Feeble-minded

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(Redirected from Feebleminded)

Feeble-minded was a term used from the late 19th century through the early 20th century to loosely describe a variety of mental deficiencies, including what would now be considered mental retardation in its various types and grades, and learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

Though it sounds particularly offensive to our current ears, it was not used as a particularly pejorative term and was, along with "idiot" and "moron," considered to be a relatively precise psychiatric label in its day.

The American psychologist Henry H. Goddard—who created the term "moron"—who was director of the Training School for Backward and Feeble-minded Children at Vineland, New Jersey, was known for postulating most effectively that "feeble-mindedness" was a hereditary trait, most likely caused by a single recessive gene. This lead Goddard to ring eugenic alarm bells in his 1912 work, The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness, about those in the population who carried the recessive trait despite outward appearances of normalcy.

At the present time, the term is often used, in quotation marks, to slam the eugenics movement of the past, as an indication of their crudity and offensiveness. However, in the context in which it was used, it was not meant to be, nor interpretted to be, an offensive or cruel term, and was considered to be as scientific as a term as, say, "mentally retarded" would be today.

In the first half of the 20th century, "feeble-mindedness, in any of its grades" was a common criteria for compulsory sterilization in many states.


Jack London's 1914 story, Told in the Drooling Ward, describes inmates at a California institution for the "feeble-minded." Such an institution existed (the California Home for the Care and Training of Feeble-minded Children, now the Sonoma Developmental Center) close to the Jack London Ranch in Glen Ellen, California. The story is a narrative told from the point of view of a self-styled "high-grade feeb".

External link

  • Told In the Drooling Ward (http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/London/Writings/TurtlesTasman/ward.html) Text of the Jack London story.
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