Front Wards, Back Wards
By William C. Rogers
Coruway Film Institute
Now in her early thirties, Patti has severe physical and mental disabilities and requires specialized care. Her sister Cathy is full of praise for the staff of the Fernald Center, where Patti lives. But other residents have horrible memories of abuse and neglect. Says one, “Nobody on the outside knew what was going on behind these walls.” Created in 1848 as a school to train people to function in their homes and communities, it was redefined as an "asylum" in 1890, warehousing residents for the rest of their lives. They were called idiots, simpletons and fools, and for 160 years Fernald State School America’s first institution for people who were then labeled mentally retarded was where they would stay. Still open today, Fernald stands as a model of the best and worst we can do for people we define as needing our assistance.
Those residents thought to be more capable or presentable were placed in the "front wards," while those considered more seriously disabled were hidden away in the "back wards." Still professing ideas of training and education, such institutions had come to provide beds and food but little else. Their purpose was to protect society from the negative effects of the "feeble-minded." Today Fernald is home for less than 200 highly dependent residents, now referred to as "consumers,” and its future is in doubt.
Through the recollections of Fernald’s staff, residents and families, this thoughtful program profiles the evolution of attitudes toward people with mental disabilities in the United States. A production of Coruway Film Institute, produced in association with WGBH, Boston, and ITVS, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Purchase $248 DVD
Order No. QA-472
ISBN (DVD) 1-57295-898-7
"The filmmaker knows the community well and it allows him to tell a story that is deeply moving and nuanced. Highly Recommended." Educational Media Reviews Online
Awards & Conference Screenings
Picture This... Film Festival, Honorable Mention
Western Psychological Association
WorldFest Houston Film Festival,
Silver Remi Award
Donka: X-Ray of an African Hospital: Daily life in the largest public hospital in the Republic of Guinea
Secret People: Until the late 1950's Americans with leprosy could be forcibly transported, often in chains, to the leprosarium at Carville. This is a disturbing story of stigma and discrimination in our public health system.
Gray Days: The U.S. has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of elderly men and women in state and federal prisons. This troubling documentary introduces us to two elderly prison inmates, inviting discussion of the universal issues raised by this situation.
Country Doctors, Rural Medicine: Health care in rural America is in trouble. While rural populations grow older, poorer and sicker, doctors, nurse-practitioners, and other healthcare providers are in critically short supply. Yet there are many rewards for professionals who choose to serve rural communities.
Aging in America: This riveting documentary introduces us to aging athletes, activists, wranglers and strippers, and to inmates growing old in our nation's prisons. A compassionate, often surprising glimpse into the real lives of those who are reaching their "golden" years in the first part of the twenty-first century.