News and Announcements

Welcome to the Pennhurst Memorial & Preservation Alliance


Future Board Meetings

2nd Saturday of Every Month - 10 AM

Because of COVID-19 advisories and the need for social isolation, board meetings will only be held by teleconferencing using ZOOM until further notice.

PMPA Office: 426-B Darby Road, Havertown, PA 19083

Guests welcomed to attend.

Join us on Zoom at and log in.

The Mission of the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance is to promote an understanding of the struggle for dignity and full civil rights for persons with disabilities, using the little-known history at Pennhurst. By sharing this tragic story as well as its landmark victories, we seek to educate citizens in local, national and international communities, to assure that we never go back.

The Vision of the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance is to be part of an effort to create a world-class museum to honor and memorialize the ongoing civil and human rights struggle of Americans with disabilities at a location of national significance, to assure that we never go back.

There are many steps involved in each of these aspects of the mission, including collecting the stories of the people who lived here and were affected by the world-changing achievements wrought here. We invite your support of these works, which require an extraordinary amount of time and money.

Your donations of time and money are crucial to the growth and development of the PMPA

Join Us In A Dream!

It's about time to have a National Museum of Disability History and Civil Rights

The Vision of the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance is to be part of an effort to create a world-class museum to honor and memorialize the ongoing civil and human rights struggle of Americans with disabilities at a location of national significance, to assure that we never go back.

Our goal this year is to invite leaders of local, state and national disability advocacy organizations representing all disabling conditions, political leaders, foundations and public figures to an organizing meeting to kick off this effort.

In 2017, we all celebrated the 30th anniversary of the closing of Pennhurst in 1987, a historic moment leading to the development of community alternatives and family supports, and this year celebrate the 30th anniversary of the groundbreaking documentary, Suffer The Little Children, that shocked the general public upon seeing the dehumanizing conditions at Pennhurst, only 35 miles outside Philadelphia.  This documentary galvanized public opinion and the parent advocacy movement and led to the first federal class action court suit seeking guarantees of a free and appropriate public education of all children regardless of the level or severity of the disabling condition. The Pennsylvania consent decree, signed in 1972, led to the passage of federal Public Law 94-142, The Education of All Children Act (now known as IDEA)

Join us in this continuing historic civil rights journey by respecting the past as a lesson about how to create a more preferred future for more than 54 million Americans with disabling conditions and their families.



Historic Video Discovery

A 1968 film about moving folks from institution to community was just unearthed. The 8 minute documentary shows the successful transition of people from the Elwyn Institute in Pennsylvania into community living and working. It is likely that this is the first evidence of the process of deinstitutionalization. Thanks to Albert Bussone, formerly of Elwyn. PMPA digitized the film for preservation. See it here.

"Pennhurst and the Struggle for Disability Rights"

Pennhurst and the Struggle for Disabilty Rights

The new book, "Pennhurst and the Struggle for Disability Rights" co-authored by PMPA Board Members Dr. Dennis Downey and Dr. Jim Conroy and published by Penn State University Press, can now be ordered from Amazon and Penn State University Press. The book is a must for everyone in the disability field and will make an excellent reference book to teach students in colleges and universities as Pennhurst was the forerunner of using the Federal courts to end dehumanization and discrimination of persons living in institutions which led to the beginning emergence of community based services.

Conceived in the era of eugenics as a solution to what was termed the "problem of the feeble-minded," state-operated institutions subjected people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to a life of compulsory incarceration. One of nearly 300 such facilities in the United States, Pennhurst State School and Hospital was initially hailed as a "model institution" but was later revealed to be a nightmare, where medical experimentation and physical and psychological abuse were rampant. At its peak, more than 3,500 residents were confined at Pennhurst, supervised by a staff of fewer than 600.

Using a blended narrative of essays and first-person accounts, this history of Pennhurst examines the institution from its founding during an age of Progressive reform to its present-day exploitation as a controversial Halloween attraction. In doing so, it traces a decades-long battle to reform the abhorrent school and hospital and reveals its role as a catalyst for the disability rights movement. Beginning in the 1950s, parent-advocates, social workers, and attorneys joined forces to challenge the dehumanizing conditions at Pennhurst. Their groundbreaking advocacy, accelerated in 1968 by the explosive televised exposé Suffer the Little Children, laid the foundation for lawsuits that transformed American jurisprudence and ended mass institutionalization in the United States. As a result, Pennhurst became a symbolic force in the disability civil rights movement in America and around the world. 

Extensively researched and featuring the stories of survivors, parents, and advocates, this compelling history will appeal both to those with connections to Pennhurst and to anyone interested in the history of institutionalization and the disability rights movement.


The Pennhurst Images of America Book Is Now Available!

Pennhurst Images of America Book

Pennhurst State School and Hospital (Images of America) by the PMPA's J. Gregory Pirmann, and published by Arcadia Publishing, is now available for purchase at Amazon!

The archival images in this book primarily come from reports sent to the legislature by the board of trustees in the first 20 years of Pennhursts existence. Others have been gathered from a variety of sources, collected over the years by the author. This book provides a unique window into the separate world of Pennhurst State School and Hospital, reminding those who were part of it of what they saw and did there and giving those who know only what they have heard or seen a different picture of what Pennhurst truly was.

Click here to purchase the book at Amazon Smile.


TASH Takes Strong Stand Against Limiting Health Care Access to Disabled Persons

TASH, one of the leading national advocacy groups for persons with an intellectual disability, is taking a strong position against the trend of limiting access to needed health care for persons with a significant disability during the COVID-19 health crisis. Here is what they said: 

“We assert that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including those with significant disabilities, have the following human and civil rights: 

  • Access to high-quality, appropriate medical treatment 
  • Access to timely and accurate information in accessible formats (e.g., plain text, visuals, plain language)
  • Access to supports and support persons to address the individual’s unique support needs related to social/emotional, communication, physical, and healthcare aspects. 
  • Access to supported decision making (see below resource on describing supported decision making) and representation during any emergency guardianship or conservatorship proceedings

 TASH is seeking support from organizations (not individuals at this time). Please have your organization contact TASH to sign on to this effort.

Amazon Shoppers: You Can Help Support PMPA

When you shop on AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to PMPA. Every item available for purchase on is also available on AmazonSmile ( at the same price. When first visiting AmazonSmile, customers are prompted to select a charitable organization. Please select “ Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance”. You will only have to do this once. You will see eligible products marked "Eligible for Amazon Smile donation" on their product detail pages. For those of you who have an Amazon Prime account, you can use your Prime account and still use the Smile website.

Let Amazon help support PMPA!

Host our Traveling Exhibit: The Pennhurst Story - from Tragedy to Disability Rights

A free traveling exhibition detailing the rise and fall of the infamous Pennhurst State School and Hospital

Created by the PM&PA, this photographic jouney, is available in two versions. There is a 3 panel short version for smaller venues, and a 13 panel version, with a more complete history, for larger spaces. Both tell the story of Pennhurst through the tragedy, the advocacy action, and the eventual triumph of movement of all the people to community homes and lives.

There is no cost to the sponsoring organization, although the costs of travel and shipping may be reimbursed. Exhibit sponsors to date have included county governments, libraries, self-advocacy organizations, colleges, and service providers, as well as the state capitol in Harrisburg, and the U.S. Senate Office Building rotunda in Washington D.C.

If your organization is interested in hosting the Pennhurst exhibit, please contact Janet Albert-Herman at to discuss details and availability.

We are no longer working with a grant for this project, so we are asking host sites to consider making a donation towards mileage, replacement, and repairs to the exhibit.

Washington DC Meeting with Smithsonian's National Museum Curator

Board Members Conroy, Simon, and Friedman met with Smithsonian's National Museum curator, Dr. Katherine Ott, Curator of The Smithsonian's Division of Medicine and Science of the National Museum of American History, and Beth Ziebarth, Director of the Smithsonian Accessibility Program.

Dr. Ott was also the exhibition curator for "The Disability Rights Movement," which looked at the efforts of people with disabilities, and their families and friends, to secure the civil rights guaranteed to all Americans. This exhibit physically existed in the gallery from July 2000 to July 2001, marking the 10th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act,.  It is now a permanent online exhibition.

The meeting cemented a common goal:  to work toward creation of a permanent place of memory and learning about the disability rights movement. The group generated ideas to begin the work, generate momentum, invite the entire disability community to support and participate, and to raise funds for this worthy national goal.

About Pennhurst: A Place of Triumph

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The recently unveiled Pennhurst Historical Marker, Spring City

Once called the shame of the nation, Pennhurst was the epicenter of a civil and human rights movement that changed the way the world saw people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The atrocities of neglect at Pennhurst resulted in Supreme Court litigation that sounded the death knell for institutionalization worldwide. Pennhurst stands as a monument not just to the despair of social apathy but more importantly to the bright triumph of an engaged citizenry--and the eternal hope that great change is possible from the cumulative efforts of caring people. For these reasons it must be preserved.

Pennhurst was the battleground in a monumental struggle to secure basic human rights for the last group of Americans to attain privileges assumed to be the natural freedoms of all persons. Pennhurst's historic and beautiful campus is, like Valley Forge and Independence Mall to the east, hallowed ground in the struggle for dignity and self-determination, a western anchor to a freedom corridor, that, though stretching but a few miles, reaches all the way around the world.

Through preservation and adaptive re-use of the historic Pennhurst campus, the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance seeks to ensure that those achievements won at Pennhurst are neither lost nor forgotten. We seek to reclaim this once painful place as a center of conscience, healing, and outreach. This process is essential in the creation and preservation of a society where, all people are valued and respected, and where all people have the knowledge, opportunity, and power to improve their lives and the lives of others. Join us.

Admin Line Drawing
Principal drawing by Emily Scali
Click Here for Emily Scali's drawing of Admin, Mayflower & Limerick buildings


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Official Statement Regarding Trespassing on the Pennhurst Property