Wrentham State School

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Wrentham State School
Construction Began 1906
Opened 1907
Current Status Active
Building Style Cottage Plan
Architect(s) Kendall & Taylor
Location Wrentham, MA
Architecture Style Colonial Revival
Peak Patient Population 1448
Alternate Names
  • Wrentham Developmental Center


The Wrentham State School was built in 1906 in Wrentham, Massachusetts for the purpose of reducing the crowding at the Walter E. Fernald School in Waltham. The original campus was built out of nine converted family farm houses on 500 acres of land. Dr. George L. Wallace, the original Superintendent, accepted 10 boys who were transferred from Fernald to the new land in Wrentham in January of 1907. He proposed to have a total of 60 boys there by that summer.[1] Wallace, like many other Massachusetts mental health physicians at the time, followed the teachings of Dr. Samuel G. Howe of Boston. Howe believed in teaching and training of the mentally disabled, and preparing them for integration into society, rather than segregating them from the general population. [2] In the early years of the facility, able bodied young men with developmental disabilities were brought to the school to do farm work, and to learn skills of manual labor.

As the school accepted more patients, both male and female, ranging in age and degree of disability, reports of abuse and scandal became ongoing at Wrentham. A 1973 lawsuit "Massachusetts Association for Retarded Citizens vs. Dukakis" claimed constitutional rights of patients at the facility had been violated based on the living conditions. [3] The school's certification was revoked in 1976 due to the facility's "inability to meet minimum Federal Standards." The peak population was 1448 men, women and children. Overcrowded, understaffed, and underfunded, the conditions for patients were deplorable.[4] There were reports of fluoride and radiation testing on patients there, and Federal Judge Joseph Tauro branded the facility "an absolute disgrace and a nightmare" after a tour of the school in spring of 1977. [5]

With the abuse accusations, numerous lawsuits against the school, and the onset of deinstitutionalization, many patients were moved into group homes in the late 1970's and early 1980's. The population of the school declined, and the living conditions improved for those who still remained at Wrentham. The name was changed to the Wrentham Developmental Center some time in the 1990's. The focus of the school was no longer to train the young and disabled for the real world, but to serve was a safe place for the aging population to live out the rest of their days.

The school was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1994. (#93001490)[6]

The facility is still open, caring for the developmentally disabled in a group home environment. Patients are aged 30-90, and are all housed on the rural campus. New admissions are not being accepted, unless patients are transferred from another closing facility. [7] Several facilities have transferred patients to Wrentham upon their closure, including Glavin Regional Center in 2009.[8]

Images of Wrentham State School[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Wrentham State School


  1. STATE SCHOOL AT WRENTHAM. (1907, Nov 10). Boston Daily Globe. Retrieved 09/23/2013
  2. Pfeiffer, David. Samuel Gridley Howe and 'Schools for the Feebleminded’, http://www.ragged-edge-mag.com/0103/0103ft2.html Accessed 23 Sep 2013.
  3. http://www.arcmass.org/home/whoweare/lawsuits/tabid/615/default.aspx
  4. McLaughlin, Loretta, "Wrentham School Loses Certification."Boston Globe, sec. Local News.4. May 29 1976, Print.
  5. Bruzelius, Nils. "Judge Tauro Tours 'Nightmare" Wrentham State School." Boston Globe, sec. Local News: 1. April 28 1977. Print.
  6. [1]National Registry of Historic Places
  7. Lutkevich, Colleen. "For the Disabled, Wrentham Center Builds True Community." The Boston Globe, sec. Letters: 3. July 22, 2013. Digital. http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/letters/2013/07/21/for-disabled-wrentham-center-builds-true-community/8nD2VrxGx9NcAkuQCeXg0I/story.html>
  8. Malachowski, Jeff, "Governor greeted by Glavin Center supporters," Shrewsbury Chronicle, 07/09/2009, Accessed 09/23/2013. Digital.