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The Eugenics Survey of Vermont: Participants & Partners


(Weeks School)
Vergennes, Vermont 

Charles W. Wilson, Superintendent 1917-1931

The Vermont Reform School in Vergennes was built in 1874. Construction of separate facilities for "discipline, correction, and rehabilitation" of youthful offenders in Vermont began after the Civil War; prior to 1865 children who broke the law were tried, convicted, and punished as adults. In 1900, the Reform School was renamed Vermont Industrial School, and in 1937 it was named "Weeks School" in honor of Governor John E. Weeks, a former trustee.

Throughout its history, Vermont Industrial School superintendents struggled with the challenges of meeting the needs of a mixed population. Not only did the severity of offenses committed by the inmates vary, but the school also served as a temporary shelter for children who were not delinquent, but were dependent or neglected children from poor families who could not care for them from towns that wished to be rid of them. During the progressive era, jurisdiction over juvenile cases broadened. Municipal and county courts and justices of the peace could have children committed to the reform school in Vergennes. In 1915 "juvenile delinquency" was legally defined to include such offenses as school truancy, associating with "disreputable persons," using vulgar language, and "wandering around the streets at night."

In the early 1920s, social workers began pedigree studies of families of children at the Vermont Industrial School. Professor Perkins reportedly brought his Heredity class to VIS for "field work" in eugenics, and many of the Eugenics Survey's genealogies of so called "degenerate" families originated with children at this institution. (See Family Studies: Louis' Story ). In 1927, the inmates at the Industrial School were given mental and psychological tests as part of the National Committee on Mental Hygiene survey of Vermont school children .  The Eugenics Survey investigated some V. I. S. inmates in its "Study of the Brandon School Waiting List" (See the Case of "Sam Jones" ).

Charles W. Wilson (1882-1931) served as superintendent from 1917-1931. He came to Vergennes from Lyman School for Boys in Westboro, Massachusetts, where he been a gymnastics and military drill teacher and principal. Superintendent Wilson advocated rehabilitation of youthful offenders through vocational education, supervised parole programs, and eliminating the "reform school" stigma. Yet he endorsed the Eugenics Survey as a member of its advisory committee and gave its field workers full access to student records.

Weeks School closed in 1979, with the intiation of federally-supported, juvenile rehabilitation programs:  a community-based network of group homes, the Benson Wilderness Camp, and a secure detention center at Waterbury State Hospital.

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