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Two books published in the early 1950s had an enormous impact on the public perception of mental retardation. Pearl Buck was a famous author and winner of the Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes for her novel The Good Earth. In 1950, she published an article in The Ladies Home Journal entitled, "The Child Who Never Grew," which was later republished in book form.

In the article, Buck told the story of her daughter, Carol, who was developmentally delayed due to phenylketonuria (PKU), and whom Buck had placed in New Jersey's Vineland School when she was nine years old.

1950's Doctor

Then Dale Evans, star with her husband Roy Rogers of a hugely popular television show, wrote in Angel Unaware about her daughter Robin, who had Down syndrome and died at age two.

All too often, the advice from professionals was confusing: "Send your child to an institution." "Keep her at home." "Wait, he'll grow out of it." In addition, most professionals had little more than advice to offer. They determined which services were available to families, and programs and services in the community were rare. Parents, seeing the failures of public institutions and community services, now began to assume control of services for their sons and daughters.

These public acknowledgments of a child with mental disabilities were unprecedented. Here were two of the most famous women in America unashamedly telling the world about their daughters and how they had loved them. Mental retardation had come out of the closet.

It was no coincidence that these books were published at a time when parents of children with mental retardation were beginning to organize: both Pearl Buck and Dale Evans were in touch with other parents and both were motivated by a desire to help them. Their books were a tremendous boon to the newly-organizing parents, emotionally and financially. About ten thousand dollars in royalties from Dale Evans book supported the first national office of the National Association for Retarded Children in New York.

As important as their positive impact was, the books also contributed to the stereotype of the person with mental retardation as an eternal child. They perpetuated the view that such persons – no matter what age – were eternal children of God, capable of doing no wrong, and wanting only to be loved.