Belchertown, MA

The Horror that was the Belchertown State School for the Feeble-Minded

Yana Bostongirl

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Abandoned mental hospitalPhoto by Jon Butterworth on Unsplash

Even though the Belcher Institute for the Feeble Minded, established in 1922 in Belchertown, Massachusetts, closed its doors in 1992, the horrors that occurred within its walls still echo today.

In the 1920's, the Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation was tasked with managing persons with mental illnesses and disabilities. The Belchertown State School for the Feeble Minded was one such asylum whose purpose was to care for people with disabilities. This is how atlasobscura.com describes the sprawling campus: "The 845 acre campus comprising some 57 buildings must be called scenic, if nothing else—the Holyoke Range is visible from the campus, and many of the original structures were old farmhouse cottages (five farms were purchased to build the s

According to an article, even month-old babies were brought to the asylum and left there. This was what clinical psychologist Robert Agolia had to say about it: "Criminal” and “ridiculous because there is no reliable way intelligence can be assessed other than if there is some physical deformity, which we should be very cautious of interpreting as mental retardation. But with no reliable way of assessing the intelligence of a one month old child or even a one year old child and to doom that child to a fate worse than death, and to put them in an institution from that age is criminal."

Before long, stories of squalor and lack of care for the residents started circulating. Part of the reason for the awful conditions could be attributed to overcrowding and understaffing. It has been claimed that residents were strapped down for days at a time, lying in their own excrement and urine while other residents had their healthy teeth forcibly removed to make feeding easier.

It was finally closed in 1992 following several lawsuits filed against it for Human Rights Violations.

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