarity between defective delinquency and incorrigibility designation is that in neither case was the government required to articulate a clear standard by which it was determining the person to be either incorrigible or indefinitely defective. Depicted here are the three categories that are taken into account in order for a person to be deemed incorrigible. The center section are the factors taken into consideration by the judge making this decision. These factors are almost identical to those that defined people as “defective delinquents”. Images of the Fernald School after its closing in 2014.

Depicted here are the three categories that are taken into account in order for a person to be deemed incorrigible. The center section are the factors taken into consideration by the judge making this decision. These factors are almost identical to those that defined people as “defective delinquents”.

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