Feeble-Minded in Our Midst

Institutions for the Mentally Retarded in the South, 1900-1940

By Steven Noll

272 pp., 6 x 9, 16 halftones, 11 tables, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4531-8
    Published: December 1995
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-4770-8
    Published: June 2018
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6983-8
    Published: June 2018

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The problem of how to treat the mentally handicapped attracted much attention from American reformers in the first half of the twentieth century. In this book, Steven Noll traces the history and development of institutions for the 'feeble-minded' in the South between 1900 and 1940. He examines the influences of gender, race, and class in the institutionalization process and relates policies in the South to those in the North and Midwest, regions that had established similar institutions much earlier. At the center of the story is the debate between the humanitarians, who advocated institutionalization as a way of protecting and ministering to the mentally deficient, and public policy adherents, who were primarily interested in controlling and isolating perceived deviants. According to Noll, these conflicting ideologies meant that most southern institutions were founded without a clear mission or an understanding of their relationship to southern society at large. Noll creates a vivid portrait of life and work within institutions throughout the South and the impact of institutionalization on patients and their families. He also examines the composition of the population labeled feeble-minded and demonstrates a relationship between demographic variables and institutional placement, including their effect on the determination of a patient's degree of disability.

Originally published in 1995.

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About the Author

Steven Noll is adjunct assistant professor of history at the University of Florida. He holds a Ph.D. in history and is a special education teacher in the Florida public schools.
For more information about Steven Noll, visit the Author Page.


"Exhaustively researched, clearly organized, and convincingly and felicitously written. Feeble-Minded in Our Midst is an important contribution to the literature of southern history and the history of medicine."--Journal of the History of Medicine

"Steven Noll has produced a work of historical and social significance that is impressive not only for its scope but also for the insight it provides into a seldom-seen area of public policy."--North Carolina Historical Review

"Offers a starting point for understanding the development of twentieth-century social policy in the South."--Journal of Southern History

"This is a subject that needs treatment, and Noll treats it well. He authoritatively analyzes the history of Southern institutions for the mentally retarded both from within the establishments themselves and from a broader social and political perspective."--Todd Savitt, East Carolina University

"Steven Noll's Feeble-Minded in Our Midst is an important contribution to the history of retardation and the South. It illuminates regional differences in social policy and demonstrates that the evolution of institutions for a variety of dependent persons is a far more complex phenomenon than is commonly assumed. All those concerned with social policy and dependency will find his book rewarding."--Gerald Grob, Rutgers University