Issues in Educational Research, 8(2), 1998, 131-156.
"If the feeble-minded are to be preserved ..." Special education and eugenics in Tasmania 1900-1930
University of Newcastle
From the beginning of the twentieth century there is evidence of an ebb and flow of eugenic assumptions relative to proposed programs to deal with the perceived 'problem' of intellectually handicapped children in Tasmania. Throughout the first three decades of the century within Tasmanian society hereditarian eugenic solutions were advanced alongside environmentalist eugenic solutions, and often there would be a mix of the two assumptions, often by an individual. None of these assumptions were tied exclusively to either socialist or conservative elements in Tasmanian society. Tasmania's pioneering 1920 Mental Deficiency Act was hailed as a bench-mark for similar legislation in other Australian states. While the legislation was premised on hereditarian assumptions, it authorised environmentalist eugenics measures in that it emphasised the central role of education in dealing with the intellectually handicapped, rather than controlling their reproduction through immediate action such as segregation and sterilisation. Exactly how the legislation evolved, and later responses to it, significantly informs us of the degree of the influence of pioneering psychologists on state legislation early in the century, and also of the nature of this influence. At the centre of these influences was a number of eugenic responses.
The early 1980s research on the influence of eugenics on Australian socio-political thought, principally that by Bacchi, Davison and Hyslop, contended that, in contrast to that in America and Britain, eugenics was weak in Australia, particularly during the decades prior to World War 1. Typically, these researchers argued that generally during this period Australians avoided any pessimistic hereditarian response, believing that Australia, because of its benevolent environment, could escape the ravages of the histories of the older societies. Thus, it was contended that Australian reformers opted for environmentalist intervention on behalf of the state. A vast array of legislation including infant welfare, public health, and school health and hygiene was advanced as evidence for this argument. It was contended that Australians during this time avoided 'hard' hereditarian eugenic programs such as the segregation and sterilisation of the 'feeble-minded'. These researchers contended that it was only during the war and post-war years, faced with the social upheavals of war, inflation and depression, that Australians were influenced by 'hard' or negative hereditarian eugenic programs. This view of eugenics was premised on a dichotomy of eugenic responses.
Later works, principally by Cawte and Garton, contested this finding, and argue that during the early decades of the twentieth century many Australian eugenicists were influenced by hereditarian eugenics. Cawte's study was concerned with the career of the Victorian, Professor R.J. Berry, and Garton researched Dr C.K. Mackellar's work in New South Wales. Both Berry and Mackellar were hereditarian eugenicists during the pre-war years, and yet at times argued for environmentalist programs for social reform. Mackellar's career is particularly interesting because he was to later advocate hereditarian eugenic solutions for the 'feeble-minded'. Garton's study of Mackellar particularly attempted to avoid the dichotomous conception of eugenics, and show how he happily hovered between environmentalist and hereditarian eugenics.
Bacchi's, Davison's and Hyslop's contributions to the historiography of Australian eugenics took little notice of Roe's 1976 research which suggested that there was not one or two eugenics, either environmentalist or hereditarian. He stated that 'at one extreme [eugenicists maintained] the need for the state to impose sterilisation, at the other, upholding basic social welfare reforms. Most so-called eugenicists before 1914 hovered between such poles.' His more influential study in 1984 repeated this argument. For Roe there was an enormous range of eugenic responses by Australian professionals during the first four decades of the twentieth century. Collectively these responses of environmentalist eugenics aimed at national efficiency and racial betterment.
Many Australian environmentalist eugenics, while essentially premised on hereditarian assumptions, avoided hereditary deterministic programs. Garton shows that Lamarkianism had few advocates in Australia by the turn of the century. Yet many Australian eugenicists argued for the importance of the environment in alleviating social conditions, and thus enhancing what heredity had endowed the individual. Environmentalist eugenics was manifest in such 'soft' eugenic developments as open-air state school architecture, the provision of civic and school playgrounds, and the Nature-inspired programs in state schools.
More recently, Garton has been alive to the complexities and multi-layered fabric of Australian eugenics. In a Foucaultian vein he has stressed the need for historians to recognise 'how a "discursive formation" such as eugenics constructs a particular representation of "the social" and thus how social action is already embedded within the discourse'. Enduring discourses 'have a particular logic and framework which make them relatively impenetrable to day-to-day party politics'. He reminds us that while most eugenicists were far from being apolitical - 'their brief to find the scientific means for improving human evolution arose from a modern political concern with degeneracy and entailed new forms of state intervention of great political and social significance - the strength of the discourse rested on its ability to 'bridge É conventional political divisions' and 'shape policies of social intervention regardless of which party was in power'. Later research by Watts further articulated this conception of eugenics, and argued that the old dichotomies of nature and nurture offered little to an understanding of eugenics in Australia.
The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the ebb and flow of eugenic attitudes and practices in Tasmanian society in regard to special education for intellectually handicapped children during the years 1900-1930, and thus illustrate the complexity of the eugenic discourse in the state and its influence on psychology.
Early in the twentieth century sections of the Tasmanian press were popularising the cause of hereditarian eugenics. For this information, until World War 1, we are dependent on newspaper reports because of the absence of any records by individuals or institutions. However, the Tasmanian newspapers represented definite political points of view, and thus provide us with an appreciation of the spectrum of political ideology surrounding the eugenic discourse.
The first newspaper reports beginning early in the century paralleled the publicity given to the Inter-Departmental Committee on Physical Deterioration in England in 1903. The public pronouncements of the committee helped popularise eugenics in Britain and bring forward eugenicists who were to influence significantly public policy there, particularly the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act. This Act, allowing for the detention and segregation of the 'feeble-minded', was described by British eugenicists as 'the only piece of English social law extant, in which the influence of heredity has been treated as a practical factor in determining its provisions'. The New South Wales Government soon established the 1904 Royal Commission on the Decline of the Birth-rate and on the Mortality. Fanned by the popular press, particularly highlighting the concern of the medical profession in the findings of the commission, race deterioration became a paramount concern.[12[ The Hobart Daily Post, the mouthpiece of the labour movement, responded by declaring that 'the Commission was right when it indicated that the dying out of the race has begun'. It was the differential birth-rate that most alarmed public opinion. Evidence showed that the 'inebriate classes' were breeding more and the sturdy, and desirable middle-classes were breeding less. Thus, it was believed that the quality of the Australian population, both morally and physically, was on the decline.
In a lengthy article in early 1906 the Hobart Mercury, representing conservative Tasmanians, expressed its support for Sir Francis Galton's scheme for social hygiene. It explained that the need for the 'science of eugenics' grew out of the problems surrounding the urbanisation of society. This science was as necessary to civilised and urbanised society as the science of agriculture was to the modern farmer. The newspaper argued that evolution had advanced and urbanised the white races through resistance to diseases. Eugenics had a special role to play in society's further development. 'Only those races ... which have undergone evolution against the crowd disease are capable of becoming civilised. All other races are disappearing before the march of civilisation.' It supported the concept of improving the white races by 'breeding from mentally superior people'. This would be achieved by 'eliminating the worst by obstructing as far as possible the output of children by the obviously defective in body and mind - feeble-minded people and consumptives, for example'.
During 1905 the Tasmanian public was presented through a Mercury editorial with the idea of a special education for these children. The editorial noted that the Victorian Government Statistician had collected data on the number of 'mentally defective' children in the state. No comparison with other Australian states could be made because of the absence of figures for each state. However, it appears that the number of intellectually handicapped children in Victorian state schools formed about one per cent of the school population, a proportion which was roughly equivalent to that found in some of 'the older countries'. The newspaper explained that this one per cent did not include 'the absolute idiots, both those in asylums and out, neither are those children, while practical idiots, yet manage[d] to escape inclusion on the list'. Obviously the editorial reflected a concern which some individuals in Tasmanian society felt for state care of intellectually handicapped children.
The editorial pointedly explained why state education systems had failed to deal adequately with the problem of care for intellectually handicapped children. First, there was no systematic records kept and collated nationally. Secondly, it was in the interests of schools and individual teachers to conceal the existence of 'defectives', because 'no encouragement [was] given to school teachers to classify their scholars according to mental capacity'. By inference, the editorial suggested the practical problem facing educational reformers in this area was a system of adequate measurement and classification. Tasmanians were informed by the editorial that the Victorians had looked to Germany for the best example of contemporary attempts to deal with the problem of state care for intellectually handicapped children. In the Fatherland special schools had been established for the sole purpose of educating the intellectually handicapped. 'The result [was] that a majority, each year, of those who receive training at these schools, go forth able to take their place in the world, and to earn their own living'. But the editorial admitted, of course, this was made more economically possible in a country the size of Germany with its large population centres.
Through the Mercury Tasmanians learnt that in cities the social problems of the intellectually handicapped were the results of the struggle for existence, the offspring of the strenuousness which made up present-day life. Yet, in the country districts the ultimate fate of populations was similar. Here the dullness of the environment reacted on children. 'It is a striking abhorrence which Nature has for extremes, and of the way in which our great Mother punishes those who err in either direction'. The fate of 'mentally defective' children in urban environments was bound to be linked to 'criminality or nervous diseases'; while in the country 'it partakes more of the nature of sheer idiocy'. Tasmanians were warned that 'the mental deficiency noted is a result directly or indirectly of civilisation', and 'it behoves our civilisation to look for the remedy'.
Either to prompt more discussion on the problems of state provisions for intellectually handicapped children, or as a reflection of the concern already manifest in certain sections of Tasmanian society, or as a mix of both reasons, the Mercury let its readers know of the progressive reforms being discussed in the Victorian Department of Education. The Victorian Premier had declared ambitiously that he was going to provide special schools for the '1 800 children of school age who cannot keep up with their brighter fellows'. It was another six years before Australia's first special school for intellectually handicapped children was built - the Bell Street School - but as far as Tasmanian's were concerned this provided a basis for discussion of the need for these facilities in the island state.
Following the Victorian circumstances described by the Mercury the Tasmanian cause for a special education for intellectually handicapped children was taken up by a member of the medical profession. Dr J.S.C. Elkington, who was to advance eugenic ideas in a variety of forums, in his report of his 1906 examination of 1 200 state school children in Hobart and Campbell Town addressed the problem. In a news release on the report Tasmanians simply were told that Elkington drew attention to 'the [educational] requirements of defective children, and [offered] certain suggestions with regard to their education'.
In his report Elkington dealt at length with the matters associated with state provisions for the care of intellectually handicapped children. He first exposed the problems associated with teachers, untrained in physiological or psychological examinations, classifying children into categories of mental deprivation. He explained that of the fifteen children who had been classified by teachers 'as defective in mental capacity', six children on examination 'were found to depend for their apparent defectiveness on some remedial condition of eyes, ears, or throats'. He used a definition for classification from the Scottish Education Code:
Children who, not being imbecile, and not being merely dull or backward, are defective; that is to say, children who, by means of receiving proper benefit from the instruction in the ordinary elementary schools, but are not incapable by reason of such defect of receiving benefit from instruction in special classes.
It is clear that because the definition was so open to interpretation only a person with a training in physiology could distinguish these children. Thus, the teaching profession in order to classify adequately intellectually handicapped children had to wait upon developments in psychology.
Elkington's suggestions to the Government on a course of remedial education for intellectually handicapped children as he had defined them, 'and certain others who hover above the borderland of mental deficiency', were underpinned by environmentalist eugenic assumptions. He argued that education was required in order to ameliorate their position in society. Special classes were needed in large schools to cater for these children. However, he argued that the children in these classes should not be 'labelled "defective", nor should they be specially separated from school association with normal children'. He went on to insist that they be taught by a specially trained teacher 'in order that such reactive powers as they possess may be developed to the best advantage'.
The developments in state provisions for intellectually handicapped children in Victoria stimulated discussion in Tasmanian society about the various eugenic approaches in regard to the state assuming a responsibility for these children. A new wave of public interest was apparent in Tasmania's more prosperous neighbour by 1910 with the publication of a report by Arthur Hauser, the Victorian teacher who was commissioned by the Victorian Government to report on the subject. He had visited state institutions for intellectually handicapped children in Britain and Germany, and detailed comments on his report were provided to Tasmanians by the Mercury.
By 1910 the Hobart Board of Advice was responding to this debate by devoting some of its monthly meetings to the question of a special education for these children. The Daily Post, the mouthpiece of the Tasmanian labor movement, ensured that the eugenic message conveyed at the meeting was available to its readers. At the January 1910 meeting of the Board, J.T. Mather, who had just returned from England and who was influential in Tasmanian politics, spoke on the topic of 'Educational Progress in English State Schools'. Much of his address was given over to the methods being deployed in English schools in educating 'defectives'. He supported the hereditarian eugenic programs in England which emphasised segregation to prevent their reproduction.
During the same year that Mather addressed the Hobart Board of Advice the Mercury, representing conservative sections of Tasmanian society, reminded its readers of hereditarian eugenic thinking concerning the subject. It argued that the advancement of civilisation had made the implementation of the science of eugenics imperative: the advancement of medical science had ensured a greater survival rate of the 'feeble minded'. If society was going to facilitate the survival of the unfit through the advancement of medical sciences, the implementation of the 'science of eugenics' was absolutely necessary. It went on to explain the importance of the state provisions for 'defectives'. It declared that:
the fact is beyond dispute that if the feeble-minded are to be preserved they must be placed under special system - one devised to improve their minds and bodies as much as possible, while they are prevented from propagating their defects from generation to generation in an ever-increasing ratio.
Thus, by 1910 there was a distinct environmentalist eugenic view in Tasmanian society which supported the control over the reproduction of the intellectually handicapped through programs of segregation and education.
The Mercury continued with this environmentalist eugenic line by publicising the emerging number of books on the subject of eugenics and praised them for the hereditarian eugenic programs they advocated. A review of Dr W.P. Norris' Public Health Ideals was given a large amount of space in the newspaper. It was argued that western society must maintain its own forward momentum. It must go on to make its position more secure or it would perish as 'a miserable half-hearted muddler'. The article drew on Nietzschian phraseology in arguing that society must 're-evaluate its values'. Science must show legislators how to save society from the rising tide of overwhelming numbers, the product of 'random procreation'. The marriage of people with superior physical and mental ability must be encouraged. The marriage of the unfit had to be discouraged. Special schools had to be provided to segregate and supervise the education of the intellectually unfit. In another article the Mercury reviewed in similar terms Ellis' The Task of Social Hygiene.
At the Cathedral the Bishop of Tasmania, Dr Mercer, in a series of sermons addressed himself to the question of social hygiene and showed how Christian values could embrace hereditarian eugenic causes. Essentially he supported the environmentalist eugenic line being advanced by the Mercury. He threw himself behind the Nietzschian notion of society's forward struggle. Eugenics would secure this forward momentum:
There must be selection. But whereas natural selection is, so far as we can see, blind and fortuitous, human selection must be rational and humanitarian. It will not be safe, nor right, to allow epileptics, consumptive and dangerously diseased to contract unrestricted marriages. But our eugenics must be truly human and so with all matters that concern the health of the social body, physical and moral.
He contended that the state must take a lead by establishing special schools for the intellectually unfit to provide adequate supervision from an early age in order to ensure control over their reproduction through education. The Daily Post fully endorsed Mercer's sermons on the subject.
By 1912, however, the Daily Post moved its position on eugenics. In a series of editorials and lead articles the paper spoke in support of more hard-line hereditarian eugenic planks in the Labor Party platform. At the 1912 Federal Labor Conference the Tasmanian delegation put forward a motion proposing the prohibition of the marriage of 'the unfit and Asiatics'. The proposal was not adopted. The newspaper was not greatly disturbed by this. It regarded the eventual legislation as inevitable; circumstances and time would ensure that the other state branches of the party caught up with Tasmania's position.
The war years saw increased pressure mounting against the Government to assume a responsibility for intellectually handicapped children. The Australian Directors of Education at their first Biennial Conference in Adelaide during 1916 recommended 'that the question of establishing institutions for the after-care of children who are mentally feeble receive consideration, and that provision be made for the special training of teachers for this particular type of school'. It seemed that the environmentalist eugenic arguments which had been mounting during the previous decade would materialise.
Various women's groups supported the idea of segregation and education of the 'feeble-minded'. For example, the Women's Health Association at its 1915 annual meeting had already made its position clear in relation to the establishment of special schools for intellectually handicapped children. It believed that in the interests of social hygiene 'the care and education of the feeble-minded should be as important as other branches of education, if not more so'. Later the National Council of Women met in Hobart in 1918. At the meeting Edith Waterworth, a Tasmanian delegate, spoke on the problem of 'the teaching of the mentally deficient ... and the delinquent child'.
Waterworth was prominent amongst Tasmanian philanthropic-minded bourgeois women, particularly in her struggle to liberalise Tasmanian law in respect to women's rights. She was well experienced in participating in, and often taking a leading role in petitions to the government. In Tasmania she, perhaps more than most, consistently voiced the demands of race motherhood. It was argued that women had a special contribution to make to racial betterment in their traditional domestic roles. It was argued that the 'feeble-minded' woman attracted the worst of the inebriate classes, and their offspring filled penal and mental institutions. Waterworth had close personal connections with Davies Brothers, proprietors of the Mercury, and often contributed to the newspaper's editorial column. In October 1917 she was in a middle of a struggle to liberalise the law in regard to sex offences against women. She declared that 'male sex offenders did not have a "normal mind, because no normal, wholesome man, would do it". Sex maniacs suffered from "hereditary taints", which only an operation would remove.' Thus, the motives of many of those urging legislation to segregate and educate the 'feeble-minded', obsessed as they were with hereditarian notions, clustered around socially, economically and legally liberating women. For them, legislation empowering the state to assert a greater degree of control over the lives of mentally handicapped children would allow women to assume their racial responsibilities as mothers and wives, removing from their midst those elements which supposedly attracted the worst types of males.
Some months later the National Council of Women, under the enthusiastic leadership of Waterworth, organised a meeting on the problem of Government provisions for intellectually handicapped children in the Mayor's Courtroom at the Town Hall in Hobart. Those present included representatives of the various branches of the Women's Health Association, Mothers' Union, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the Girls' Friendly Society, the Young Women's Christian Association, the Women's Health Association, the National Council of Women, and the Child Welfare Association. In order to advance their cause those responsible for organising the meeting brought along an authoritative hereditarian eugenic advocate. The meeting was addressed by Dr P. Lalor, Acting Medical Superintendent at the Mental Disease Hospital, New Norfolk. His speech represented the 'hard' hereditarian solutions to the problem. An emphasis was on segregation and immediate prevention of reproduction, rather than segregation and education.
Lalor stressed that any action which the Government took must follow the British experience. Here opinion supported 'the compulsory detention, under suitable pleasant and advantageous conditions, of all those who form the borderline of mental deficiency'. Thus, he was talking about the group of intellectually handicapped children whose degree of deprivation was not severe enough to allow for their detention at his institution. He explained that beginning in 1908 in Great Britain a Royal Commission had probed the issues for years. He stressed that 'the opinion of the Commission is really the last word on the subject, and it is idle for anybody to dispute the method without tacitly admitting that they do not wish to deal effectively with the question at all'.
Lalor advanced his argument along 'hard' hereditarian lines. He argued for strong state measures: the compulsory detention of 'defective children' centres was in the interests of the state in order to prevent the procreation of their kind. He reminded those present that the state already provided for the medical screening of state school children; and for him the state had an obligation to institute a system of 'mental medical examinations'. He maintained that 'fully 3 per cent of our children attending our state or secondary schools are feeble-minded'. He then contended that when this three per cent of the school population had been uncovered they should be certified, and steps taken to prevent 'the marriage or parenthood of any case known to be feeble-minded'. He argued that these children, along with the intellectually handicapped adults, should be kept in 'farms' or 'industrial colonies' similar to those recommended by the British Royal Commission. At the end of the meeting Waterworth moved 'that a deputation consisting of representatives of the various women's societies wait upon the Chief Secretary, asking that the matter of dealing with the intellectually handicapped be dealt with in this session'.
In reply to the deputation Premier Lee assured those present 'that he appreciated the interest which was manifested ... it was an indication that they recognised the danger of mental deficients being allowed to remain among the general community'. The matter had exercised his mind for some time. The Government now proposed to take action in the current session. The deputation would only strengthen the Government's hand in Parliament he assured the women. He had already requested the Medical Superintendent at the New Norfolk institution to confer with the Superintendent of the New Town Infirmary concerning the accommodation for fifty intellectually handicapped children. A property in New Town had been purchased with this end in mind. He 'agreed that if a satisfactory home was established, parents in all parts of the state would be glad to hand their feeble-minded children over, and thus save themselves a great anxiety'.
During September 1918 the matter of state care for intellectually handicapped children was discussed in the Legislative Assembly. It is clear that Lalor had some support for hard-line hereditarian eugenic programs. A prominent speaker was Mr Shoobridge, who argued that:
Steps should be taken to check the feeble-minded in certain directions ... Such persons were proved to indulge in alcoholism, which increased, and became more and more a menace to the community and steps should be taken to prevent their procreation. Mental disease experts said that if for 50 years segregation of the feeble-minded took place in a community, its asylums could be shut. Immorality, crime, etc. would be reduced. Alcoholism in its serious state, was due to feeble-mindedness; and alcoholism intensified feeble-mindedness.
The connection between hereditary 'feeble mindedness' and alcohol consumption had been given ample publicity through the work of English eugenicists in lobbying for the 1914 Inebriety Bill. Some English eugenicists, particularly Caleb Williams Saleeby, had been particularly active in popularising the need for the legislation. It is clear that this element of eugenic discourse was finding appeal in Tasmania. Indeed, it was disagreements about the degree to which alcoholism was hereditary which assisted in a major ideological rift in the English eugenic movement.
The Premier in reply assured the House 'that he was fully seized with the importance of the question'. He had asked Dr Morris Miller, Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Tasmania, and others to draft suitable legislation. Miller, among a vast range of other activities, was to pioneer mental hygiene in the state. Mental hygiene was first a preventative measure. Miller's later enthusiasm for mental hygiene provides some indication to the views that he held in 1918 on the hard line eugenic approaches being advanced by Lalor, Waterworth and at least one Member of Parliament. Miller was decidedly sympathetic to environmental eugenic solutions. Roe and Garton have described and analysed his sympathies in depth. Miller was a Gladstonian liberal, with an educator's belief in ameliorative power of the environment. Moreover, it seems that he had the political craftiness to reflect on the fate of the hardline programs which were a part of the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act in England.
Professor R.J.A. Berry's participation in the drawing up of the legislation is more problematic. Berry was an old colleague of Miller's from the University of Melbourne, and visited the state during early 1919 to advise the Government on the legislation. Before the war Berry had researched intelligence amongst sections of the Australian Aboriginal population, and had concluded that the Tasmanian Aborigines 'stood nearest to Homo fossilis'. He had also investigated shell-shock amongst troops, and concluded that victims owed their condition to their small brains. His work on hereditarian eugenics also had attracted the enthusiasm of Saleeby, his fellow medical student and later colleague at the Edinburgh University. Berry brought to Tasmania a strong background in hereditarian eugenics.
However, Berry, too may have been alive to the political reality surrounding the proposed legislation. He argued for less extreme legislation than that being pushed by Lalor. At a meeting attended by the Premier, Lalor, the Director of Education and the Parliamentary Draftsman, Berry urged that the Government 'should deal only with the obvious cases, and make provision on a sound basis, upon which the scheme could be built up ultimately and developed as necessity arose'.
The Mental Deficiency Act was passed in 1920. It was pioneering legislation in Australia. Dr H. Tasman Lovell, then Associate-Professor of Psychology at the University of Sydney, and the son of a Tasmanian School Inspector, was enthusiastic about its form, and praised it as a model for other states. It provided for the establishment of the Psychological Clinic which was to be administered by the Mental Deficiency Board. At first the Chair of the Board was Dr E.S. Morris, Director of Public Health. The other members of the Board were Miller, as Director of the Psychological Clinic, Dr E.R.A. MacDonnell, Medical Superintendent of the Mental Diseases Hospital, J.A. Johnson, Principal of the Teachers' College, and R.H. Crawford, Secretary of Education and Chief Inspector. The Secretary of the Board was E.J. Tudor of the Public Health Department. For Lovell 'the constitution of the Board shows the embodiment of the principle that the problem is a complex one requiring the co-operation of medical, psychological and pedagogical experts for its solution'.
The main function of the Clinic was to examine the cases of 'exceptional children' referred to it 'for the purposes of diagnosis, and advice as to pedagogical training and treatment'. The children referred to the Board were intellectually gifted children - 'those who deviate from the normal, positively - and intellectually handicapped children - 'those who deviate from the normal, negatively'. However, the main concern was with the latter group, children who were:
retarded in schoolwork, mentally dull and backward; who manifest abnormal or aberrant trends, resent reasonable discipline, show undue signs of obduracy or stubborness, misbehave as psychopaths, delinquents, truants or inferiors, reveal marked instability and want of control during puberty and adolescents; in fact, who are in any way maladjusted to the ordinary conditions of life whether in the home, school, or community. In short, the clinic is concerned with the mental hygiene of childhood.
Children could be referred to the Board by 'any person, school, court, department of State, child welfare, or other social or philanthropic agency dealing with the problems of child life'. It was planned to survey the whole of the state's school population within a three-year period, as well as 'a survey of institutions and homes where defective children and adults are likely to be found'.
The Act also provided for a residential special school in Elizabeth Street, Hobart 'for certain classes of defective children capable of improvement by specialised education'. After turning sixteen years of age, the legal school leaving age for 'defectives', they were examined, and depending on their 'social efficiency or inefficiency' were 'released into the community under suitable supervision, placed under guardianship, or transferred among the adults of some institution or colony with which the school is connected'. Much of the credit for the Act had to go to Miller. He spent the early part of 1921 on a tour of North American schools, clinics, courts and asylums. In 1924 he became Chairman of the Board. Not only did he have a large say in the nature of the Act, but he was responsible for its administration.
The Act placed an emphasis on the education and supervision of the intellectually handicapped. The 'harder' eugenic options of segregation and control over their reproduction was avoided. The significance of the Act for Lovell was its facilitation of state-wide mental survey of the population. He claimed that 'we urge geological and other surveys of an economic kind to be sure, but we do not seem to have awakened to the great necessity of a mental survey of our people'. Lovell contended that through an accumulation of this data a much more effective control of 'defectives' was possible.
The welfare of a people demands that very low-grade mentality should not be perpetuated, nor is that welfare subserved when those who are feeble-minded are allowed to reproduce their own kind while those of higher grade intelligence restrict the number of offspring. The country's welfare also requires that the opportunities offered to persons of low-grade intelligence for the commission of anti-social acts should be reduced to a minimum.
In the long run it was Miller's student who guided the development of state care for intellectually handicapped children in Tasmania. Henry Thomas Parker was the first psychologist to be employed by the Tasmanian Department of Education. His active interest in the new psychology began while he was teaching a group of intellectually handicapped children at the Battery Point State School. Here he commenced part-time study for his B.A. degree at the University of Tasmania. He majored in Philosophy under Miller. Parker's studies were marked by considerable distinction. By 1921 he had gained an M.A. degree under Miller's supervision.
As part of his post-graduate study Parker carried out an extensive empirical study of the mental makeup of 320 children using the Binet-Simon tests in the four Tasmanian schools at which he was head teacher. His research aimed at a revision of the Stanford version of the Binet-Simon tests. During 1919 he published an introduction to intelligence testing in the Tasmanian Department of Education journal, the Educational Record, the first article on the subject to appear here. In the article he emphasised the point that 'the determination of mental deficiency is primarily a matter for the psychologist, and not for the medical practitioner' as had been the previous practice in Tasmanian schools. However, he went on to posit the ideal that the ultimate solution to the problem would require that 'the teacher, the doctor, and the social worker all contribute evidence which must be taken into consideration before a true decision is made'.
He regraduated the scale of the Stanford version of Binet-Simon tests, eliminated some items, rewrote others, and arranged them in a simple series of progressive difficulty without age levels. Consequently, he was able to standardise his scale for the test to suit Tasmanian children.
He drew special attention to the implications of his research for intellectually handicapped children. According to Terman's classification this group comprised idiots (with a mental age up to two years), imbeciles (with a mental age of from three to seven years), and morons (with a mental age from eight to eleven years). Terman had established that one per cent of the American population fell into these three categories. Parker found that 3.8 per cent of Tasmanian children fell into these categories. Consequently, he strongly argued for the establishment of special classes in large population centres to cater for this group.
Parker's recommendations were to lay the pattern for special education in Tasmania during the 1920s. He insisted that the purpose of placing dull children in special classes was not that they may receive special coaching to keep the level with normal children, but to provide for 'the admitted incurable dullness' or 'defect that demanded permanent special treatment'. The idea was not to turn these children into 'normal citizens', but to provide them with an education which would allow them to realise their full potential.
His ideas about the curriculum for a special school provides us with some idea of his belief in the environment as an ameliorative force. First, the curriculum should be highly individualised. If there were to be fifteen children in the class, then there should be fifteen different teaching programs. Moreover, the curriculum should make full use of concrete activities. Secondly, because mental inferiority is marked by a less degree of deliberation and a greater mechanical action, training should replace education as properly understood. He explained that:
Education prepares the mind to grasp the significance of a situation and provide a suitable response; training prepares the mind to react mechanically to a definite given or anticipated situation. The capacities of the merely trained mind are strictly limited to the few more or less simple situations for which it is coached: the capacities of the educated mind are practically unlimited. We speak, then, rather of training than of educating defectives, and the lower we go down the scale of intelligence, the more truly is education inapplicable and training the only substitute.
From this point he insisted that special education required lifetime supervision in order to ensure that an individual conformed to society's moral norms. Of course, through this supervision a control was placed over the reproduction of 'defectives'.
In 1922 Parker took up the position of Psychologist to the Department of Education, the first psychologist to hold such a position in Australia. His responsibility was to work with the Board and Clinic, and supervise the establishment of special schools for intellectually handicapped children. He was thus in close professional contact with Miller. During this time the Psychological Clinic and Tasmanian special schools there was a sense of optimism encompassing a period of growth. During 1923 a second special class was established at the Charles Street State School in Launceston. Both the classes at Charles Street and Elizabeth Street catered for children from those and neighbouring schools. At the beginning of 1924 the Girls' Welfare School was established at New Town in a building formerly used as the Boys' Training School. In 1928 a second special school was established in Launceston at Invermay, and a Boys' School was established in Hobart. In 1929 the Girls' Welfare School was transferred to premises in Murray Street, Hobart adjoining the Elizabeth Street Practising School, which was more accessible to the college students.
By 1929 there were 147 children enrolled in special schools and classes in Launceston and Hobart. They were drawn from a total school population of 16 000 children; seven teachers were employed along with two junior assistants. Parker emphasised that these classes and schools were not established solely for 'defective' children, but for subnormals generally. He explained that the term 'subnormal' was used to include defective and doubtful cases, and also some borderline. Occasionally a child who was merely dull was enrolled in a special class for special reasons, but this was not a usual practice.
By 1929 Parker was expressing his concern at the lack of long-term supervision and effective control over 'defectives' entailed in the Act. It was as if almost ten years of hard work was not rendering suitable results. After all, the ultimate aim of the legislation was to reduce the problem of the 'mental defective' in the state, but for almost a decade schools were growing in number, and consuming the state budget. Now Parker explained that it had been found undesirable and frequently impracticable to have the Psychological Clinic certify school children under the age of twelve to thirteen years as defectives. Children did not have to be certified to be placed temporarily in a special class as long as the child was not kept there after turning fourteen years of age. Most children were selected by him partly as a result of routine school surveys, and partly from children who have been nominated for examination because of special circumstances: for example, hopeless ineducability or incorrigibility.
Only children who had been certified under the Mental Deficiency Act as 'feeble-minded' could be kept at school until sixteen years of age. Parker had soon become very critical of this clause because he maintained that it was cumbersome in that certification was frequently impossible at an early age. Thus, action under this provision was not often taken unless there were other circumstances which rendered it advisable to compel attendance during the ages from fourteen to sixteen years.
The 1930 Biennial Conference of Directors of Education gave Parker the opportunity to take stock of the overall problem of the intellectually handicapped in the community. G.V. Brooks, the Director of Education, asked him to prepare a position paper to be given at the conference. Presumably Brooks was responding to implied political imperatives, or a direct request from his political masters. Garton shows that legislation dealing with the sterilisation of 'mental defectives' was advocated in Victoria and New South Wales, but was never framed. In Western Australia the legislation was passed by the Legislative Assembly only to be defeated in the Legislative Council because of the administrative cost involved. Clearly, in 1930 this legislation was of concern to Ministers of Education, hence its place on the agenda of the Directors' conference.
Parker began with the premise that 'the position of the defective in the community is that of a dependent'. For him they could never become independent or self-supporting. Thus, any improvement in their position had to be confined to the amelioration of their inescapable position of a dependent. This ultimately meant stronger state legislation, particularly vis-a-vis supervision after the age of sixteen years. After all, he insisted that 'the economic value of each defective can ... be greatly increased by vocational training, and at the same time his character can be strengthened with a developed sense of personal efficiency'.
Parker now addressed the issue of the 'ultimate possibility of the elimination of a section of defectives'. He stated that 'it is everywhere admitted that heredity is the principal cause of deficiency'. With stronger state control the hereditary factor could be easily reduced by preventing reproduction where it is reasonably to be expected that defectives will be born. If known hereditary defectives could be prevented from reproducing children, it could be expected that in one generation the number of defectives of all types could be reduced by about one-half. The continuance of such measures would bring about a further steady but slow reduction in the figures. The greatest rate of improvement would be immediate.
Echoing an argument that had been voiced many times in Tasmanian society, he asserted that the birth of 'defectives' who were in schools in 1930 could have been prevented when special classes were first begun had the knowledge that the Department of Education possessed then been put into practice through a program of segregation and sterilisation.
Three possibilities were considered by Parker in solving the 'ultimate problem of the mentally defective in the community'. The first he argued would have few advocates: namely, prohibition of marriage. He pointed to the Swedish experience which showed that where such necessary legislation was in force it proved to be ineffective after several years, and was superseded by legislation empowering sterilisation. For him, segregation was practicable only to a limited extent. The numbers were too great to be handled in this way. He estimated that there were about 100 'defective' children enrolled each year in Tasmanian state schools. Added to this, each year there were another twenty children in non-state schools. He further pointed out that as institutional care would have to be practically life-long in the case of males, and about thirty years in the case of females, it could not be considered practical to deal with the problem of reproduction in this way. He insisted that sterilisation was advocated by most authorities. It is applicable only in cases where the defect is demonstrably hereditary, as shown by recurrence in families. The method is by surgical operation of vasectomy and salpingectomy for male and female respectively.
He further argued that these operations had no effect upon health or physique, nor did they interfere with the individual's sexual function beyond rendering them infertile.
He then stated that ultimately the desirable legislation should wait upon public opinion. Favourable public opinion would follow naturally when all the facts of mental deficiency and sterilisation were known. He concluded:
Probably the most effective plan of control of the production of defectives is one that involves both segregation and sterilisation. Under such a plan defectives could be segregated, but where thought advisable, could be offered release on parole provided they submitted to sterilisation. Experience in California shows such a provision to be quite practicable and also to have beneficial results both individual and social.
We know that the proposed programs did not materialise into legislation, despite the considerable support which Parker mentioned. The Tasmanian legislators would have known of the difficulties that the legislation was having in other states, mainly due to the cost factor, but also to the highly probable political backlash of the Catholic vote. But how are we interpret such a substantial shift by Parker in his position, from an environmentalist eugenic advocate to a negative hereditarian eugenics in regard to state 'care' of intellectually handicapped children?
Within Tasmanian society during the 1930s various voluntary societies and individuals, some old familiar pro-hereditarian voices, continued to urge sterilisation, particularly of deficient girls. Waters illustrates the persuasive activity of these groups in regard to pressuring the government segregate the mentally handicapped, especially adolescent girls was sustained during the 1930s. Waterworth remained prominent as she pressed Miller to support sterilisation legislation. Her central concern continued to be the welfare of women. The procreation of hereditarian 'defectives' was considered to be 'most undesirable from the standpoint of motherhood'. Indeed, during this period even Miller's environmentalist eugenics was brought into question. In his capacity as Chairman of the Mental Deficiency Board, he had detailed in writing to the Premier an instance where he had recommended sterilisation of an intellectually handicapped girl because she had given birth to an illegitimate child.
Any assessment of the relative influences of hereditarian and environmentalist eugenics becomes doubly difficult when we realise that it was Parker who in 1935 was to take a central role in the establishment of area schools in the state. The progressive methods used here generated much excitement both on the mainland and in Tasmanian education circles. Many of the open-air activities in these schools - harvesting, fruit-picking, shearing, etc. - appealed to the most progressive educators. Parker was also a key organiser of the Tasmanian program of the New Education Fellowship (NEF) Conference in 1937. Thus, it would be wrong to see Parker as a singly hard-minded, hereditarian eugenicist ideologue.
We need to remember that the early 1930s was a time of optimistic application of the segregation/sterilisation legislation for 'known hereditarian defectives' in many European and Scandinavian countries, and North America, following the publicity given to the Buck vs Bell case in Supreme Court of the United States in 1927. Indeed, Parker used this fact as a major facet of his argument in his paper on the table before the Directors of Education.
However, as Watts reminds us, the early 1930s was a time when hereditarian eugenics was becoming institutionalised and professionalised in Australian society. A pertinent example of this for this paper was the establishment of the Australian Council of Educational Research (ACER) in 1930. As Watts states:
The eugenic provenance of the ACER was underlined by the fact that it was able to draw on an existing network of Australian University academics, teacher trainers and researchers who had been trained by and were sympathetic to Galtonian psychology and its social programme. The eventual choice of [Dr Kenneth] Cunningham to head the ACER merely reflected the ruling assumptions on the part of the [Carnegie] Foundation [which initially funded the ACER] and its Australian agents, that scientific psychology, intelligence testing and the whole eugenicists apparatus of the heredibility thesis naturally provided the intellectual foundation of the ACER.
Parker was to go on to be a major contributor to ACER publications, and one of Cunningham's close colleagues.
Although Parker was to participate in such progressive and ideological optimistic educational activities such as the establishment of the area schools and the Tasmanian NEF Conference he regretted that eugenic programs such as he had advocated with the Australian Directors of Education in 1930 failed to develop in Tasmania. Reviewing the history of special education in Tasmania from the perspective of 1955 Parker lamented that following the intense interest and development during the 1920s, public interest slowly declined during the 1930s.
The history of state provisions for intellectually handicapped children in Tasmania provides an insight into the flux of eugenic attitudes within Australian society. While it is possible to speak of negative and positive, 'hard' and 'soft', or environmental and 'reform' hereditarian eugenics, we are reminded that Tasmanian eugenicists were never locked within a particular ideological mould. Varying social, political and economic circumstances seem to have moved individuals and groups to particular positions over time.
We are reminded of Garton's contention that eugenics, as with other enduring discourses, 'have a particular logic and framework which make them relatively impenetrable to day-to-day party politics'. We might add that eugenic discourse, in Tasmania at least, did not remain static, but there was an ebb and flow, a fluctuation along the eugenic spectrum. During the decade prior to World War 1 eugenic discourse in Tasmanian society embraced environmentalist and hereditarian eugenics. Nor was there any single position held by opposing political parties during this time. Both labor and conservative Tasmanians freely and unapologetically moved from one position to the other.
While some individuals, for example, Waterworth, may have remained relatively constant in their position in regard to hereditarian eugenics and race motherhood, other individuals manifestly changed positions over time. Parker's seemingly environmentalist eugenics which he held in 1919, embedded as it was in the cry for post-war reconstruction, changed to a 'harder' hereditarian position in 1930. But only five years later he could show strong leadership in such a child-centred educational innovation as the Tasmanian area schools. And Miller, under close political and public scrutiny in 1919, succeeded in engineering liberal state provisions for intellectually handicapped children, and only thirteen years later could recommend sterilisation for a young 'defective' woman who had offended social mores.
|Please cite as: Rodwell, G. (1998). "If the feeble-minded are to be preserved..." Special education and eugenics in Tasmania 1900-1930. Issues in Educational Research, 8(2), 131-156. http://www.iier.org.au/iier8/rodwell.html|
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