Research

New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Case Files of Former Willowbrook Consumers

Held by the New York State Archives


Overview of the Records

Repository:

New York State Archives

New York State Education Department

Cultural Education Center

Albany, NY 12230

Summary:
This series documents the admission, treatment, therapy, education, and progress of Willowbrook School consumers before and after their transfer to the Sunmount Developmental Disabilities Service Office in Tupper Lake. Records typically include admission sheets, admission/transfer records, psychological reports, school reports, results of physical examinations, social service notes, prescription and medication records, dental and weight charts, clothing lists, and correspondence from other institutions. Records are restricted.
Creator:
Title:
Quantity:
71 cubic feet (164 case files)
Inclusive Dates:
approximately 1940-2003
Series Number:
21101

Arrangement

Uncertain arrangement.

Administrative History

Willowbrook State School was constructed in the late 1930s as a model school for the mentally retarded, and to help relieve overcrowding at an institution in Rockland County. It was ceded to the control of the Veterans Administration in 1942, serving as a hospital for the wounded during the war years. By 1952, residents had moved in and the institution became responsible for housing some of New York's most severely mentally disabled children. Willowbrook's population differed considerably from that of other state schools. It was the only school to receive children under age 5 (it had up to 90 residents during the 1950s). Willowbrook received persons from New York City or by transfer from other state schools. Most of the transfers were severely retarded, handicapped, and/or undisciplined cases. Furthermore, Willowbrook had the highest percentage of black and Hispanic residents of any state school. Originally named the Willowbrook Home for the Retarded, the facility was known as the Willowbrook State School from 1947 to 1975.

By the 1970s, the institution had become notorious for its bad living conditions and treatment of clients. Prompted by widespread public outrage and a grass-roots movement by clients' relatives, in 1972 the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit against the state and then governor Nelson Rockefeller. In 1975, a federal judge issued a consent decree for the deinstitutionalization of most of Willowbrook's residents; the school was required to reduce its population from 5,300 to 250. Residents who had family in the immediate New York City area were placed in the Staten Island Developmental Disabilities Services Office, and all others were transferred to state facilities and community homes that could accommodate them. The Willowbrook State School, which had been renamed the Staten Island Developmental Center, closed in 1988.

A total of 278 Willowbrook patients were transferred to the Sunmount Developmental Disabilities Services Office in Tupper Lake, NY.

Scope and Content Note

This series documents the admission, treatment, therapy, education, and progress of former Willowbrook School consumers. Records typically include admission sheets, legal admission records, ward transfer records, psychological reports, school reports, results of physical examinations, social service notes, prescription and medication records, dental and weight charts, clothing lists, and correspondence from other institutions. The series documents former Willowbrook School consumers both before and after their transfer to the Sunmount Developmental Disabilities Service Office in Tupper Lake.

Use of Records

Access Restrictions

Restricted in accordance with Mental Hygiene Law, Section 33.13, relating to confidentiality of clinical records. Access is permitted under certain conditions upon approval by the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. Folder list is held by the repository.

Related Information

Related Materials

Series 19452 Staten Island Developmental Center Patient Case Files, contains records of patients who died at or were transferred from Willowbrook State School.

Access Terms

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