Pennhurst & The Struggle for Disability Rights

Pennhurst & The Struggle for Disability Rights

  • November 19, 2020
  • Online via Zoom
  • 7pm Eastern
  • FREE | Registration Required
Cropped image of the book cover "Pennhurst and the Struggle for Disability Rights."


Book cover of "Pennhurst and the Struggle for Disability Rights."On November 19, 2020, Millersville University’s Dennis B. Downey will join LancasterHistory virtually for a special online lecture based on his latest publication, Pennhurst and the Struggle for Disability Rights. Downey will explore the history of Pennhurst from its founding as a state-operated institution to a controversial Halloween attraction to its symbolic force in the disability civil rights movement in America.

“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. 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.” (From Penn State University Press)

Dennis B. Downey is the Emeritus Professor of History at Millersville University. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including A Season of Renewal: The Columbian Exposition and Victorian America and Coatesville and the Lynching of Zachariah Walker: Death in a Pennsylvania Steel Town. His latest book, Pennhurst and the Struggle for Disability Rights, was published in 2020, which he co-authored with James W. Conroy, President of the Center for Outcome Analysis and President of the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance.


This event will take place online via Zoom on November 19, 2020 at 7pm Eastern. This is NOT an in-person event.

The program is free and open to the public but requires advance registration. Register online by clicking “Buy Tickets” below or by calling (717) 392-4633. Your link to the Zoom event will be emailed to you upon successful registration. If you are unfamiliar with Zoom, we highly recommend reading our Virtual Event Guide & FAQ in advance the of the event.

Copies of Downey’s book, Pennhurst and the Struggle for Disability Rights, will be available for purchase at LancasterHistory’s Museum Store, 230 N. President Avenue. Please call (717) 392-4633 if interested in a copy.

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