Florida history, History of disability, History of intellectual disability, Sunland hospitals, Sunland institutions, Sunland training centers
Historians have studied mental institutions in the mid-20th century; however, few have discussed them within the context of the period's paternalistic social movements and perceptions. Florida's Sunland program provides a lens for studying the parental role the institutions and general public took toward the intellectually disabled. Specifically, administrators saw residents of the Sunland Training Centers and Hospitals as perpetual children, trapped in an "eternal childhood." The institution was presented as a family unit, abiding by 1950s ideals of the companionate household. When the Sunlands proved generally unsuccessful, Florida's communities began to supplement their efforts. The social movements of the 1960s inspired community care organizations and other special programs in lieu of institutionalization. Reports of neglect and abuse at the Sunlands contributed to the community's subsequent perception of residents as "victimized children," deprived of a "normal" life. Such a view of the intellectually disabled continues to dominate discussions of the Sunlands, community care, and "normalization." This study informs a broad understanding of the past while contributing to these contemporary considerations. Research into the Sunland Training Centers and Hospitals, as well as their surrounding communities, relies on subjective sources. The flagship training center, located in Gainesville, published an internally-circulated newsletter utilized in this work. Detailed studies of Florida's newspapers provide the perspective of Florida's community members, including women's clubs and civil rights activists. Finally, articles and books written on Sunland "hauntings" illustrate recent attempts to define and patronize the intellectually disabled. All of these sources point toward a liberal paternalism that dominated discussions of the intellectually disabled in the mid-20th century.
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Master of Arts (M.A.)
College of Arts and Humanities
History; Public History Track
Length of Campus-only Access
Masters Thesis (Open Access)
Arts and Humanities -- Dissertations, Academic; Dissertations, Academic -- Arts and Humanities
Dickens, Bethany, "The Best and Worst of All That God and Man Can Do": Paternalistic Perceptions On the Intellectually Disabled at Florida's Sunland Institutions." (2014). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 4694.