Walter E. Fernald State School – An Abandoned School in Massachusetts

Fernald School

Previously we blogged about the Metropolitan State Hospital in Waltham, Massachusetts and this abandoned school is located nearby. Walter E. Fernald State School was opened in 1948 as the Massachusetts School for Idiotic Children and was originally a school for boys with low intelligence although according to later reports, more than half of students tested had an IQ deemed to be normal.

There were a total of 72 buildings and 2500 people were confined there at its peak. The school was renamed in honour of its first superintendent, Walter E. Fernald, in 1925. The name remained until its closure.

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.
Part of the facility remains open as a residence for mentally ill adults but most of the buildings lie abandoned and decaying. Efforts have been made to close the facility however and with only 13 patients left, it looks like it won’t be long before it closes in its entirety.

Location: Waltham, Massachusetts, USA

Category: School/Hospital

Abandoned: Still in operation (although mostly abandoned)


5 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 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!!

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