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New York Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women, at Newark, N.Y.

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Newark State School
After my visit to Willard I started thinking the old Newark State School grounds and buildings are very similar, in style and layout.  I decided to dig around in Google and see if that was a asylum at one time or another.

Guess what, It was!

New York Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women, at Newark, N.Y. opened for operation in 1878 as a satellite facility of Syracuse State Idiot Asylum.

 Wait, What’s with all this name calling?

Ah, those Victorians were a sensitive bunch weren’t they?

Let’s just stop here for a second, because if you are anything like me you are probably wondering what is up with the name calling, and what exactly is the difference is between a feeble-minded person and idiot, right?

The Victorian’s in all their subtlety created a hierarchy of terms (that by today’s standards would be considered totally derogatory)  describing illnesses or deficiencies of the mind.  Each label was an actual clinical diagnosis  to classify psychiatric conditions.

So here we go from lowest to highest level of functioning:

  •  Idiot The lowest end of the developmental and mental spectrum according to Victorian doctors.  The term idiot was used to refer to people having an IQ below 30.
  • Imbeciles moderate to severe intellectual disability, as well as any type of criminal.
  • Moron  could be described as having a mental age comparable to that of a seven to ten year child.
  • Feeble-minded Highest functioning level of developmental disability or mental deficiency, but could also include women of loose moral values (you know what I mean)

There you have it, you have now had your crash course in the politically incorrect psychological diagnoses of yesteryear.

You’re welcome 🙂

New York Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women

Like other asylums around New York, the  Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women name changed with time.

1878-1885: The Newark State School operated as part of the Syracuse State School.
1885: Became the State Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women.
1919: Name changed to Newark State School for Mental Defectives.
1927: Became a part of the Department of Mental Hygiene and name changed again to Newark State School.

From what I have read the name change to New York State Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women reflected a shift in belief that  almshouses (poorhouses) were improper places for ‘feeble-minded’ women.

It was thought that feeble-minded women in almshouse settings acted promiscuously, and as a result frequently had illegitimate children who, then became dependent on the state for their welfare.  Women of child-bearing age, fifteen to forty-five, were admitted to the New York State Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women , in order to “prevent them from multiplying their kind and so increasing the number of the dependent classes on the State” (New York State Board of Charities Report, 1879).

Now still referred to locally as the State School many of the buildings sit vacant, but some are still in use as a Developmental Disabilities Services Office (DDSO) and some are in use by Finger Lakes Community College. I actually took some of my night classes there when I was in college.  I choose not to take pictures of the active buildings, It seems weird to take pictures of schools in use.


Newark Pretty Door
I don’t know if marking vacant buildings with red signs is new, or I am only just now noticing these signs because I just recently have started hanging around vacant buildings. When I asked around I found out the red sign with a white X by the door is a identifying sign for firefighters of hazardous vacant structures. Buildings marked with these signs indicate a abandoned or vacant building that has structural or interior hazards to a degree that would warrant firefighting efforts be limited to the exterior of the building for the safety of firefighters.

Newark windows

Newark Entry

Newark Bench

Newark Flowers

Newark Courtyard

Newark Doors


The Newark State School Cemetary

Update 5/12/17

I was able to finally find the old state school cemetery, thank you for all the directions! I was also able to get a cemetery map showing exactly where all the graves are located, although the individual burial sites are not shown, it only indicates the rows. If you would like to download a high-resolution version of the map you can do so through this link: East Newark Cemetary.

The State School portion of the cemetery isn’t marked, but the land is maintained.  There are a couple of new (as in they look brand new) gravestones that have been placed alongside the old numerical markers which make me wonder if there is a group working to clean up and mark the graves at this cemetery, as the Willard Cemetery Memorial Project has been working to do at the Willard Psychiatric Center in Ovid.


Read more about the New York Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women, at Newark, N.Y:

References Regarding Historical Mental Diagnosis:

A peek inside:

I am way to chicken to try to get pics inside of the buildings. If someone was to get arrested for trespassing, attacked by a rabid squirrel, or  have a floor collapse in on them , it would probably happen to me. But I did find some fascinating shots taken inside these buildings, which I don’t recommend, it is dangerous and against the law.



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Robin Kilmer

Saturday 29th of February 2020

My birth mother was a ward of the state and was at this facility, she gave birth to me in 1961. I was adopted out to a loving family, but always wondered about her. Her name was Dora. Any info would be most appreciated.

Kevin Shale

Sunday 9th of February 2020

Hi, My great aunt, Anna Hubbell, was an "inmate" from sometime in the early to mid 20's until her death in 1972. She is buried at the school. I can get NO information about her, dead ends everywhere. I would love to know a bit about her and why she was committed. Never knew my grandmother even had a sister, it was never spoken of. Any suggestions on how I might get information?

Thanks, Kevin Shale

David Shearer

Monday 23rd of December 2019

I need more information from Newark State School from 1943 to 1953 about the boys dorm. Please help me because it's important to me. Also need those "boys" that lived in it from around 1943 to 1953 and by now they may be around 74 to 80 years old. There were two deaf boys there. I could not find anything from the website about that place. It means a lot to me if I can talk to someone who knows what happen back then. I also don't know how to go about finding information. Please help me.

Barbara Webster

Friday 6th of December 2019

My Dad's mother was sent here to give birth to him in 1940, she was young, and he was then put up for adoption. He found out when he was an adult . His records are sealed and my Dad has since past away. I did some research and found that his birth mothers name was Helen Louise Connelly from Canandaigua NY. I have not had any success in finding out who his birth father was. When I was young I lived next to "the State School". I can recall hearing the "different sounds" that came from there. Very sad. In the 1960s my father and my Aunt both worked at Willard. I was a young mom myself at 17, I am now 51. I have struggled with depression and anxiety most of my life. I am so Grateful we have grown as humans since these times........but sadly we still have a long way to go :(


Wednesday 23rd of October 2019

I’m a direct care worker in group homes and have heard countless stories of working “on the hill” many years ago. I can’t imagine how life was for residents back then. I’ve always been very curious about what those condemned buildings look/looked like in Newark. I think the majority of us would have been considered fit for institutions because they everything qualified as crazy. But group homes are a bit better than those buildings and I could go on but I won’t. I’ve seen Newark old buildings lots of times and they are creepy reminders of how we’ve changed. I want to tour them so bad

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