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During this period, fences that had served to protect the residents of the institutions from the dangers of society now served to isolate them in order to protect society from the "menace of feeblemindedness." An increasing amount of misinformation about persons with disabilities that they were dangerous, immoral, capable of ruining the gene pool promoted this "menace" theme. Institution superintendents, who had previously argued for the humane care and protection of persons with disabilities, now said that these people were a danger to their communities. Feeblemindedness had to be prevented; individuals had to be controlled.


"Moral imbecility," also referred to as juvenile insanity, moral insanity, physical epilepsy, and moral paranoia, was a broad concept that included everything from minor behavior problems to serious aggressiveness. Persons placed in this category were also referred to as "defective delinquents." These labels implied an aptitude for misconduct, and the people who were given these labels were perceived as potential causes of the social problems of this time.

In 1910, Dr. Henry Goddard using an adaptation on the Binet IQ test, developed a category of mental retardation he called "moron." This term replaced the terms "moral imbecile" and "backward," and added the notion of heredity.

Industrial training at the Rome State School in  New York, ca. 1920