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Feebleminded

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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.

Originally 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 led 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.

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

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