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Abandoned school for the feeble minded – The Vineland Training School in New Jersey

David Goran

In 1888, the New Jersey Home for the Education and Care of Feebleminded Children was opened in southern New Jersey (later the Vineland Training School).

Vineland Training School was a non-profit organization with the mission of educating people with developmental disabilities so they can live independently.

It has been a leader in research and testing. Some claim that the Vineland Training School became the 3rd facility of its kind in the US – the first was the Walter E. Fernald State School, established in 1848 and the second was the Elwyn Training School, established in 1852. Photos: Forsaken Fotos/Flickr

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The Psychological Research Laboratory at the Training School was founded in 1906, and was the first research facility devoted to studying mental deficiencies in the US.

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Starting in 1913, the Vineland Training School operated a farm called the Menantico Colony. Among many expansions of the institution, the Menantico Colony was to be used as a state farm to treat “feeble-minded” young men, using rural settings and challenging work to ease the mind.

By 1919 there were accommodations for 120 boys, and their expenses were almost completely paid for by the profits made in food production.

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The men worked in maintenance, farming, food preparation, as relief attendants with the boys, as teachers, and one served as a hospital orderly.

The wives did housework, teaching, and secretarial work.  Together they provided a total of forty-two years of service to the school during the life of the unit.

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Training School was often involved with agricultural research in its early years. It researched growing peaches with the New Jersey State Experimental Station in 1905 and growing grapes for the US Department of Agriculture.

It created the Vineland International Egg Laying and Breeding Contest in 1916. In 1917 it devoted 10 acres (40,000 m2) to the study of 80 different varieties of grapes for the Department of Agriculture.

In 1926, the Training School was involved in a study of irrigation, again for the Department of Agriculture.

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The Vineland Training School’s method of treatment conformed to the expectations of society in the early 20th Century and their methods would probably be preferable even today.

The children were treated well and the Vineland Training School’s placement of the feeble-minded into farmwork was perhaps the least controversial and most acceptable of options.

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The Division of Emotional Disturbance was established at the Training School in 1970 and in 1981 The Elwyn Institutes of Media, Pennsylvania took the school over to avoid it being closed.

At the present day, there are a few residential buildings and a chapel.