The history of the treatment of people with developmental disabilities, both in Maine and elsewhere, is a story of stigmatization, isolation, and abuse – but within that tragic history live stories of perseverance, joy, and progress towards something better. In 1908, the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded opened in New Gloucester. Over the years, its name changed several times, and eventually became known as Pineland Center, but the idea behind its creation remained: that the proper place for people with developmental disabilities was in an institution, shut away from the rest of society. When the rampant abuses and neglect in Pineland and elsewhere were exposed in the middle of the 20th century, a movement for disability rights was born. Self-advocates and their allies fought to close Pineland (which finally happened in 1996) and create a system of services that would serve people with developmental disabilities in their homes and communities.
The Maine Developmental Disabilities is in the middle of a multi-year project that endeavors to tell the story of the history of people with developmental disabilities in our state. This project will bring together oral histories that tell the story of Pineland from a firsthand perspective, a research project on the public policies that have impacted Mainers with developmental disabilities in the last 2 centuries, and archival materials from Pineland to tell a powerful and authentic narrative of the changing landscape for people with developmental disabilities in Maine.
Life on My Own – Oral History Podcast
The first part of MDDC’s History Project was completed in March of 2020 with the production of our podcast series, Life On My Own, collecting the stories of six former residents of Pineland. This series is available on our website, as well as on all major podcast platforms.
Exhibit and Pineland Anniversary
Alongside the first-hand accounts of our podcasts, MDDC is working with an archivist to tell the story of institutionalization from an historical and policy perspective, and to pull these various perspectives together into a powerful exhibit. Originally planned for March of 2021 at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, our focus has shifted towards a virtual exhibit with the possibility of an in-person celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the closing of Pineland in June of 2021.
This project is being realized with the help of Oral History and Folklife Research Inc. and Candace Kanes, historian, in collaboration with the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, and with the support of a grant from the Maine Humanities Council.