Only the first name of the institution in West Pownal suggested who it might be for: the “feeble minded.”
But those sent – or committed – to what became known as Pineland – included orphans, children taken from their poverty-stricken parents, persons with physical disabilities like cerebral palsy, unruly youth, youth or adults convicted of crimes, persons, persons with various intellectual disabilities, the “morally feeble minded”, persons who might later have been termed autistic, and sometimes persons with various types of mental illness. Some were non-verbal, some non-mobile.
Parents of children with various types of disabilities often were advised to commit their child to the facility, and sometimes to forget about them, which some parents did. With few community-based services until the 1960s, most parents had limited options.
Still, many more children and adults with developmental disabilities remained in the community than were sent to Pineland. Some families sent disabled children to other states that had programs that better suited the child’s needs.
The variety of children and adults sent to Pineland contributed to some of the institution’s problems over the years. Few staff were trained to deal with the complexity of issues or provide therapies appropriate to those with different needs. And, when people were committed to Pineland, there was no plan for their release back to the community, which meant there may have been little incentive for therapies, training, or other rehabilitative programs.