Classics in the History of Psychology
An internet resource developed by
Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario
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Henry Herbert Goddard (1913)
Director of the Research Laboratory of the Training School
at Vineland, New Jersey, for Feeble-minded Girls and Boys
THE STORY OF DEBORAH
One bright October day, fourteen years ago, there came to the Training School at Vineland, a little eight-year-old girl. She had been born in an almshouse. Her mother had afterwards married, not the father of this child, but the prospective father of another child, and later had divorced him and married another man, who was also the father of some of her children. She had been led to do this through the efforts of well-meaning people who felt that it was a great misfortune for a child to be born into the world illegitimately. From their standpoint the argument was good, because the mother with four or five younger children was unable to provide adequately for this little girl, whom both husbands refused to support.
On the plea that the child did not get along well at school and might possibly be feeble-minded, she gained [p. 2] admission to the Training School, there to begin a career which has been interesting and valuable to the Institution, and which has led to an investigation that cannot fail to prove of great social import.
The following are extracts from her history since she came to the Institution:--
From Admission Blanks, Nov. '97. -- Average size and weight. No peculiarity in form or size of head. Staring expression. Jerking movement in walking. No bodily deformity Mouth shut. Washes and dresses herself, except fastening clothes. Understands commands. Not very obedient. Knows a few letters. Cannot read nor count. Knows all the colors. Not fond of music. Power of memory poor. Listens well. Looks steadily. Good imitator. Can use a needle. Can carry wood and fill a kettle. Can throw a ball,, but cannot catch. Sees and hears well. Right-handed. Excitable but not nervous. Not affectionate and quite noisy. Careless in dress. Active. Obstinate and destructive. Does not mind slapping and scolding. Grandmother somewhat deficient. Grandfather periodical drunkard and mentally deficient. Been to school. No results.
From Institution Reports:--
Jan. '99. -- Conduct better. Counts 1-10 and 10-1. Knows at sight and can write from memory "see," "me," "ran," "man," "rat," "can." Weaves difficult mat in steps of 1 and 3, but requires much assistance. [p. 3]
Feb.'99. -- Counts 1-30; writes 1-15· Orderly. Folds neatly.
March,'99. -- Draws circle and square. Writes 1-29. Combines simple numbers.
Apri1, '99. -- Conduct quite bad -- impudent and growing worse. Transferred from Seguin Cottage to Wilbur for a while. Seems some better.
SCHOOL. Dec. '00. Disobedient. Graceful. Good in drill. Can copy. Knows a number of words. Writes them from memory. Reads a little. Adds with objects. Counts and knows value of numbers. Does all ladder and pole drills nicely. Good in entertainment work. Memorizes quickly. Can always be relied upon for either speaking or singing. Marches well. A good captain. Knows "Halt," "Right," and "Left Face" and "Forward March." Always in step.
MUSIC. Knows different notes. Plays "Jesus, Lover of my Soul" nicely. Plays scale of C and F on cornet.
May, '01. -- Plays scales of C and F and first two exercises in "Beginners' Band Book" on cornet. She plays by ear. She has not learned to read the notes of these two scales, simply because she will not put her mind to it. She has played hymns in simple time, but the fingering has had to be written for her.
SCHOOL. Excellent worker in gardening class. Has just completed a very good diagram of our garden to show at Annual Meeting.
COTTAGE. Helps make beds and waits on table, is quick with her work, but is very noisy. [p. 4]
Oct.'01. -- Has nearly finished outlining a pillow sham. Can do very goo work when she tries.
ENGLISH. Does better in number work than in any other branch. Her mind wanders a great deal. In the midst of a lesson, that she has apparently paid a great deal of attention to, she will ask a question that has no bearing on the lesson at all. Is slow to learn.
Nov. '01. -- Is very good in number work, especially in addition. Can add 25 and 15. Spells a few words, such as "wind," "blows," "flowers." Writes fairly well from copy if she tries. Her attention is very hard to keep. Is restless in class. Likes to be first in everything. The one thing she does best in school is to add numbers with pegs. Knows about fifteen words, such as "cat," "fan," "run," "man." She could learn more in school if she would pay attention, but her mind seems away off from the subject in discussion. Could play scale of C and F on cornet and would play some by ear if she could have kept up her lessons. Was taken out on account of sore throat.
Nov.'04·-- Understands how to make bead chains. Has made four. Knows how to use a sewing machine. Has made a shirtwaist. Uses tape measure accurately. Can play on cornet four hard band pieces and three solos, also reads at sight easy songs and hymns. Band pieces are : "Attention, March !" "Quick Step Sterling," "Onward, Christian Soldiers," and "Star-spangled Banner." Solos are: "America," "Old Black Joe," and "Onward, Christian Soldiers." Conduct at school, fair.
Jan. '07·-- Took the part of Mrs. Doe in "Fun in a Photograph Gallery."
Feb.'08. -- Can write a fairly good story, but spells very few words. Has little idea of the use of capitals. It is difficult for her to separate her sentences. Drawing, painting, coloring, and any kind of hand work she does quite nicely. In clay modeling, her idea of form is quite good. Is much improved in conduct. Does not act so wild in class. In wood-carving class, she starts a thing she wants to do very enthusiastically, but if it takes her very long, her interest flags and she has to be spurred on by the thought of the result when well done. This year she has made a carved book rest with mission ends and is now working on a shirtwaist box with mortise and tenon joints and lap joints. The top will be paneled. She can do most of her own marking when shown how.
Has made a great improvement in "Band" during the last year. Can get a better tone on the cornet and more volume. Reads by note all music that she plays. Plays second cornet parts to about twenty-five pieces.
Jan. '09. -- Has embroidered the front of a shirt-waist and the front gore of a skirt. She has shown a great amount of patience, perseverance, and judgment in her work this year, has been anxious to do her work, and has been a good girl. In wood carving she is doing much more careful work than last year.
Has made a large "Skolcroft" chair with only a little [p. 6]help in putting it into clamps. Did her own measuring and carved the wood. She filled the wood herself before staining. This she had never done before.
June, '09· -- Made the suit which she had embroidered earlier in the year, using the machine in making it. Helped F. B. put her chair together and really acted as a teacher in showing her how to upholster it. Will be a helper in wood-carving class this summer.
Took important part in the Christmas play of 1908 and was a "Fan Girl" in the Japanese play given Annual Day, 1909·
Mar.'11. -- Works just about the same in woodcarving class as she has other years. Can work very rapidly when she tries, but does not very often try. Does not have, much confidence in herself when marking out her work, but when urged, keeps trying until she gets it right. Is making a large dressing case this year. Is doing very nice work, especially in physical culture class.
May, '11.~-Finished her dressing case, but was careless towards the last, so it is not quite as nice as was expected. Made a very handsome embroidered linen dress (satin stitch and eyelets), also an embroidered corset cover. Made up both pieces under direction. Can write a well-worded story, but has to have more than half the words spelled for her. Knows very few of her number combinations. Retains a great many interesting facts connected with nature work. [p. 7]
The reader will see that Deborah's teachers have worked with her faithfully and carefully, hoping for progress, even seeing it where at a later date it became evident that no real advance had been made. Note the oft-repeated "She could if she would," or "If she would only pay attention," and similar expressions, which show the unwillingness of the teachers to admit even to themselves that she is really feeble-minded. In the earliest records it was noted that Deborah was not fond of music, while in later reports it is shown to be her one great accomplishment. Today she is a woman of twenty-two. The consensus of opinion of those who have known her for the last fourteen years in the Institution is as follows: --
"She is cheerful, inclined to be quarrelsome, very active and restless, very affectionate, willing, and tries; is quick and excitable, fairly good-tempered. Learns a new occupation quickly, but requires a half hour or twenty-four repetitions to learn four lines. Retains well what she has once learned. Needs close supervision. Is bold towards strangers, kind towards animals. Can run an electric sewing machine, cook, and do practically everything about the house. Has no noticeable defect. She is quick and observing, has a good memory, writes fairly, does excellent work in wood-carving and kindergarten, is excellent in imitation. Is a poor reader and poor at [p. 8] numbers. Does fine basketry and gardening. Spelling is poor; music is excellent; sewing excellent; excellent in entertainment work. Very fond of children and good in helping care for them. Has a good sense of order and cleanliness. Is sometimes very stubborn and obstinate. Is not always truthful and has been known to steal, although does not have a reputation for this. Is proud of her clothes. Likes pretty dresses and likes to help in other cottages, even to temporarily taking charge of a group."
The children at the Training School write letters to Santa Claus asking for such things as they want for Christmas. Here are Deborah's requests each year, beginning with '99, when she was ten years old:--
"'99. -- Book and harmonica.
'00. -- Book, comb, paints, and doll.
'01.-- Book, mittens, toy piano, handkerchief, slate pencil.
'02. -- Wax doll, ribbon, music box.
'03. -- Post cards, colored ribbons, gloves and shears.
'04. -- Trunk, music box, Fairy Tales, games, ribbons, big doll.
'05. -- Ribbons of different colors, games, handkerchiefs, music box, Fairy Tales.
'06. -- Pair of stockings, ribbons, rubbers.
'07. -- Watch, red ribbon, brush and comb, paper.
'08. -- Three yards of lawn, rubbers. [p. 9]
'09. -- Nice shoes, pink, dark blue, and white ribbons.
'10. -- Money for dentist bill.
'11.-- Rubbers, three shirts, blue scarf, three yards linen, two yards lawn for fancy work.["]
It will be remembered that in her history, number was mentioned as being one of her strong points. Indeed, she had a great deal of thorough drill in this branch. In a recent testing to determine how much of this she still retained, or whether the work had been of any value as mental discipline, the results were negative. It was discovered that she could neither add nor subtract, except where it was a question of concrete objects connected with her daily life. For example, she can set a table and wait on it very nicely. She can put the right number of plates at the head of the table, if she knows the people who are to sit there, but at a table with precisely the same number of strangers, she fails in making the correct count.
At a recent test made before a prominent scientist, the question was asked, "How many are 12 less 3 !" She thought for a moment, looked around the room and finally answered, "Nine." "Correct," said her questioner. "Do you know how I did it?" she asked, delighted at her success. "I counted on my fingers." [p. 10]
Some of the questions asked her and her answers are as follows:--
Q. There are ten people to eat dinner. Seven have eaten. For how many must you keep dinner warm?
Q. Suppose you had eight ergographs and sell six. How many would be left?
A.(after twenty-eight seconds' pondering). Two.
Q. Suppose you had eight Deltas and gave two away. What would you have left?
Q. "[sic]Suppose there are eight at the table and two leave. How many would remain?
A.(after thirteen seconds). Six.
By the Binet Scale this girl showed, in April, 1910, the mentality of a nine-year-old child with two points over; January, 1911, 9 years, 1 point; September, 1911, 9 years, 2 points; October, 1911, 9 years, 3 points. She answers correctly all of the questions up to age 7 except the repetition of five figures, where she transposes two of them. She does not read the selection in the required time, nor does she remember what she reads. In counting the stamps, her first answer was "ten cents," which she later corrected. Under age 9, none of her definitions are "better than by use" -- "Fork is to eat [p. 11] with," "Chair to sit on," etc. She can sometimes arrange the weights in their proper order and at other times not. The same is true of putting the three words into a sentence. She does not know money. Her definitions of abstract terms are very poor, in some cases barely passable, nor can she put together the dissected sentences. She rhymes "storm" with "spring," and "milk" with "mill, afterwards using "bill," "will," "till."
In the revised questions, she does not draw the design which is Question 2 in age 10, nor does she resist suggestion, Question 4 in age 12. To the first part of Question 5, age 12, she answered, "A bird hanging from the limb, " and to the second part, "Some one was very sick."
This is a typical illustration of the mentality of a high-grade feeble-minded person, the moron, the delinquent, the kind of girl or woman that fills our reformatories. They are wayward, they get into all sorts of trouble and difficulties, sexually and otherwise, and yet we have been accustomed to account for their defects on the basis of viciousness, environment, or ignorance.
It is also the history of the same type of girl in the public school. Rather good-looking, bright in appearance, with many attractive ways, the teacher clings to [p. 12] the hope, indeed insists, that such a girl will come out all right. Our work with Deborah convinces us that such hopes are delusions.
Here is a child who has been most carefully guarded. She has been persistently trained since she was eight years old, and yet nothing has been accomplished in the direction of higher intelligence or general education. To-day if this young woman were to leave the Institution, she would at once become a prey to the designs of evil men or evil women and would lead a life that would be vicious, immoral, and criminal, though because of her mentality she herself would not be responsible. There is nothing that she might not be led into, because she has no power of control, and all her instincts and appetites are in the direction that would lead to vice.
We may now repeat the ever insistent question, and this time we indeed have good hope of answering it. The question is, "How do we account for this kind of individual?" The answer is in a word "Heredity," --bad stock. We must recognize that the human family shows varying stocks or strains that are as marked and that breed as true as anything in plant or animal life.
Formerly such a statement would have been a guess, an hypothesis. We submit in the following pages what seems to us conclusive evidence of its truth.