I strongly disagree with the negative emphasis of the article “Plans for holiday show at ex-Fernald site assailed” (Metro, Nov. 22). The holiday lighting of the Fernald grounds should celebrate the fine strides made for people with developmental disabilities.
Yes, Dr. Walter Fernald condoned studies in the 1940s and 1950s, such as forced sterilizations and dubious medical experiments, that would be condemned. However, later years saw a major shift toward rehabilitation that should not be obscured by earlier practices. The Fernald that I knew, from the mid-1960s to the early ’70s, was becoming a very different place.
In 1966, I moved into my faculty office at Harvard. In the next months and years, my graduate students and I worked with Dr. Hugo Moser and his Fernald senior staff to change the children’s unit. We properly clothed the children, welcomed volunteers, changed the staff’s white uniforms to regular clothes, divided the space into smaller units, made contacts with families, encouraged outings and home visits, worked with adoption agencies, and so on.
Subsequent Fernald improvements included supporting alternatives to residential placement and the downsizing and final closure of the institution. What is important is not just condemnation of the ill-conceived practices of the far distant past, but also recognition of the more recent administrators, staff, and residents who did their very best for Fernald.
Bruce L. Baker
The writer is a research professor in the psychology department at the University of California, Los Angeles.