Walter E Fernald State School – An Abandoned School in Massachusetts

Fernald School

The Walter E Fernald State School has gone by a number of names over the years. It was originally called the Experimental School for Teaching and Training Idiotic Children, then Massachusetts School for Idiotic Children and most recently the Walter E Fernald Developmental Center. It was located in Waltham, Massachusetts, USA and close to the Metropolitan State Hospital.

The Walter E Fernald State School

The main entrance to the Walter E Fernald State School.

The school was originally founded by Samuel Gridley Howe in 1848 and located in Boston. It moved to Waltham in 1888 and eventually consisted of 72 buildings on 196 acres. At its peak, it housed 2,500 young people. Originally a school for boys with low intelligence, later reports suggested that more than half of students tested had an IQ deemed to be normal. The school was renamed in honour of its third superintendent, Walter E Fernald, in 1925. The name remained until its closure.

A building at the Walter E Fernald State School

Vines and creepers have begun to takeover this building.

It was regarded by many as the finest educational facility in the field of mental health during the period in which Walter E Fernald was superintendent at the school. He was a firm believer in eugenics, the practice of selective breeding within the human population to improve the genetic quality of the human population.

Overgrown foliage on an abandoned building

The foliage has become overgrown in many parts of the site.

The school has been the subject of allegations of sexual and physical abuse of the students, accounts of which have been reported in the media. The standard of education was said to be extremely low and the boys were housed in large crowded dorms. The students were even the subject of medical experiments in the 1950s when the Quaker Oats company along with Harvard and MIT researchers fed boys cereal laced with radiation tracers. The Quaker Oats company eventually paid out over $1.85 million in damages to the victims. The Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments had this to say about the case in a 1994 report –

In 1946, one study exposed seventeen subjects to radioactive iron. The second study, which involved a series of seventeen related sub-experiments, exposed fifty-seven subjects to radioactive calcium between 1950 and 1953. It is clear that the doses involved were low and that it is extremely unlikely that any of the children who were used as subjects were harmed as a consequence. These studies remain morally troubling, however, for several reasons. First, although parents or guardians were asked for their permission to have their children involved in the research, the available evidence suggests that the information provided was, at best, incomplete. Second, there is the question of the fairness of selecting institutionalized children at all, children whose life circumstances were by any standard already heavily burdened.

A class action suit was filed in the 1970s in relation to the conditions at the Walter E Fernald State School and in 1993, a judged ruled that those who were treated there were entitled to a guaranteed level of care, regardless of cost, to compensate for decades of neglect and abuse.

An abandoned school building in Waltham, Massachusetts

Unlike many abandoned buildings, vandalism hasn’t affected much of the Walter E Fernald State School.

By 2001, 320 adult patients were living in Fernald and in December 2004, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney announced the facility would be closed. The families of the remaining patients and employees unions brought a lawsuit to save the school. The lawsuit was still ongoing when the last resident was discharged in 2014. The Walter E Fernald State School was closed and abandoned. The city of Waltham now owns the site.

Location: Waltham, Massachusetts, USA

Abandoned: 2014

 

9 thoughts on “Walter E Fernald State School – An Abandoned School in Massachusetts”

  1. is there anyone who knows if the grounds to the walter fernald are open to the public? I was there 3 years ago to take pictures, I was there for an hour when a police officer asked me nicely not to walk around that I was trespassing. Id like to return, but not to trespass. Any info will help. Thank you!

  2. I was there on Feb.2013 and was approached by a not so nice officer who asked me not to take photographs, then asked me to delete what photos I did have on my camera. Which I did not, but he didn't know. I won't return back as much as id like. So, if I were you I wouldn't risk it for a few photos.

  3. I was at the Walter Fernald school back in feb.of 2013 and was there for 3hrs taking pictures. I arrived early in the morning and was amazed to find that these buildings were still open! I opened the door to take some inside shots and found the buildings were still being heated. Then after about a few hours I had to push my luck. I had one of the building doors open with my foot as I was photographing the stairwell when I heard a man yelling at me, The police. He wasn't nice and didn't want to hear the fact that I was only taking pictures. He carded me, made me wait 45mins.as he ran my license and plates then asked, well, Told me to delete my pictures while he stood there to watch. Luckily I had an extra memory card that quickly got used up that he didn't know. It was a bad experience with the officer and as much as I would like to return, I haven't. If the grounds were open to the public that would be wonderful!!

  4. For all those asking, this location is closed to the public (as of April 2020) and monitored by State Police security cameras. If you go and walk around (which I have totally done at night) it is trespassing, so don’t plan on staying long. Cops have to put up with teens hanging out here all the time and they’re tired of telling people to leave.

  5. Does anyone know if you can get a visitors pass for this place from the state. Can we get permission from the state to enter?

  6. Hi, I’m doing family research and discovered that my Uncle was at this school during the period where MIT/Quaker was doing tests with radiation. I’m so shocked to learn that 3 of my Uncle and Aunts were placed in this school. I was told that the family was split up and relinquished as wards of the state. But, when I researched, I found 3 of the children were placed in the Walter E Fernald school. Unforturnately, I believe they were put here until death. 1 Uncle it appears, he was possibly placed from child until 60 and then 2 aunts stayed over 20 years. First as “inpatient’ and then listed as ‘Inmate” via the Federal Census. If anyone has any additional details on this school, please contact me.

  7. to the guy talking about “as of april 2020”, from someone who doesn’t really care, how fast is police response time? how many cameras? when is the best time? thanks!

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