Ray Stewart of WOI-TV Ames, Iowa along with Iowa State University, produced "In Our Care," a 13 week series of documentaries filmed inside Iowa's state institutions. The series won the 1952 National Sylvania Television Award for Production Excellence.
(Voiceover) You try not to show it, though the hardest task is what you have just done. You have just told a mother that she should give up her child. She should give up her child because it is hopelessly feebleminded. You have had to tell her that. You have tried to explain that her home will be a better place for the rest of the family if this child is cared for someplace else. You have seen many of these disappointed, anguished parents, and you wish you could offer them some kind of reassurance about the children.
Ray Stewart: Yes, reassurance is often helpful. Direct knowledge is even better. There are thousands of mentally deficient children in Iowa. There are 3000 right here in our two state-owned institutions. And this is only about 10% of the known cases in the state. To find out why the doctor in our opening scene felt as he did, let's look in on one of our state institutions for the mentally deficient children, the one at Glenwood, Iowa. The Glenwood State School is located in the southwest corner of Iowa in Mills County.
Ray Stewart: It was in 1876 that the state of Iowa first dedicated this institution to the care and training of those who were then called feebleminded. In those early years, there were only about 300 mentally deficient children living on those grounds. Today, this is a city of almost 2000 children. Some are young, some are old, but all are still children. In these buildings and on these grounds, children who in other circumstances are shoved into the shadow of brighter and mentally quicker people are here able to live among their kind and find a measure of happiness not otherwise available.
Ray Stewart: Before we show you the motion pictures that I took at Glenwood, which I believe will give you a broader view of the life that these people live, I would like you to meet Dr. James Marr who is the clinical director of the Glenwood State School. Dr. Marr, just what are the duties of the clinical director.
Dr. James Marr: The clinical director is the head of the medical department and coordinates the work of the social service department, the psychology department, and also takes charge of all clinical work.
Ray Stewart: You then are responsible for the mental and physical health of these children?
Dr. James Marr: Yes.
Ray Stewart: Now, can you tell me just what is the nature of feeblemindedness?
Dr. James Marr: Feeblemindedness is a condition in which the child does not have the ability to handle himself properly under the normal circumstances such as you and I would have.
Ray Stewart: Um hmh. Are they mentally ill?
Dr. James Marr: Definitely not. We do have some who get a psychosis while they're there, but they are not mentally ill in the meaning of the word "psychotic" such as they are used when they send a person to the state mental health institutes.
Ray Stewart: What is a psychosis?
Dr. James Marr: A psychosis is a condition in which a more or less normal person loses contact with reality and retires into a world of his own, either in the form of a depression or a mania or a split personality.
Ray Stewart: A person who was of normal mentality at one time, then is correct?
Dr. James Marr: There are a few feebleminded people who are mentally retarded who develop psychoses.
Ray Stewart: I heard you correct yourself between feebleminded and mentally retarded there. Is there a difference?
Dr. James Marr: None whatsoever, except for the word feeblemindedness has a connotation which we do not like to pass on to the public and particularly to the parents of the children. These children are mentally retarded. The word feeblemindedness has a stigma, a connotation of stigma, which we do not like to use at all.
Ray Stewart: I see. Can you tell me, is there any hope for these children?
Dr. James Marr: Insofar as their intelligence quotient is concerned, perhaps not. Insofar as their training is concerned, definitely, yes. In the majority of the cases, particularly the higher type child.
Ray Stewart: What can be done in training?
Dr. James Marr: Oh, they can learn to do a great deal of... a great number of things involving rather technical and motor skills. They can take academic training, formal academic training up to age or level of perhaps the fifth or possibly sixth grade of a normal school.
Ray Stewart: Well, it seems to me that with the advances in medical science and so forth that you should be able to perform some type of operation or something to correct whatever the damage is or whatever the circumstances are.
Dr. James Marr: In the average case where there's been an inheritance factor involved, operations would do no good. In those involving brain injuries, for example, where scar tissue is formed, it wouldn't do any good to try and remove the scar tissue, and in removing the scar tissue, you'd merely create more scar tissue in that person.
Ray Stewart: Then these people, would you say they're crippled mentally and maybe it would be like trying to add on something that just isn't there?
Dr. James Marr: That's right.
Ray Stewart: Well, now, are these cases rare?
Dr. James Marr: Definitely not. One and one half percent of the population taken as a national average is feebleminded or mentally retarded, and 1.5% of the population is definitely not a rare condition.
Ray Stewart: In Iowa, that would mean what, about 30,000?
Dr. James Marr: Around 37,000.
Ray Stewart: Thirty-seven thousand people in Iowa. And we have 3000 between our two institutions.
Dr. James Marr: Yes. The national average runs around 10%, and we are just a little lower than 10% here in Iowa.
Ray Stewart: Well, these who are institutionalized then, how long are they there?
Dr. James Marr: That depends a great deal upon the individual. If the individual is such that can be trained either formally academically or socially to the point where he can be returned to outdoor life, then we can get rid of him as soon as we possibly can. If he is too far retarded, we use the facilities on the hill, as we call it, or the school grounds, and they are kept there for the rest of their life.
Ray Stewart: I see. It can range from a short period to the rest of their lives, which might be several years.
Dr. James Marr: That's right.
Ray Stewart: What ages do you have there now, could you give me a range?
Dr. James Marr: Yes, we have them there from 2 weeks to 80 years.
Ray Stewart: Eighty years old.
Dr. James Marr: Yes, sir.
Ray Stewart: And they have... This one or more who are that age. They've lived there or in an institution most of those years? Of course, the institution was established in 1876.
Dr. James Marr:Of the first hundred patients who came there after the establishment of the school in 1876, we still have 14.
Ray Stewart: There's 14 of the first ones.
Dr. James Marr: Yes, sir.
Ray Stewart: That is really amazing, Dr. Marr. Thank you very much for your very enlightening words about these children. You and Dr. V.J. Meyer, who is the superintendent of the institution, have been very cooperative in the production of this program. The selection and integration of material for this program was not easy.
Ray Stewart: A casual stroll around the grounds would indicate immediately that there are children here and many children. Children are in evidence everywhere. A casual observer would find much the same atmosphere on the surface here as one might find at most any boarding school or children's home. Your first impression is likely to be that here is an apparently normal cross section of young people. The idea that they are a cross section cycle is correct if you mean a cross section of economic status. The occurrence of mental deficiency is no respecter of money or position in life. The birth of these children should be no reflection of any guilt or shortcomings of the parents. Most of these children are physically healthy. All are mentally retarded.
Ray Stewart: But you can't judge an institution from outward appearances or first impressions anymore than you can judge a person by his looks. As I told you earlier, Dr. Meyer, who is the superintendent of institution, was very cooperative in the production of this program. He permitted me to take any motion pictures which I felt would be representative of life at Glenwood State School. Let me preface these pictures by saying that there are many grades of mental deficiency, and this place has them all, from the very lowest mentality through the higher grade morons.
Ray Stewart: Speaking in terms of IQ, these people range from zero, yes, zero, through 70 in terms of intelligence quotient. These are not patients. They are not mentally ill in terms of psychosis. Their mentality is limited. They are mentally deficient.
Ray Stewart: Many can take care of themselves, many cannot. Those who are more capable help those who are less able. You will notice in these pictures that they're paired off and each person has a definite responsibility for another less capable person. Many, many types of mental deficiency here. Middle and lower grades shown. As you might notice, some of these are blind and otherwise deformed.
Ray Stewart: The boy in the middle is what is known to medical people as microcephalic. He has a small head, underdeveloped. You'll notice that some of these children have to be tied in their chairs to keep them from falling out. They cannot take care of themselves. There is one of the higher grade children taking care of the others. You can see on the extreme right of your screen, one of the children is wearing diapers. This was made in the spastic ward. There are spastics here but only mentally deficient spastics. The lady in white is the attendant.
Ray Stewart: This picture was made in the porch of the infirmary where some of the lower grade men and boys, all called children, are kept. Actually, the boy on the left is laughing. They are very happy there, as you will notice the boy in the middle. They're polishing the floor and they're kept busy many hours in the day.
Ray Stewart: Here the young ladies are sewing and an attendant observes and inspects their work. Another form of entertainment for these people is to watch television. The girl to the right of the television owns that set. There are about 14 sets in the institution. It isn't a pretty picture, is it? But being among their own kind, those who have mentality enough to know the difference are not unhappy.
Ray Stewart: There are opportunities for as much learning as the child can absorb. There is no rush, there's plenty of time here. Many can learn basic normal activities if given enough time and treated with patience and kindness. This little girl is 4 years old and she is just learning to walk. In about two years, she will probably know how. They can progress to a certain point at a slow rate. The point to which they can go is determined entirely by the child. One other child that I know of learned to walk in this walker which was cut down from a high chair. We need many more there to teach these children how to walk.
Ray Stewart: The little girl near the back with the long curls on the left of your screen now in the center of your screen couldn't feed herself when she first went to the institution. She has now learned. The little girl in the front will never know how to feed herself and must always be fed by the woman who has the responsibility. Food is prepared in very clean kitchens here and children help with the preparation of the food as part of their chores in this nice kitchen. They also have chores such as in the yard.
Ray Stewart: You cannot fit these children into any one classification. Many of them could get along in normal society and many do after their training here. Others find the fast pace and competition of normal society frustrating and must find refuge among their own kind.
Ray Stewart: A school which is geared to the needs of these children is operated at the institution. Here you see the opening exercises. While the orchestra plays, they sing, have opening prayers, sing popular songs, do a very nice job. You'll notice they look very normal here, these children who are able to go to school. Then they go to their classes and this is a kindergarten group. Some of these children will never learn how to read, but they can learn how to get along. Notice how clean and neat the little girl in the white shoes looks. She has an older girl who takes care of her in the cottage, prepares her for school.
Ray Stewart: The classes are geared to the individual needs of the children. They learn as much as they are capable of learning. The top is about the fifth grade. Many do not go that far. Some, as I said, never learn to read, but they can learn various skills and often do, such things as weaving rugs. These things they make are sold at a bazaar at the Glenwood School each fall. Another activity is the making of dresses. Each child is fitted to dresses. The dress is made for the child. They learn how to operate power tools and just as many skills as they are capable of handling.
Ray Stewart: Life for these children, too, must have its different phases. Those who are capable have work or school to keep them occupied. Likewise, those who know enough to care have recreation available. This recreation varies from the simple childhood pleasures through many, many forms. In the cottages, they can play with a ball, play with other children. Outside in the summertime, they're about 20 people who devote their time to keeping these children occupied, keeping them happy, and keeping them, well, busy. They watch television in their cottage. As I said, there are about 14 sets now on the grounds. The dance, which they have every two weeks which alternates with a movie, is a very interesting thing. Here, again, the orchestra plays and children get together. They have their sweethearts that they meet here each dance period and they very carefully pick out their partners and learn how to get along together.
Ray Stewart: I cannot possibly in the time allowed cover this vital subject as it deserves to be covered. Next week when we take our television visit to Woodward, which is another institution like Glenwood, we will be able to bring you some children into the studio and discuss the various types of children and tell you more about mental deficiency in more specific terms. But right now, I would like to talk with a man who is close to these children. He is Mr. Samuel Tyler, director of education and training at Glenwood State School. Mr. Tyler, I'd like to know how you can determine whether or not these children can be trained and to what extent they can be trained.
Samuel Tyler: Well, when they are first admitted to the school by a procedure which is through a certain department, then they are taken to the hospital for a short period and a staff conference by physicians and psychologists and various members of the staff studies the childs' case very carefully, and the child appears before that group. And from that information, we find out enough to know where he should live on the institution and we recommend what we think would be his best plan for training. And later on in other conferences, we follow up trying to work out an individual plan for each child.
Ray Stewart: Now you said that you try to determine where he should live on the grounds. Are they separated according to types and so forth?
Samuel Tyler: As much as we can, as much as possible, trying to get people together who actually belong together.
Ray Stewart: Now what about these older and better equipped, shall we say, children who take care of the others. Do they just go over in the daytime as a work detail to care for these lower grade children?
Samuel Tyler: In some cases they do.
Ray Stewart: Um hmh. Now, to get back to our school and training, how many of the 2000 children at the school, speaking generally, are in the regular academic work?
Samuel Tyler: Approximately 300 are in our academic school throughout the year, but that's not a constant number. It fluctuates considerably.
Ray Stewart: How many are able to finish each year?
Samuel Tyler: They actually don't finish in that sense.
Ray Stewart: They just drop out, is that it?
Samuel Tyler: They drop when they reach the point where the value of that academic training becomes less than some other specified work might be.
Ray Stewart: What... would you do when they have reached their capacity in the school?
Samuel Tyler: Then we assign them out to various activities on the campus, that is, out to the farm among the boys, or in the kitchens or in the dormitories or places of that nature.
Ray Stewart: Do you feel that that work is helpful to them as well as their academic work?
Samuel Tyler: We feel that's very helpful because there they learn responsibility and acquire some specific skills which may be helpful to them whether they live there the balance of their lives or whether they go out and become self-supporting.
Ray Stewart: Now you say they go out and become self-supporting. What is your method of placement? Can you place these children?
Samuel Tyler: Yes, we place some of them. We must have a place where they will be properly supervised, and we must have a place where the work they'll be required to do is not too difficult for them and where we can have reports on them. Many of them go to nurses homes, homes for old people.
Ray Stewart: I have two children at home. Supposing I needed someone to help my wife with the work around the house. Could I get one of these children?
Samuel Tyler: You might, after a thorough investigation.
Ray Stewart: What would... Would they be helpful?
Samuel Tyler: They would definitely be helpful. We would not like to have anyone go out that could not be helpful to whoever they might go.
Ray Stewart: Now, I am amazed to find that there are so many children of this type in the institution and even out of the institutions, and I'm sure that a lot of people are going to want more information. Is there any way they can get information from the schools?
Samuel Tyler: We have some printed information in general terms. But of course, people are always welcome to come and especially groups. If they would write to Dr. V.J. Meyer, our superintendent, he would be glad to have them come and would arrange for a member of the staff to talk with them and take them around and show them the institution.
Ray Stewart: You actually encourage those visits?
Samuel Tyler: Yes, we do that.
Ray Stewart: Can they... will they be able to take a tour of the grounds and see these demonstrations and so forth about the types?
Samuel Tyler: Yes, they can tour the grounds and perhaps one of our staff physicians will even sometimes show types to them. We have other plans now which may make it even easier to do that.
Ray Stewart: Would you like to tell us anything of your impression of these children? I know when I was there, you seemed to be all over the grounds and know all of them. How do they feel? How do they act and so forth?
Samuel Tyler: Well, Mr. Stewart, they're just like other people. They have the same basic urges as anyone. They would like to have somebody like them, they like to be noticed, they crave affection, they crave attention, and there are some very wonderful children there. We have some who are not so wonderful, but is there a place where that isn't true? But there are children there just as lovable as any children I ever knew anyplace, and I have worked with children for many, many years.
Ray Stewart: Well, my impression after several days at the institution was that the children are happy and well cared for. They're free from frustrations and demands of society which is not geared to their needs. I feel that therein lies the reassurance that parents have mentally deficient children are seeking. A child has not been neglected or discarded if it is placed in a public or private institution which is geared to its needs. As evidence of what can be done, there are 24 children here in the studio from the Glenwood State School. They are musicians. They have learned to read music and to play their instruments since they have been in the school. To show you what can be done, we bring you these children now with a number.
Band singing: I'm forever blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles in the air. They fly so high, nearly reach the sky, then like all dreams, they fade and die. Fortune's always hiding, I've looked everywhere. I'm forever blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles in the air.
(Voiceover) The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That's the essence of inhumanity.
(Voiceover) In Our Care is produced in the studios of WOI TV Ames, Iowa by Ray Stewart. The program was directed by LaMar Smith. The script for In Our Care is prepared by Hazel Allen, with production research by Ferne Bonomi. The technical director was Charles Hawley. Portions of the program were on film. Next week, we will present the story of the Woodward State Hospital and School for the Feebleminded. This is Bob Heskett speaking.