Rome State School & Cemetery

New York State Custodial Institution at Rome for Intellectually Disabled Children and Adults.

1916 Rome State Custodial Institution For Feeble-Minded Children.
Rome Developmental Center Cemetery Names.
Rome State Custodial Asylum Map.

Rome State School

Rome State School

Photograph courtesy of The Museum of disABILITY History

“Although the initial purpose was essentially eugenic in nature, the scope of the institution expanded over the years. Educational training and independent living became central aspects, and several colony homes were established. The New York State Custodial Asylum for Un-Teachable Idiots was established in 1893 to address the growing public need for increased custodial provisions for ‘idiots’ deemed beyond the reach of education.  However, the staff soon realized that these individuals were capable of far more than the name of their institution implied. Led by Superintendent Charles Bernstein, the Board of Managers assumed a philosophy that focused on the recognition that people with disabilities “have a right to experiences and opportunities equivalent to those available to all other citizens.” Over fifty colony homes were established during Dr. Bernstein’s forty year superintendence, providing the people in attendance with many opportunities to live and work in the community.”

Rome Developmental Cemetery – This cemetery appears to be well maintained.
Annual Report of the Board of Managers of the Rome State …, Volumes 1-12.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE VIDEO They’re Buried Where? by Seth Voorhees

THE BAD NEWS: Thousands Remain Nameless! 6.15.2015.

THE GOOD NEWS: One Man Is Remembered! 6.14.2015.


22 thoughts on “Rome State School & Cemetery

  1. My grandmother’s sister, Anna M. Paul, was an ‘inmate’ of the Rome State School for Mental Defectives in 1940. I know she passed away sometime before my grandmother’s death in 1976. Besides being listed in the census of 1940 I can not find any other information about her. She is not listed as being buried in the cemetery.


    • my mother was in rome state school in 1940 as ahe was 7 years old listed as a inmate, she said it was the worst place for a child to be, ey put her in a room and gave her baby s to feed who had water on the head and were dying in her arms left and right, they also killed a young girl their, my mom will never forget her screams, my mom is still alive today, she hopes thy burn that horid place down


      • I was born there in 1957 luckily given up for adoption. I have met my birth family maternal side but believe my mother may have been impregnated by a staff member. How do I find access to employee rolls in the 1950’s or obtain my birth mother records


    • My mother Beverly McCall born 4/28/1940 and two uncles Stanton McCall Ronnie McCall were in The Rome State School. My aunt said when Uncle Stan left when they went to visit my mom…it was the most awful and scary place to go. My mom doesn’t remember age she went or age leaving. My mom told me she did stuff in the office and had shock treatments. She did say things were done to her. My mother was not very nice to me mentally or physically. It’s been a very long journey trying to understand The Rome State School and what did happen to my mother.
      I enjoy reading all postings and pictures.
      I appreciate any direction to go on this journey!
      Thank you!


      • Tana, I’d be really interested to talk to you and find out what you’ve learned about the school and your mom’s experience there. My uncle who had downs syndrome was there. His time there was definitely the worst few years of his life but he didn’t have the ability to speak a whole lot so I never quite knew much about what it would have been like there. But I’m trying out writing a small fiction script from his perspective – not actually about the school more about his life much later on but I think understanding some of the details of what it was like there might be really helpful


        • Hi Brittany Prater,
          Yes, I would like to share information. My mother passed away late September. I’m going to fill out forms for records from The Rome State School for the Feebleminded. Things happened to her…I want to know why. My my was very abusive to me as a child mentally and physically. Adulthood she was mentally abusive. But got along well with my younger sister.
          Let’s keep in touch.
          Tana Backus


  2. I am doing search on my family. I came across an uncle who listed as prisoner at Rome State School in census of 1940. I also found out he w as in WWII attached to the 712 Tank Battallion. He died in or near the Ardennes. He is buried in the Ardennes American Cemetery in Neupre, Belgium. I would like to know why he was in that school and listed as a prisoner. His name is Fred C. Putnam.


    • Do you know for sure that the Fred C. Putnam listed at Rome is your uncle? There are thousands of Putnams. My mother was a Putnam. I’m sure that there are many men with the name, Fred C. Putnam.


  3. My mom got out in 1940 ,when her mom died and her remarried dad came down from Syracuse to get her. Now I knew she was slow and didnt know a hell of alot, but she certainly was not retarded. Who knows what would have become of her had she stayed. She always told us it was for children without parents. Her mother didn’t want her. My father wasn’t much better calling her retarded. God rest her soul. I loved her.


  4. I recently received my deceased father’s adoption records stating that my biological grandmother was an “inmate” in Ward 2 of Rome State School. Her name was Sophia Gadden Rogers and my father was her 9th child. I have been my entire life wondering about my relatives and would like more information concerning this. His father was listed as unknown and at the time of my father’s birth November 27, 1932, my grandmother would have been 32. I would appreciate some direction or sources to further my search and hopefully connect with family.


  5. I’m still on a journey to find information about my mother and uncles. My grandmother left them at The Rome State School.
    Beverly McCall
    Ronald McCall
    Stanton McCall
    Any books written? News articles? Photos?
    Can family request records? If so how and where?
    Thanks for help with my journey!


  6. In my Ancestry research I discovered a relative, Clara Belle Fohs (also sometimes spelled Fuss) who was committed to this institution in 1904 when only 7 years old. Sadly, she spent her entire life there, dying in 1987 at the age of 90. She has no direct living relatives. She’s my first cousin 3x removed. I reached out to New York State Archives Researcher Services and the sent me to the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.

    Unfortunately they responded with this in November 2020:

    We cannot release records for this individual to you as, our agency is bound by the strict confidentiality requirements of the NYS Mental Hygiene Law §33.13. The NYS Mental Hygiene law permits OPWDD to release records about a deceased individual only to persons who held official authority to make health-related decisions on behalf of the deceased individual while he or she was alive, or if the individual gave written consent to share his/her information with a specific person prior to their death. Alternatively, OPWDD may be able to release records to you if you obtain a court order to that effect.

    I was hoping to learn more about Clara Belle beyond the little info that’s in the Census reports but it seems I’m at an impasse.

    There is a NY Times article from 1973 that describes the deplorable conditions at the school. It breaks my heart that Clara Belle spent 83 years at this place with likely no family visitation.


    • Dear Ryan, Send for her death certificate and say that she was your grandmother. They don’t know who you are but they won’t give you the death certificate unless you’re a direct relative. My great-grandmother died at Willard. I know exactly how you feel. Sincerely, Lin


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