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Social reformer Samuel Gridley Howe founded the school in 1848
with a $2,500 appropriation from the Legislature. Records of Dr. Howe and the beginnings of mental retardation services in the United States reside in Fernald’s Howe Library. Under its first resident superintendent, Walter E. Fernald (1887-1924), the school became a model educational facility in the field of mental retardation. In 1925, the Legislature passed a bill officially naming the school the Walter E. Fernald State School.