A train left Greenwood Station outside Philadelphia on April 20, 1897. It carried 153 people from the Pennsylvania Training School for Feeble-Minded Children (now Elwyn) to the first government-operated facility for people with intellectual disabilities in Pennsylvania: the State Institution for Feeble-Minded of Western Pennsylvania at Polk (now Polk Training Center). Since 1852 Elwyn, a privately operated school, served as the only long-term out-of-home option in Pennsylvania designed specifically for people with intellectual disabilities. Over the ensuing decades, Polk became part of a statewide institutional system that during the 1960s housed over 13,000 people. Written amidst the context of these state institutions closing in recent years, this article details their beginnings and the lives of the 153 people on that train. Previously unexamined Elwyn and Polk archival material present these stories in the context of the emergent clinical, economic, moral, and political forces that promoted the institutional model.

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