Elm Hill Private School and Home for the Education of Feeble-Minded Youth records
Held at: Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia [Contact Us]
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Elm Hill Private School and Home for the Education of Feeble-Minded Youth was founded in 1848 in Barre, Massachusetts, by physician Hervey Backus Wilbur (1820-1883). Wilbur was heavily influenced by the ideas of Edward Séguin (1812-1880), who believed in the instructability of the feeble-minded. Originally called the Institution for the Education of Idiots, Imbeciles, and Children of Retarded Development of Mind, Elm Hill was the first institution of its kind in the United States. Set in bucolic central Massachusetts, Elm Hill put Séguin's ideas, most completely put forth in his book Traitement moral, hygiène et éducation des idiots, into practice.
Wilbur left Elm Hill in 1851 to establish a similar but state-sponsored school in New York. His assistant, George Brown (1823-1892), took over the institution. Dr. Brown, a graduate of the University of New York Medical Department, had arrived in Barre in November 1850 with his wife Catherine Wood Brown. Never accepting more than 100 residents, and remaining private, Elm Hill was run by the Brown family until it ceased operation. George Artemas Brown (1858-1942), who graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New York (Columbia Medical School), was the second Brown to become superintendent. George Artemas' son George Percy Brown (1888-1971), who went to Yale and then Harvard Medical School, took over from his father. Elm Hill closed in August 1946.
The records of Elm Hill span the years 1842-1951. The collection arrived at the College with little original order remaining. No originating office was discernable, and only some records could be traced to individuals. Order has thus been imposed by the archivist, with the following series: administrative, correspondence, financial, medical, publications, teaching, miscellaneous, and photographs and engravings. Except for Series 2.1-2.7, which are ordered by bulk, and Series 8.1-8.9, which are arranged for ease of storage, first-level subseries are ordered alphabetically. Series 3.2.4 is housed out of sequence in Box 62 for ease of storage. Third-level subseries in Series 3 (e.g., 184.108.40.206-220.127.116.11) are arranged by bulk. Items in all series are if possible arranged chronologically.
Researchers should be aware that items may have information in them beyond their series classification. For instance, daybooks in the financial series may contain records of appointments. Researchers should check all the material from a given year in which they are interested.
Confusion can arise over the identities of the three George Browns. In the finding aid, George Brown refers to the first one, G. A. Brown (George Artemas) to the second, and G. P. Brown (George Percy) to the third.
Series 1 consists of administrative records. Included in this series are address books (guardians of the residents and vendors), appointment books, correspondence registers, journals containing occurrences at the school, legal papers, personnel information, printed material providing information about Elm Hill, such as brochures, and other material. 1.17.2 contains a description of the specific duties of attendants in the resident halls. The legal documents concern the competency of residents and residents' estates.
Correspondence is contained in Series 2. Letters concern residents and their care, availability of employment at Elm Hill, and requests for information. Some of the letters have details of residents' histories, condition, and families. A good number concern the transfer of residents at the time of Elm Hill's closing. This series is arranged by bulk.
Series 3, the largest in the collection, contains financial records. In this series are bankbooks, cashbooks, payroll books, vendor account books, and tax information. Also found are daybooks, with records of daily institutional expenses, and school account books, which are summary account books and have listings of all school expenses. Of interest are a complete household inventory done 1872-1875, which includes the value of all items inventoried, and account books with the costs of and payments for residents' care. The various types of account books in third-level subseries are arranged by bulk. Some receipts and invoices (from 1849-1879) have been processed and put in series 3.2. Receipts and invoices from 1880 until the closing of the institution have been retained but are only roughly arranged in bundles by year. It is planned that these will be kept indefinitely but will remain unprocessed. Check at the reference desk for the latest information.
Series 4 contains the medical records of residents. Of outstanding interest are the notebooks with detailed narrative case histories, in seven volumes dating from 1852 and stopping sometime in the early 20th century. These histories are complemented by a large resident register that records the admission and discharge dates of residents from 1851-1889; the register has information on the medical condition and "heredity" of residents. There are case files from 1940-1945 and a medical recipe book from 1870-1879. One more item deserves mention: a record from 1883-1886 of seizures experienced by residents.
The publications in Series 5 are Elm Hill institutional reports (the latest from 1911), bound reports from other institutions, Proceedings of the Association of Medical Officers of American Institutions for Idiotic and Feeble-Minded Persons, and two reprints, "The Principles of Our Work" by George Brown and "The Future of the Educated Imbecile" by Mrs. Catharine W. Brown.
Material related to teaching in Series 6 includes craft work by residents, drawings, writing samples, writing and mathematics workbooks, and a list of teachers with subjects taught. Also found are five diaries, four by residents and one by a teacher. Some of the some diaries contain medical information.
Series 7 is a miscellaneous series, with items in it mainly from the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Elm Hill either had an exhibit at the Exposition or was part of an exhibit set up by American institutions for the feeble-minded. An exhibit description is found in Series 7.
Series 8 consists of photographs and engravings of residents, employees, interiors and exteriors at Elm Hill, and of George Brown. Although only a few of the images are dated, most probably date from 1880-1903. All the photographs are prints. A number were used in the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Elm Hill's records, along with a large amount of material on the Brown family, were purchased in 1995 from Steve Finer Rare Books through a gift from the Samuel Lewis Circle (Accession 1995-031).
The collection was processed by Charles Greifenstein from March to September 1997.
The creation of the electronic guide for this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
Finding aid entered into the Archivists' Toolkit by Garrett Boos.
- Brown, George Artemas, 1858-1942
- Brown, George Percy, 1888-1971
- Brown, George, 1823-1892
- H. B., Wilbur, (Harvey Backus), 1820-1883
- Association of Medical Officers of American Institutions for Idiotic and Feeble-Minded Persons .
- Private Institution for the Education of Feeble-minded Youth (Barre, Mass.) .
- World's Columbian Exposition (1893 : Chicago, Ill.).
- Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Finding aid prepared by Charles Greifenstein
- Finding Aid Date
- The creation of the electronic guide for this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project. Finding aid entered into the Archivists' Toolkit by Garrett Boos.
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This collection is open for research use.
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