Steven Noll


Hastings Hart, director of the Child Helping Department of the Russell Sage Foundation, reported in January 1918 that Florida’s “most acute and pressing social problem at the present time is the problem of the feeble-minded.” Hart, who prepared a social welfare plan for Florida at the request of Governor Sidney J. Catts, recommended that “Florida ought to make immediate institutional provision for at least 500 of this class [the feeble-minded], following the good examples which have been recently set by the states of Virginia and North Carolina.“1 A year later, on April 17, 1919, the state legislature followed this request by authorizing “the Organization and Management of a State Institution for Epileptic and Feebleminded.“ 2 Opened in Gainesville in November 1921, the Florida Farm Colony for Epileptic and Feebleminded Persons operated as Florida’s only public facility for individuals with mental retardation until the 1960s. Conceived as an integral part of Governor Catt’s social welfare program, the Farm Colony soon lost its progressive mission, and by 1945, it had become little more than a custodial warehouse for “a great many hopeless and crippled children.“