Skip to main content

Zoom Text:


A series of efforts to increase public awareness and understanding about institutional conditions eventually led to improvements in these facilities. In 1965, Senator Robert Kennedy, accompanied by a television crew, toured the Willowbrook State School in New York and described what he saw during his visit.

In that same year, Senator Robert Kennedy addressed a joint session of the New York legislature on the "dehumanizing conditions" of the Rome and Willowbrook institutions in New York. Kennedy said that residents of these institutions were being denied equal access to education and deprived of their civil liberties.

In 1966, Burton Blatt, a professor at Syracuse University, and Fred Kaplan echoed Senator Kennedy's attack on institutions with their photographic essay entitled Christmas in Purgatory. Using a hidden camera, Blatt and Kaplan captured life inside the public institutions.

The following year, their essay was published in Look magazine, and drew a large reader response. In this essay, Dr. Blatt declared that "there is a hell on earth, and in America there is a special inferno – the institution."