Editor’s Note

Thousands of decisions are reflected in the way we chose to write biographies on this site. A handful of editorial choices also run through this work, and are explained here.

What’s in a name?

The Metropolitan State Hospital is often referred to as Met. State; however, we decided to use its formal name.

The Fernald School’s name has changed multiple times since it first opened in 1848. At various points it was known at the Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded, the Walter E. Fernald State School, and the Walter E. Fernald Developmental Center. Consistently, it is known as The Fernald School, and so we have opted to use this name throughout.

Why are locations a bit confusing?

The Fernald School was located in Waltham, Mass. The Metropolitan State Hospital’s buildings, aside from the Administration Building, were located in Lexington, Mass. However, the Metropolitan State Hospital’s grounds were located at the intersection of Lexington, Waltham, and Belmont, Mass.

The MetFern Cemetery is located on former Metropolitan State Hospital land in the City of Waltham.

Inmate, student, patient, or resident?

The varied histories of these two institutions make it difficult to provide readers with the precision they might want in terms of naming the status of people who were held at these institutions, and to some degree, that fact alone merits reflection. Former medical staff served these institutions during an era of reform and will customarily refer to people as residents. However, our conversations with former inmates make it clear that they view their time at the institutions as carceral, and they see themselves as having been inmates. We recognize that this is a fraught subject, but we choose to use the words of people who lived in these institutions. This term is also accurate, because it was the abolition of this word that led to the closing of the cemetery in 1979, after inmates were recognized as residents by the government.

Work inside the institutions

Annual reports from state institutions make it clear that they were sustained by the work of the inmates. This work was not a choice, and as such, when describing work conditions, we have generally opted to describe them as forced labor.

Terms in quotes

Throughout the biographies you will find terms and phrases in quotation marks. While these would normally be cited and sourced, we have removed them for readability. These terms are sometimes deeply disturbing. They are taken from World War I draft registration documents, death certificates, other vital records, oral histories, prison records, and newspapers.

Illness descriptions

Descriptions of illnesses and disabilities in this document are largely taken from death certificates and World War I documents. Where we have felt it is necessary, we have simplified the terminology. These terms are reflective of American medicine between 1918 and 1979.

Birth Certificates

Substantial discrepancies exist between vital records for numerous reasons. In the case of American-born individuals from states and time periods where birth records were widely kept, we have noted if a birth certificate has not yet been located. In other instances, we have done our best to ascertain a death year.

Is more possible?

Some biographies here show the possibilities of further research and there is merit in doing so. However, for the presentation of these biographies and their connection to the history of disability, American institutions, and the cemetery, we have bounded our work in most cases.