The Ladd School
Located in Exeter, RI
Photo © 2005 Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
The Ladd School History
At the turn of the twentieth century, institutions for the mentally and physically disabled began to dot the United States, separating them from the psychiatric population residing in the asylums. After the successes of the schools in Massachusetts and Connecticut, it was soon proposed that an institution should be built for the state of Rhode Island in the rural town of Exeter.
The Rhode Island School for the Feeble Minded was founded in 1907 as a farm colony for the residents to work and learn, with Dr. Joseph Ladd as the superintendent. The patient population grew quickly, and in 1909 a dormitory was erected as the original structure was full; the new building would be for girls only. In 1917 the name of the facility changed to The Exeter School as the term "feeble-minded" (amongst many other medical terms) were becoming objectionable at the time. As the facility grew in size and population, funding became more scarce, and the school began to deteriorate into an overcrowded place to put the state's unwanted as many other state funded institutions did at the time. In the 1960s the facility had over 1,000 patients, and was re-named the Ladd Center in memory of its first superintendent.
The iconic John E. Fogarty Hospital building, constructed in 1962, was named after U.S. Congressman John Fogarty, a RI resident who was a dedicated advocate for the increased awareness and improvement of the mentally disabled. The five-story building was described as the "hospital of tomorrow," with the circular footprint of the building providing a panoramic view of the campus, as well as a efficient design to minimize the amount of walking to traverse the floors.
The all too familiar stories of lawsuits and de-institutionalization are found to mark the closing of the Ladd School in the late 1970s. Various organizations helped move their clients from the school to group homes and other places that provide proper care. The facility officially closed its doors in 1994, and a memorial to the patients who have died at the institution stands in a grove of trees near a veterans cemetery.
In 2013, demolition of four historic structures began, followed by the razing of the Fogarty building in 2014. Other extant structures are still being used by various entities, such as the Exeter Job Corps Academy.