Inventing the Feeble Mind

by James W. Trent

H​Oxford University Press 2016

Inventing the Feeble Mind: A History of Intellectual Disability in the United States (2016)

Pity, disgust, fear, cure, and prevention – all are words that Americans have used to make sense of what today we call intellectual disability. Inventing the Feeble Mind explores the history of this disability in the United States from its several identifications over the past 200 years – idiocy, imbecility, feeblemindedness, mental defect, mental deficiency, mental retardation, and most recently intellectual disability. Using institutional records, private correspondence, personal memories, and rare photographs, James Trent argues that the economic vulnerability of intellectually disabled people (and often their families), more than the claims made for their intellectual and social limitations, has shaped meaning, services, and policies in United States history.​​​​
​"Inventing the Feeble Mind​  reminds us of why history matters. By telling the story of the rise and spread of institutions in the United States, James Trent reminds us that intellectual disability is not an inherent condition but a problem produced by those who stand to benefit from the warehousing and management of unwanted populations. Trent's comprehensive account of institutional culture is brought to life by careful archival research and vivid stories of individual lives. With this reprinting, a classic work becomes newly relevant with the introduction of updated language and concepts, and treatment of such timely issues as special education, sheletered workshops, and the ongoing social isolation of people with disabilities" - Rachel E. Adams, Columbia University
"James Trent's ​Inventing the Feeble Mind​ is an indispensable account of the history of intellectual disability in America - and it is much more than that.  It is an illuminating examination of the history of the institutions of 'population management,' and a powerful reminder that social practices once considered enlightened and progressive can look, in rueful retrospect, unbearably brutal and cruel.  This book should be required reading for anyone interested in American history - or, indeed, for anyone interested in human history." - Michael Berube and Janet Lyon, Pennsylvania State University
Table of Contents
Chapter One                           Idiots in America
Chapter Two                           Edward Seguin and the Irony
                                                    of Physiological Education
Chapter Three                         The Burden of the Feebleminded
Chapter Four                           Living and Working in the
                                                      Institution, 1890-1920
Chapter Five                           The Menace of the Feebleminded
Chapter Six                             Sterilization, Parole, and
Chapter Seven                         Remaking of Mental Retardation:
                                                     Of Wars, Angels, Parents, and
Chapter Eight                          Intellectual Disability and the
                                                       Dilemma of Doubt
Epilogue                                  On Suffering Fools Gladly                 
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