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STATE INSTITUTIONS: Development and Progress

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STATE INSTITUTIONS: Development and Progress

Reprinted from Tennessee Red Book

 1976 – 1978   


Andrew White, M.D., Commissioner

Winfred T. Jefferson, Ph.D., Superintendent

Oak Valley State Training School and Hospital

The General Assembly in 1937, by an Act entitled, “An Act to organize an Experimental School for the Instruction and Training of Idiots and Feeble-minded Children in the Eastern Region of the State of Tennessee,” (1937 Tenn. Pub. Acts 632, ch. 127) authorized the Board of Trustees of the Tennessee Institution for the Education of the Blind, to take such measures as they might seem suitable, for the purpose of accomplishing the beneficent aim of the legislature.  In order to assure the fulfillment of the legislation’s intent, the act required county health officers and county superintendents of education to “file application for the commitment of feeble-minded persons whose parents or guardians neglect such duty…’

The first building used was the mansion and farm of the late Governor Andrew Pugh at Laurelville.  Robert M. Sevier, principal of the Institution for the Education of the Blind was appointed ex-officio superintendent of the Institution for Idiots and Imbeciles.

The Institution was first opened for patients on October 28, 1939, and the first Treasurer’s report covered the period from June 1, 1939 to May 31, 1940. The first Board of Trustees was appointed in 1938.  The first buildings opened for patient use were buildings K and B.  By May 17, 1948, ten buildings were in use and the eleventh was under roof.  The original plan of the Institution called for sixteen buildings.

The school department started to function in the fall of 1940 and Miss Mary Fordham was the first teacher employed.  She had previously taught three years in at Craig State Asylum for Epileptics in New York.   Sense training, manual and vocational training, horticulture and academic training were included in the first year’s program.  The school program was disbanded when the building was destroyed by fire in 1968.  Responsibility for all training and habilitation programs was subsequently transferred to the living units.

By an Act of the Legislature dated March 25th, 1950, the Building Commission went out of existence and its property rights and powers were vested in the Board of Trustees.

The first superintendent of the Institution was Dr. Paul A. Weeks, who was appointed on August 27, 1939, resigned on August 27, 1940, and died on January 12, 1941.  Dr. Weeks was succeeded by Dr. W.H. Winston who was appointed on February 22, 1941, resigned February 22, 1961.  Dr. Winston was succeeded by Dr. T.L. Randall who was appointed on April 24,1961, retired December 24, 1974.

A change in the Law regarding the requirements for appointment to the Superintendency of the Institution no longer made it necessary to have a physician hold this position.  Therefore, a psychologist, Dr. W. T. Jefferson was appointed Superintendent on January 10th, 1975.  At the time of Dr. Jefferson’s appointment, a chief physician, Dr. Richard Henderson was appointed to take charge of the medical care of the patients who was appointed on November 11, 1971, resigned May 18, 1977, and died July 16, 1977.  Dr. John T. Cordell who was appointed on March 10, 1978 succeeded Dr. Henderson.

A Legislative Act in 1954 changed the Institution’s name to Oak Valley State Training School and Hospital.  (TCA 42, Sect. 150 and Sect. 1932—Paragraph H).

 In 1973, a consent decree filed in the matter of Bond v. Mumford, ended the use of residents in the maintenance and upkeep of the institution. The loss of patient labor necessitated the discharge of residents in order to maintain the capacity of existing staff to meet the needs of those residents who remained.

The aim of the Oak Valley State Training School and Hospital is to train each and every one of the residents so that they may be more useful to themselves and those in charge of them; to eliminate asocial and other undesirable habits and replace those habits with habits of industry and habits that are socially acceptable; to bring and develop in the individual residents all abilities that will help to make the resident as independent as possible; and return to the community all those residents whom we believe to be socially and industrially fit and for whom homes can be found that will give the resident such supervision, direction, and care as the resident’s mental condition demands.

A Community Services Social Worker supervises these transfers to community homes and aids them to re-adjust themselves to normal living conditions, thereby allowing the Institution to better serve its region by having under its supervision a larger number of cases than could be accommodated in the Institution and caring for this larger number of cases at a lower cost than would be possible should they all be permanently retained in the Institution.

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