Useful Citizenship and the Institutionalization of the Feebleminded in California, 1885-1920

Friday, May 20, 2016 - 1:00pm to 3:00pm

UCLA History and Social Studies of Medicine Research Forum is a series which provides opportunities for faculty, students, staff, and visiting researchers to present recent work or unfinished work-in-progress in an informal, presentation-and-discussion format; more formal, invited papers are presented several times each year.

The sixth program of the academic year, on Friday, 20 May 2016 at 1:00 pm, will be a presentation by Christine Tarleton (Doctoral Student, Department of History, UCLA) on "Useful Citizenship and the Institutionalization of the Feebleminded in California, 1885-1920":

A highly debated question in the historiography of psychiatry is whether institutions truly sought to treat their patients with the aim of returning them to the community or, conversely, to train them into lifelong "useful citizens" within the institution. A look into the records of the Sonoma Home for the Feebleminded at the turn of the twentieth century reveals a philosophical emphasis on creating "useful citizenship," an ideal tying political citizenship to economic self-support. These records do not indicate that the Sonoma Home saw itself as purely custodial, however, and while the Home become increasingly less than therapeutic due to overcrowding conditions, it is evident that the state sought to rehabilitate those it considered to have asymmetrical feebleminded bodies, often emphasizing early intervention. In this talk, I will describe the methods by which the Sonoma Home sought to make "useful citizens" out of its inmates within the institution, its efforts at placing these inmates back into the community outside of the institution, and finally, how these findings relate the larger historiographical question as to the purposes of institutionalization.

Location: History and Special Collections for the Sciences, located on the 4th floor of the UCLA Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library, 12-077 Center for Health Sciences (

Lunch salads will be available for attendees who confirm before noon on Monday, May 16, when we place the catering order. (Please be advised that we require reservations because of university policy; we must submit a list of confirmed attendees when placing our catering order.)

Seating is limited; reservations are REQUIRED. Please RSVP to reserve if you plan on attending. There may not be seating available for drop-ins on the day of the forum.

Reservations may be made by contacting History & Special Collections for the Sciences (voice: 310.825.6940; email:

This UCLA History of Medicine and Medical Humanities Research Forum (this is the 35th meeting of the series) is made possible by the UCLA Center for Social Medicine and the Humanities (formerly the History & Social Studies of Medicine Program), David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA; and by History & Special Collections for the Sciences, UCLA Library Special Collections.