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Unfixed: How the Women of Glenwood Changed American IQ, and Why We Don’t Know It

March 30, 2017 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Poster for Susan Schweik Lecture with a black and white image of a young girl having her head measured with calipers

2017 Gender Studies and the Humanities Lecture

Susan Schweik

UC Berkeley, English


“Dull Babies Made Normal By Feeble-Minded Girls’ Care: Increase of as Much as 40 Points in IQ Reported,” a science magazine headline trumpeted in 1939, describing an experiment led by psychologist Harold Skeels in which orphanage toddlers were transferred to the State Institution for “the Mentally Defective” in Glenwood, Iowa to be nurtured by women incarcerated there. Other “contrast” children left behind in the orphanage did worse by any measure. By 1940, this experiment came under scathing scholarly attack. But by the late 1960s, Harold Skeels’ work, which depended on these women, was credited as key inspiration for the development of Special Education and the notion of learning disability. This talk explores how that the systematic forgetting of what actually happened at Glenwood eroded the effectiveness of the various projects Skeels was praised for inspiring. Raising the children in tandem with the low-wage women workers who were their attendants, the women of Glenwood developed a radically interdependent kinship model that profoundly (but very briefly, and under conditions of domination) called the usual terms and stratifications of “intelligence,” “normal,” “cure,” “care,” and of “research” itself into question.


March 30, 2017
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
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Helen C. White Hall, Room 7191
600 North Park Street
Madison, 53703 United States