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Legal and Economic Factors

Legal and Economic Factors Affecting Laurelton Center

Judy S. Pelter, Emilie F. Jansma, Margaret E. Paterson


Federal legislation authorized the establishment of a mental hospital.


Detailed rules for Civil Commitment of the Insane were established. Two or more physicians had to agree on the commitment of an individual.  The care was custodial only, with no mention of treatment. 


When the Laurelton State Village for Feeble-minded Women of Child-bearing Age, (originally 16-45 years of age) was established by Act 817 of the Pennsylvania State Legislature, signed by Governor John K. Tener, it was thought that problems of people born with deficiencies could be ameliorated by isolation and incarceration of women likely to have such children with the provision of some training to prepare these women to return to the community when older. 

Over the years as social philosophies changed various mental health/mental retardation laws also changed.  


Proposal for location accepted.


December 5: Laurelton was formally declared open for admissions

1915 - 1927

Cottages 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10 were completed.


January 2: The first women were admitted. A waiting list had been accumulating for Cottage 1.


Educational and industrial training began with the potential for parole.


January 1: First School was opened in Cottage 3 (Lomison Hall)


Pennsylvania Act 414 changed the name of the institution to The Laurelton State Village, the Board of Managers to the Board of Trustees, and in addition, the Act provided for a program of parole. There were revisions of other state laws. 


Staff was added to supplement nursing/medical attendant staff (teachers, speech therapy, music, OT., sewing and laundry).


December 19: The first girl was paroled.


There was a rise, particularly in Europe, of the thought that eugenics would provide relief from the problem of “defectives”.

1926 – 1928

The heat plant was built.

1928- 1929

Heat was put into the cottages replacing individual stoves.


There were 425 “Poor Boards”  and 920 “Directors of the Poor”.


The Sunbury Daily Item used the term  “Laurelton State Village Rehabilitation Home for Wayward Girls”.


The roads were paved by WPA labor.


An underground electrical system was installed.


Custodial care and training began to replace incarceration and isolation.


New cottages, social services, and psychology were added.


The Vocational Rehabilitation Act Amendment 78-113 extended services to the mentally handicapped and mentally ill for the first time.


The Mental Health/Mental Retardation Act collected and codified existing laws with a thrust that custody was for “the protection of the community”. The Act required finding that “the person was mentally ill and in need of proper care”. 


An Act provided only for committing a person to an institution without mention of intermediate alternatives.


A 40-hour workweek began.


Pennsylvania Welfare Secretary Harry Shapiro initiated an investigation into conditions called inhumane.


A bill was passed to allow a physician of either sex to be the Laurelton Superintendent.

Mid – 1950s

Laurelton worked to become a therapeutic milieu rather than a custodial restrictive one. The problems of students began to be addressed from a different point of view. Locked cottages were abolished. Laurelton became an “open institution”.


All residents were re-classified. Tranquilizing drugs became more prevalent in the care of the residents.

A bill was passed to allow a physician of either sex to be the Laurelton Superintendent.


Radical changes began to take place. Burton Back’s photographic expose in “Life Magazine” of the horrendous conditions at Willowbrook State Center in NY State called the nation’s attention to the deplorable situations in institutions. A Medicaid regulation was passed requiring 70 sq. ft. per person for sleeping quarters. 

There were new pay scales.


The facility was renamed “The Laurelton State School and Hospital” – A residence for the mentally and physically disabled. Males were to be admitted to isolated cottages and Linn Cottage was to be mixed.


The Vocational Rehabilitation Act Amendments 84-333, in which Federal Funds authorized for the first time that Rehabilitation Centers and Workshop services were to be extended to reach the severely disabled.


The Community Mental Health/Mental Retardation Act which followed the Federal1964 Community Health Centers legislation, allocated funds for community living and services and set the stage for the end of institutionalization.  It made it possible to admit males and the more severely retarded persons.

PL 89-601 The Fair Labor Standards Act was amended to allow State Vocational Services to issue special certificates for the employment of the handicapped in work activity centers at sub-minimum wage.


In 1968 in Pennsylvania there were 18 state hospitals for the mentally ill, plus services, and halfway house facilities. 3400 people lived in the Harrisburg State Hospital, Harrisburg, PA. It closed in 2006.


July: The first male was admitted to Laurelton. (?)


House Bill 1078, Act 203 changed the name of all state schools and hospitals to Centers. It was now the Laurelton Center.


The PA ARC sued the PA Commonwealth for the Right to Education for students with intellectual disabilities resulting in a “Consent Decree” laying the foundation for Feder-al L 94-42.


Ginny Thornburgh, wife of the then Governor of Pennsylvania, serving with the State School and Hospital and Interim Care Committee, made an inspection visit to Laurelton investigating allegations.

The Institutional Peonage Abolishment Act (PA) outlawed “peonage” in state institutions. Peonage referred to forcing institutionalized people to perform work without pay.  The “WAC” – Work Activity Center was expanded as were other support services.


The “Right to Education” law 94-142  for all handicapped children was also passed this year. The Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit was given the responsibility to supervise and be responsible for the education program of people of school age.


The Pennsylvania Mental Health Procedures Act was passed.


The farm machinery was auctioned off signifying a major re-direction in Laurelton activities.


Advocacy groups recommended “People First” language.


A number of buildings were re-named to honor past staff members and several long-time members of the Board of Managers/Board of Trustees. 

Laurelton Center earns ACDD Certification.


The Americans With Disabilities Act was signed into law.


Extensive person-centered planning was used to place people in the community in preparation for the closing of Laurelton Center.


In June, after 77 years, the last remaining residents were moved to other facilities. Laurelton Center closed.


The term “mental retardation” was changed to “a person with intellectual disabilities”. (Rose’s Law).