Biography of Joseph Howard Ladd, M. D.

Joseph H. Ladd
Joseph H. Ladd

Joseph Howard Ladd, M. D. — During his entire career, covering now some three decades, Dr. Ladd has devoted himself to psychiatric work and more particularly to work in connection with the care of the feeble-minded. As physician of a school in Massachusetts during the first seven years of his career and, since 1907, as superintendent of a similar institution in Rhode Island, Dr. Ladd has acquired an enviable reputation in medical and scientific circles and today is regarded as one of the leading authorities in his field. Although the Exeter School, under which name the Rhode Island institution, of which he is superintendent, is known, is still in need of larger facilities in order to reach its fullest development and usefulness, Dr. Ladd, with what facilities have been at his disposal, has done remarkably successful work. His activities have been an important contribution to the welfare of the State and its people, a fact which is well recognized by his long continuance in his position.

Joseph Howard Ladd was born at High Forest, Minnesota, October 8, 1876, a son of George W. and Emma (Corey) Ladd. He received his early education in the public schools of Vermont, his family having returned east while he was a youth. He then spent two years at Norwich University, Northfield, Vermont, after which he took up the study of medicine at Dartmouth Medical College, graduating there with the degree of Doctor of Medicine in 1900. Immediately afterwards he became physician of the Walter E. Fernald School at Waverly, Massachusetts, a school for feeble-minded, in which capacity he served very successfully until 1907. Since then he has been superintendent of the Exeter School at Slocum, town of Exeter, Washington County, Rhode Island, likewise an institution for mentally deficient children and adults.

The Exeter School was established by Chapter 1470 of the Public Laws, passed at the January session, 1907, and is under the management and control of the State Public Welfare Commission. By Chapter 1381 of the Public Laws, passed at the January session, 1916, the name was changed from Rhode Island School for the Feeble-Minded to the Exeter School. The school is established for the education and care of feeble-minded persons within the school age, or others capable of being benefited by special instruction. In connection with it there is also maintained a custodial department for the care of feeble-minded persons beyond the school age, and especially for the segregation of feeble-minded girls of child-bearing age, with the idea of thus preventing the transmission of the mental defect by these cases. The school is located in the town of Exeter, about two miles from the Slocum Station of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, and occupies about five hundred acres of land. Application for admission is made to the State Public Welfare Commission. The first patient was admitted in 1908. By the end of the first fifteen years of its existence the total number of admissions had reached seven hundred and seventy. By August 1, 1930, one thousand two hundred and forty-three had been admitted, of which six hundred and eighty-five have been returned to their community or have died. Patients are admitted, discharged, paroled, etc., by authority of the State Public Welfare Commission. Patients may be committed to the school by any District Court in the State. Parents of children admitted to the school are expected to furnish clothing and pay for their support, if financially able. The full charge for support at the school is three hundred dollars per year. In case parents are unable to pay this full amount they may pay any portion of it, by arrangement with the agent of the commission. No child, however, is excluded because the parents are unable to pay.

Any person duly certified as mentally defective by two physicians authorized to practice in Rhode Island is eligible for admission. However, as a rule, children under five years of age are not admitted to the school. There are no facilities for taking care of children of this age, who will do much better in the average home than in the school. The most beneficial age for admission is from six to ten years. Persons over thirty years of age should not be sent to the school, unless there is some pressing reason for their being sent. These older individuals are able to profit but very little from the course of training and instruction, and, with the present limited capacity, each such older person admitted keeps out some younger person who might profit very greatly by training. The school is not in any sense a penal or correctional institution, and persons in whom criminal tendencies are the outstanding feature are not admitted to the school, though they may be found to be mentally defective. To be sure many patients, who have committed misdemeanors or crimes have been admitted or committed, and they do well in the school, receive great benefit from the training, and become quite useful individuals. These patients, however, belong to that class of persons who become criminals through their lack of ability to cope with the problems of life, instead of to that class who prefer and actively seek a criminal life.

The school has two departments, the custodial and the educational. The object of the custodial department is to receive and care for those mentally defective patients, who are unable to care for themselves and for whom no other suitable provision can be made. The object of the educational department is to receive, care for and teach those mentally defective persons, who are capable of being taught, but who for one reason or another can not be trained to advantage in the public schools, or who are unable to adapt themselves to the environment in which they are found. Every child capable of learning to read and write attends school. If reasonable progress is made each child continues in school until he is sixteen or eighteen years of age. In addition to the academic instruction, and of equal importance with it, each child receives such manual and industrial training as he is capable of absorbing. Training in the various household activities, in gardening, sewing, laundry work, basketry, rug weaving, and various kinds of fancy work is provided for the girls; for the boys, training in household activities, farm and garden, carpenter work, painting, and shoe repairing. Each girl who is able to learn is taught to make, mend, and launder her own clothing. Along with the academic and industrial training every endeavor is made to instill into the minds of the children a desire for right living. Efforts along this line are ably seconded by the assistance of two clergymen, one Catholic and one Protestant, who hold services every Sunday. For recreation, the children have moving pictures, dances, little plays and concerts with home talent, outdoor sports of various kinds, and in the summer frequent picnics in the woods and at the beach. The aim of all this teaching and training is to so develop these children that they may be able to return to the community and become useful or at least inoffensive members of society. Children returned to the community are looked after and advised by the social worker of the Exeter School, who usually has on parole some one hundred and forty-five former pupils, about equally divided between boys and girls. Both of these are found to do well and some are doing exceptionally well, largely as the result of the training received in the school.

The Exeter School has grown and prospered exceedingly under Dr. Ladd’s able administration, hampered, though it is, to a certain extent by the lack of complete facilities. The present capacity of the school is about three hundred and forty-four, while its average population is five hundred and fourteen, with a long waiting list. Under Dr. Ladd’s administration proper provision has been made for administrative offices, a central kitchen, and bakery. Still further accommodations, however, are greatly needed, including a hospital ward for sick and helpless cases, additional school rooms, new dormitories and new buildings for the accommodation of employees. Also an assembly hall for the children.

Dr. Ladd is a member of the New England Society of Psychiatry, the Rhode Island Medical Society, the Washington County Medical Society, and the American Association for the Study of Feeble-minded. He also belongs to several Masonic bodies, including Belmont Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons, of Belmont, Massachusetts; and the Chapter, Royal Arch Masons; Commandery, Knights Templar; and Rhode Island Consistory, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite. In politics he is a supporter of the Republican party, while his religious affiliations are with the Protestant faith. He is also a member of Theta Chi and Alpha Kappa Kappa fraternities.

Dr. Ladd married at Concord, Massachusetts, August 11, 1903, Margaret A. MacInnes. Dr. and Mrs. Ladd are the parents of one daughter, Theodora Marion Ladd. They make their home at the Exeter School, Slocum, Washington County.

Source: Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 4 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.

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