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Home arrow Faces of the Feebleminded
Faces of the Feebleminded
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As with so much surrounding this project, finding these photos was serendipitous. The Ellis Islanf files at the National Archives are massive and disorganized, so researching is something like going fishing: you never know what you'll find when you throw out a line. In July 2006 I was researching the correspondence files of Dr. Eugene Mullan, an Ellis Island psychiatrist.

Since I had researched Dr. Mullan's files before, I was not expecting to find anything new, but tucked behind several letters written by Dr. Mullan were these original, black and white images, complete with typed captions indicating various mental conditions: constitutional apathy, low grade moron, juvenile paretic, surly, and the catch-all description, "feebleminded."

Public health physician Fitzhugh Mullan, grandson of Eugene Mullan and one of the advisors to the Forgotten Ellis Island film/book project, analyzed the photographs from his grandfather's file as attempts to "distinguish between normal and abnormal and various levels of abnormality." Since the feebleminded were automatically deported, one can only assume that the people in these pictures were denied entry to America and sent back to their homeland.

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