Office of Public Affairs

USM Education Professor Publishes New History of Pineland and Maine’s Eugenics Movement

Stephen Murphy, a professor emeritus of counselor education at the University of Southern Maine, recently published “Voices of Pineland: Eugenics, Social Reform and the Legacy of “Feeblemindedness” in Maine,” a study of the politics of the 20th century eugenics movement, peppered with tragic first-hand accounts. The history of Maine’s treatment of those afflicted with intellectual disabilities lies mainly in the history of Pineland Hospital and Training Center, formerly known as the the Maine School for the Feebleminded in Pownal-New Gloucester.

Murphy has unearthed the gritty, sometimes gruesome details of Pineland, from its inception in 1908 to eventual closing in 1996. Although Murphy is not the first to write about Pineland, he eloquently navigates the complicated, often emotional history of the institution through an in-depth analysis of annual internal reports, newspaper clippings and legal documents, and interviews with former residents, their family members and staff.  

By 1933, many residents spent the entirety of their lives at Pineland. Despite overcrowding, the wait list increased daily. The institution remained open until 1996, despite facing opposition to its closure up until the end. But even Pineland’s superintendent and commissioner agreed residents who were moved to their home communities were better adjusted.

Murphy then widens his lens and illustrates how Maine’s eugenics history parallels that of national trends. For example: despite scientific and religious objections, the Supreme Court instated compulsory sterilization for all people deemed mentally inadequate. In Maine, many court-mandated sterilizations occurred at Pineland.

Murphy, a resident of Biddeford, has spent his entire career researching community inclusion of people with disabilities, the views of individuals with disabilities, and the social and historical aspects of the classification of disabilities. His work on “Voices of Pineland” is an important piece of documentary work for the State of Maine. The personal stories of Pineland shine through in this tragic, historical account, speaking for those who may be unable to speak for themselves. It is a must-read for anyone interested in civil rights, societal responsibility, and the quality of life for individuals living with intellectual disabilities.

Stephen Murphy is available for interviews; for more information, please contact the USM Office of Public Affairs at 207-780-4200.

You can read William David Barry’s review of  "Voices of Pineland" in the March 18 Maine Sunday Telegram.