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History of the Wayne County Training School, The Long Version
“We Learn By Doing”
Northville’s Wayne County Training School as Institutional Model for the World
© Adam Barrett

 

........In the early twentieth century, while Detroit and Michigan were fast forming a model public schooling system and becoming a center of industrial education, a small group of Detroit philanthropists spearheaded an entirely unique endeavor for the public good, known as the Wayne County Training School. It would grow into the world’s predominant center for research into mental deficiency and breakthroughs in the education of slow learners, as a direct product of movements that were taking shape in the field of public education in Michigan as early as the late 1800s. It would hold this position of prominence until the middle of the twentieth century.

........Located in Northville at the northeast corner of Five Mile and Sheldon Roads, the Wayne County Training School (WCTS) consisted of about 40 brick buildings that were erected in 1924, designed by noted Detroit architect Marcus Burrowes. Northville lies in the corner of Wayne County that is both the furthest from the city, and at the highest elevation, which according to nineteenth-century medical beliefs made it the most suitable place to put a tuberculosis sanatorium. Eastlawn Sanatorium and Maybury Sanatorium were established there by 1920. It was then thought that the hills of Northville might be the ideal place to cloister all the asylums and prisons serving Detroit, so as to simultaneously keep these “unappealing” institutions and their inhabitants removed from the city's expanding residential neighborhoods while providing a bucolic, restorative setting for the inmates. Over the years more custodial institutions would arrive, including the Detroit House of Correction (1927), Northville State Hospital (1950), Hawthorn Center (1958), Plymouth State Home & Training School (1958); by 1960 the U.S. Census indicated the number of people held in Northville’s institutions had eclipsed the town’s population.

........The WCTS however was a standout amongst its institutional neighbors. Instead of merely housing “feebleminded” children, it was designed to give them the minimal training they would need to be released back into society during a time when Detroit’s population was expanding almost out of control. Theoretically this would steer them toward gainful employment, and away from delinquency. At that time the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale was used to grade “feeblemindedness;” people with IQ scores of 30 or less were classified as “idiots,” scores of 30 to 50 were classified “imbeciles.” Those scoring between 50 and 100 were classified “morons,” and it was strictly juveniles of this class that the WCTS sought to help.
© Adam Barrett



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