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Pennhurst and the Struggle for Disability Rights: A Commemoration

Wednesday, November 15, 2017
6:30 pm - 8:00 pm

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
1300 Locust St.
19107 Philadelphia , PA

Event Type- Lecture/Panel Discussion

Act 48/CEU Credits Offered

This program commemorates the 30th anniversary of the closing of Pennhurst State School and Hospital (November 1987), a state-funded and managed institution for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  In the age of eugenics, Pennhurst was imagined as a model facility, and a solution to the problem of hereditary 'feeblemindedness.'  Instead it became a nightmare institution where exploitation, abuse, and medical experimentation were commonplace.  Over eight decades (1908-1987), more than 10,600 citizens were incarcerated at Pennhurst. 

As public controversy swirled and the federal courts intervened, Pennhurst became the epicenter of the disability civil rights movement in America.  A panel of participant-experts will lead a discussion of Pennhurst's place in the history of disability rights and public policy.  Each participant is affiliated with the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance.  A display detailing Pennhurst's history will also be available to view.

Speaker's Bios: 

Jean M. Searle is an award-winning self-advocate and co-president of the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance.  She is employed by the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania and sits on numerous advocacy boards.
Dennis B. Downey, PhD is professor of history at Millersville University.  Past President of the Pennsylvania Historical Association, he has authored or edited a half-dozen books and is currently completing (with James Conroy) Between History and Hope: Pennhurst and the Struggle for Disability Rights (under contract, Penn State Press).

Bill Baldini is the award-winning Philadelphia investigative journalist whose 1968 reporting on Pennhurst ("Suffer the Little Children") exposed the cycle of institutional neglect and abuse that eventually contributed to Pennhurst's closing.  Baldini's five-part investigation remains one of the most memorable documentaries in Philadelphia broadcast history.

Judith Gran, Esq. is a partner in the law firm Reisman Carolla Gran LLP, specializing in disability law.  She has a national practice focused on disability rights and has represented clients in more than a half dozen states in disputes over inclusion and community service plans.  She represented the ARC of Pennsylvania and the plaintiff class in Halderman v. Pennhurst.

Mark Friedman, PhD is a professor and advocate for disability rights, and is CEO of Blue Fire Consulting.  He was a founder and subsequent state chairman of Speaking for Ourselves, a national self-advocacy organization.  The former director of the Middle Tennessee Advocacy Center, Friedman assisted in implementing the Pennhurst court decree.

James Conroy, PhD is a medical sociologist and served as principal investigator and author of the Pennhurst Longitudinal Study.  The author of scores of articles and several books, Conroy is PMPA co-president and CEO of the Center for Outcome Analysis and consults nationally and internationally on the process of deinstitutionalization and client rights.

A New Summarized Pennhurst Traveling Exhibit 
for Smaller Venues is Unveiled at Harrisburg Event
This brand new Pennhurst traveling exhibit, The Pennhurst Story- Tragedy to  Disability Rights  is comprised of only three retractable banners, unlike our original exhibit which is comprised of twelve - seven foot by three foot banners.  We still offer the interactive kiosks and an actual blueprint of the women's ward if needed.  Please email Janet Albert-Herman at to schedule your event.
Co-president Jean Searl

Co-president Jean Searle proudly stands in front of the new smaller exhibit at the 2017 PA Community Alliance Summit at the Harrisburg Hilton on September 18-19. The Summit was a day of networking, discovering alliances and collaboration building among organizations throughout Pennsylvania that are led by and/or provide supports to diverse underserved/unserved populations who are marginalized and oppressed by the dominant culture. We were pleased to showcase the new exhibit.

Senator Dinniman to Host New Pennhurst Exhibit

This Friday, October 6, 2017 at Senator Dinniman's Office
6:00 - 8:00 PM
1 North Church Street, West Chester, PA 19380

State Senator Andy Dinniman's office will host a traveling exhibit on the story of Pennhurst State School and Hospital on the evening of Friday, October 6.

The exhibit, organized by the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance, tells the story of Pennhurst State School and Hospital, which opened in 1906 and houses those with mental and physical disabilities before closing in 1987 by federal court order.

The exhibit, which tells the story of Pennhurst in a three-part series detailing life at Pennhurst, the fall of Pennhurst, and the legacy of Pennhurst, will be set up outside Dinniman's West Chester District Office, located at One North Church Street during West Chester's First Friday event on October 6.

In addition, James W. Conroy, Ph.D., a disability rights advocate, author, historian and co-founder of the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance, will be on hand to answer any questions about Pennhurst and discuss plans to create a museum there.

Located in Spring City, Pennhurst was originally opened as "The Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic" in 1908 but was soon under pressure to admit immigrants, orphans, and criminals.

After nearly a century of severe overcrowding, neglect, abuse, and the deteriorating of services, Pennhurst was finally closed by a court order after conditions there were brought to light by journalists and a class action lawsuit. The site was abandoned with many of its buildings left as is.

Thank you for your interest in the work we're doing at PMPA.  

Pennhurst Memorial & Preservation Alliance
The Pennhurst Memorial & Preservation Alliance is a registered charitable organization. A copy of the official registration may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling toll free within Pennsylvania 1.800.732.0999. Registration does not imply endorsement.