The Ladd School was founded as The Rhode Island School for the Feeble-Minded in 1908 by one of Dr. Walter Fernald’s students, another devoted eugenicist who believed that the best treatment for those deemed genetically defective was to remove them from society. More like an overcrowded prison than a training center, children were essentially sentenced to life at Ladd, often not having commited any crimes. Women could be confined until menopause or death, and sometimes sterilized, for extramarital affairs or becoming pregnant out of wedlock.
Scandals and horrors dogged the Ladd School throughout its years; while I’m unable to locate direct sources citing anything other than the 1952 murder of a 9 year old boy by an adult male inmate, several history websites say that he was suffocated in a laundry sack suspended from a shower head. Later investigations into the Ladd School’s clinic turned up health and rights violations that had led to several deaths.
The Ladd School was closed in 1986 and by the time I went there it was already trashed from years of neglect. The John E. Fogarty Hospital building, added in 1962 and dubbed ‘the Hospital of Tomorrow’, was one of the most distinctive on the campus and also where the ‘unsanitary and life-threatening conditions’ at the hospital’s dental clinic’ were located. Unfortunately it was one of the few buildings I got to see, as my time there was cut short and I was never able to return to do a more complete and competent set of images. The hospital building was finally razed in 2014, and the four other buildings were torn down in 2013. The remainder of the campus is a Job Corps site. It can be viewed as a final step away from an era of neglect and abuse, or perhaps a way of erasing the last physical evidence of the reality of what was done. Either way, the Ladd School is no more.