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.
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.
The Newark State School Cemetary
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:
- Inmates of Willard
- No Right to be Idle: The Invention of Disability, 1850–1930
DETAINED FOR 15 YEARS AS “FEEBLE-MINDED”; Girl Then Pronounced Insane Is Declared to be of Sound Mind. Now Under Commissioner Feeny’s Protection — Tells a Story of Ill-Treatment at Newark (N.Y.) Asylum.
- Early State Schools of New York
References Regarding Historical Mental Diagnosis:
- Historical and obsolete mental and behavioral disorders
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.