Mount Pleasant State Training School
|Mount Pleasant State Training School|
|Building Style||Cottage Plan|
|Location||Mt. Pleasant, MI|
On January 3, 1893, the U.S. government opened an Indian boarding school at Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. It offered a nine-year program, beginning with kindergarten. By 1911 the Mt. Pleasant school had eleven buildings, including dormitories for both the girls and boys. Although the school grew from an original enrollment of 59 students to more than 300 students a year, it created tension among the Indian community. Some Indian parents opposed sending their children away to learn “the white man’s ways.” However, the poverty and hopelessness of living on reservations led other parents to hope that these boarding schools promised their children a better life. Sometimes, the government took Indian children and forced them to attend the school.
Life at the boarding schools was often a shock. One girl recalled being held down as her hair was cut short. She later explained, “among our people” only “cowards” wore short hair. Another student remembered that attending a boarding school was like being “suddenly dumped” into “another world, helpless, defenseless, bewildered, trying desperately and instinctively to survive it all.”
Students awoke to reveille, dressed in military-style uniforms, marched to class and went to bed with taps. Half the day was spent in class; the other half was spent in vocational training. The students also kept vegetable gardens and apple orchards and cared for livestock. During the summer months, they worked as seasonal laborers on area farms. English was the school’s official language, and students might have their mouth washed out with soap if they spoke their native Indian language. Students were also encouraged to take a Christian name in place of their Indian name. They had little privacy, sleeping in dormitories with 30 to 40 students in a large room.
Violating the rules led to punishment, which could be harsh. Sometimes students were beaten with a strap or rubber hose. Some endured the school; others ran away. The Mt. Pleasant Indian School closed in 1933. In exchange for the buildings, the state of Michigan agreed to allow the Indian children to attend public schools.
When the facility reopened in 1934 as the Michigan Home and Training School, the care of the developmentally disabled was much different than today’s standards. The first residents were men from the state home in Lapeer who provided labor to operate the farm and dairy operations at the facility, and were available for hire by community members for day jobs. At this time, the only hospital located in Mt. Pleasant existed at the ‘Michigan Home,’ the terms used by locals at the time for the Mt. Pleasant Center. In 1946 the institution was renamed Mt. Pleasant State Home and Training School.
The time between the opening of the facility in 1934 until the reforms in Special Education laws and practices in the 1960s and 70s made for a dark time at the facility. Care was confined to only food and shelter. Efficiency over anything else was emphasized during this time, and living conditions did not meet the space and privacy requirements of today. Residents were handled in groups of up to 50, and photos show dormitories filled with wall-to-wall beds in day rooms that slept 50 to a room. A building spree happened in the 1950s, with buildings designed to provide a custodial level of care in the most expedient manner. Many of the buildings still in existence on the grounds today were constructed during this time.
Cottage 3 was converted by a Detroit architect in 1950 to what was known as the Crib Care dormitory, and had wall-to-wall cribs on two of its three floors, with toddlers in the basement. More than 200 infants and children with varying degrees of disability were housed there, with 25% of the children diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome. Care at that time, being limited to food and shelter, led to the young residents not getting enough exercise to maintain muscle tone and mobility.
As late as the 1960s, one-piece coveralls were the uniform for all patients. Around that time, staff ‘on its own initiative’ started attempting to work with residents in small groups, or one on one, with planned activities or arts and crafts on a limited basis. The first teachers arrived at the facility in 1966, when Public Law 89-10 made provisions for providing teachers to the institutionalized handicapped.
In the 1970s an extensive renovation program was held, and the institution was renamed the Mt. Pleasant Regional Center for Developmental Disabilities. The renovations focused on making the facility less institutional and more homelike. The interiors were changed from large day rooms housing groups of 50 to apartments holding no more than 16 residents, with snack kitchens. Family dining over institutional feeding was introduced. The Special Education Law of 1974 required that all persons under age 26 who were capable of being transported must be able to attend school, and programs were created individually by interdisciplinary teams for those over age 26, for work activities or sheltered employment. Community-based residential living began to be emphasized at this time, allowing for group home setups in the surrounding neighborhoods. Admissions began to decline as the push for community integration began.  The facility closed in 2008; the State of Michigan made the decision to close due to budget shortfalls at the state level and a dwindling number of patients being assisted at the location.