The time span between 1876 and 1916 was important in establishing America’s institutions for the feeble-minded. The public rhetoric of the institutional superintendents advocated eugenic principles in determining admission to an institution. The views of parents, legislators, and concerned others is a neglected, yet important, perspective. While superintendents had some influence over who was accepted into the institution, they were not in control of the pool of applicants from which admission decisions were made. This work focuses on, but is not exclusively about, New Jersey. Parents who were unable to pay the costs had to supply reasons for applying for warrants to have the New Jersey state government pay the fees. In addition, at least until 1916, even superintendents, when determining admissions, based many of their decisions on multiple considerations (not just the eugenic ones that were prominent in their public rhetoric). The institutional records are valuable resources for gaining a more nuanced understanding of the rise of centers for the feeble-minded.

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