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Laconia State School History

LostInLaconia__87625_stdLost in Laconia: During a time when people who were branded and stigmatized as “feebleminded” and a danger to society were banished to a life of isolation and total segregation, thousands of children and adults were institutionalized in large state operated institutions throughout the country. In the case of New Hampshire, that place was the Laconia State School. This documentary traces the history of the institution from its initial beginnings as the New Hampshire School for the Feebleminded in the early 1900′s until its closure in 1991.

Using archival footage and current interviews with former residents of the institution, families of former residents, and people who worked at the institution, along with an extensive collection of photos, newspaper articles, and state documents, this documentary examines the social values and cultural ideals of the twentieth century, relative to individuals and families who were labeled “feebleminded”, deficient, or disabled in New Hampshire

Community Support Network Inc. is pleased to announce publication of the companion guide to the acclaimed documentary film Lost in Laconia.

This Instructional Guide is designed to facilitate a deeper understanding of the movie by providing a series of Discussion Questions for use before and after the film is shown. In addition the Guide contains a series of supplemental stories and articles which build on the themes and personal stories featured in the documentary.

The Instructional Guide is perfect for educational settings, staff development activities, libraries, or for anyone who wishes to have a deeper understanding of the societal factors which gave rise to institutions in New Hampshire and across the country during the past century.

Lost in Laconia has been shown to audiences throughout New England and has been featured on New Hampshire Chronicle; New Hampshire Outlook; New Hampshire Public Radio; and New Hampshire Public Television. It was also entered in the Somewhat North of Boston film festival at the Red River Theater in Concord, New Hampshire.

The film and instructional guide are available for purchase through,

Community Support Network, Inc.
The Institute on Disability

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Laconia State School

3In keeping with the CSNI mission statement to educate ourselves, the people we serve, and the general public, about issues important to people with disabilities and their families, we have embarked on a project to keep alive the tragic saga of the institutionalization of thousands of New Hampshire citizens labeled feebleminded.

George Santayana wrote in The Life of Reason, Vol. 1, 1905, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In 1901, the New Hampshire Legislature passed legislation to establish a state school for feebleminded children. 60 children living in almshouses throughout the state were admitted to the school in 1903. By 1973, 1100 children and adults with disabilities resided at the institution, some living in sub-human conditions. Thousands of New Hampshire citizens were confined to a life with no meaning or hope for the future. Families were often cut off from friends, family and their community. In the first half of this century eugenics was widely accepted and practiced.

060In 1991, with the help of a federal class action law suit, the institution was closed and New Hampshire became the first state to have no institutions for people with developmental disabilities. This is a remarkable story worth telling. Using an extensive collection of slides, artifacts, and video taped oral histories, I will trace the evolution and growth of the State’s only institution for people with developmental disabilities. The presentation will provide insight into the principle features of society’s values and changes in those values during the Twentieth century. It will connect Laconia State School’s institutional history with larger social ideals and principles, which led to national trends and social policy.

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About the Presenter

Gordon DuBois, has worked for over 40 years in the disability field in Maine and New Hampshire. He worked at the Laconia State School from 1977 until it closed in 1991. Under his guidance a wealth of documents (records, letter, manuscripts, artifacts) were cataloged at the NH Department of Archives and Records Management. DuBois became fascinated with the history of the Laconia State School and to a larger degree the history of disability and the social ideals of the twentieth century that drove the institutionalization of thousands of children and adults first labeled feeble minded, and then mentally retarded.