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Why Preserve Pennhurst?

Highslide JS
A lone wheelchair in Union Hall
photo: Wayne L. Benner

Memory is the critical language and terrain of human rights. Through preserving past evidence of neglect, we make it real, we make it present, and we make it public. The place that bears the mark of the painful past becomes a powerful catalyst for awareness, action, relevance, inspiration, and investment in multiple senses. A National Disability Museum and Community of Conscience at Pennhurst will engage ordinary citizens in an ongoing national dialogue on social issues to build lasting cultures of human rights. Unlike the typical museum, it will not be place of passive learning but a place of active citizen engagement.Its mission will be one of truth seeking, of building a culture of "never again," of reconciliation, and of outreach though opportunities for public involvement, curriculum development and the like. This dialogue must be both about the meaning of the past and the shape of the future— with the full temporal spectrum of past, present, and future palpable in the Pennhurst visitor experience. What happened at Pennhurst and how did caring families and employees finally rise up to end it? How did that change create reform across the globe? What does it mean to be classed as "the other" and how and where is it still happening today? No other museum attacks these questions as they relate to disabilities head on---a dangerous absence of dialogue where indifference.

At some point many of us will become disabled in some manner, whether from injury or old age. But the events played out at Pennhurst affect all of us in ways that are even more profound. The struggle for acceptance, understanding, and, ultimately, freedom, is central to what it means to be an American. Moreover, it is the dream of oppressed people the world over. Here, at Pennhurst, cradled in a Commonwealth founded on ideals of tolerance and second chances, we have a complex but positive and inspiring story to tell. We hope you will join us to seize this opportunity to create a site of hope, a resource for all people somehow treated as "the other"—a place where they will be recognized and accepted without condition. This place of pain can become place of healing, reconciliation, and insight. It will be a center of national conscience with a message that knows no political, racial, or socio-economic bounds.

Please support our cause by donating now.

Read more About Pennhurst on our About Pennhurst State School page...

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Anna M Bean08/11/2014
I agree that Pennhurst needs to be PRESERVED, NOT turned into a touristy type of trap haunted house,etc. A lot of suffering went on there, for both Staff patients - I urge CAUTION if it's fixed up. remodeled
heather 03/25/2014
these children and young adults did not ask to be brought into this world with the problems they had. It makes me sick to think people get enjoyment from others suffering i have a child with special needs
Janet Albert-Herman03/03/2014
Let's remember that the residents at Pennhurst had intellectual disabilities or mental retardation, as it was called a few years back. They did not have mental illness unless they had a dual diagnoses. Yes, Aliva, this is indeed a historic place where the lawsuits changed the world for the better.
Aliva10/02/2013
Whatever your connection is, it's irrelevant, it is a historic place. It is disgusting to see it turned into a mockery of people with mental illnesses. The equal treatment of people with mental disorders is still an issue this is only furthering the stigma!
Beth Ehrhart09/25/2013
I worked at Pennhurst for 12 years before they shut it down. We taught residents to shower, dress and feed themselves. We also took them on field trips.We also got injured by the residents. Most of the parents never came to visit their children - even on holidays. It wasn't all the helps fault -
Anthony12/31/2012
Look, I get that some of the history of Pennhurst is something we don't want to remember or talk about, but whether we like it or not, places like this once served a purpose. With all of these mentally ill people shooting up schools, its clear that they need a place to find help. Reopen Pennhurst.
Travl1012/02/2012
If there is any former workers of Pennhurst please email me, I would love to corepsonde with you. Travlobaugh@gmail.com
Jackie12/02/2012
Institutions are good and bad. So often lack of funding creates the hell of Pennhurst. Now the powers at be think deinstitutionalizing our special needs citizens is the way to go. I don't feel this is the solution either. The special needs citizens need trust, reliability and guidance to live.
Louis10/29/2012
With deinstitutionalization came homelessness as well as incarceration in the penal system of the mentally ill. I'm not sure we should feel so smug and self-righteous about all of the progress we have made by dumping people out on the street. We still have a ways to go.
Louis10/29/2012
I am sure that many who worked at Pennhurst did the best they could. The employees had to work somewhere to survive. There wasn't always welfare to support those who didn't want to work. Pennhurst is typical big government solution. Mandate services but fail to supply adequate resources.
Tomaro09/22/2012
Today is unfortunately, the first time that I heard about Pennhurst. The story of these people/children is horrific and heartbreaking! Preservation, along with education is key as a human service professional I believe in order to know where we are going we should know where we have come from.
Diana08/25/2012
Yes preserve and talk, talk, talk, about what happened. Make documentaries and movies about what happened. History unfortunately repeats itself. It is heartbreaking and horrifying.
Lori B08/04/2012
I have a son who has a severe case of autism this facility how those people/children were treated disgusts me! Knowing I won't be around to take care of my baby forever the thought of him ever ending in a morbid place likes this is what gives me nightmares! I pray nothing like this still exists!
Erin05/23/2012
The comment about housing violent psychopathic criminals is exactly why we need to preserve Pennhurst. We need to educate people about what actually happened. Not telling the stories of the people who lived there only de-humanizes the place further and makes it easier to forget.
Asylum Seeker04/19/2012
I can say this Forgetting about Pennhurst is something society practiced even while it was still open. 'Forgetting' is why it really existed to begin with. That is why we must remember. Pennhurst isn't just a place. It's a remarkable piece of history and it needs to be preserved and remembered.

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