A History of the National Association for Retarded Children, Inc.*
To name the time and place of the beginning of this movement is like trying to isolate the first growth of grass. For truly, this is a grass roots movement. Parents, in reaching out – seeking resources to help them meet this critical personal and family problem – found each other. Small groups huddled all over the country (and all over the world, we now find) but as nearly as can be told, the movement in this country had its beginning in the early ‘30’s.
At least among member groups of NARC, The Council for the Retarded Child in Cuyahoga County (Ohio), holds record seniority. This group was founded in 1933 to assist children of the area who had been excluded from the public schools. More than 10 other organizations were established in the 1930’s and one in 1942. Of these, there were two large groups: one, the Children’s Benevolent League (changed in 1952 to Washington Association for Retarded Children) in the state of Washington – founded in 1936 and composed primarily of parents whose children were in the state residential centers. The other – Welfare League for Retarded Children – was founded in 1939, and was made up of parents whose children were at Letchworth Village, a residential facility of new York State. Each was unaware of the others.
After World War II, organizational date seems to be 1946, and each succeeding year recorded an increasing number of groups. A survey published by Woodhull Hay in August, 1950, revealed 88 local groups (38 organizations) with 2 additional that didn’t exactly fit the definition, but who were operating to benefit retarded children and their families. This represented 19,300 dues – paying members, located in 19 states. The largest was the Children’s Benevolent League with 5,000 members in 11 local units.
The first glimmer of need for a national organization came when Mr. Alan Sampson of the Washington State Association was invited to read a paper about its activities, before the American Association on Mental Deficiency at the annual meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota in May 1947.
Much of the early encouragement for a national movement came from understanding professional workers in the states of New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, Minnesota, and from other individual professional leaders in the field from all over the country. The parent leaders were quick to see that there was much to be gained in unity, in communication and in working for the interests of their children on a broad front.
Again in 1949**at the New Orleans meeting, the AAMD devoted a part of its program to parent group action. Mr. R.T. Lindh of the Minnesota group (Association of Friends of the Mentally Retarded) and Mrs. L.H. Riggs of the Hamilton County (Ohio) Council for Retarded Children did speak. Further, Miss. Vincentz Cianci, a professional worker, told of parent group activities in New Jersey. (It's is interesting to note here that some of these lay leaders were not parents. For example, Mr. Lindh’s retarded child was his young brother-in-law.)
In 1950, two sessions were planned, with parent participation, at the AAMD meeting in Columbus, Ohio, for the consideration of the activities and problems of this growing phenomenon. Following these sessions, a handful of parents from east coast to west coast met – saw their destiny and went to work.
And there in Columbus the drama started to unfold. In the words of a parent who was there – “Imagine it! Practically every parent there thought his group was the pioneer. Most of us were strangers to each other – suspicious of everyone’s motives and jealous of their progress.” But the strange atmosphere soon changed. A steering committee was established, Miss Mildred Thomson’s invitation in the name of the Minnesota group was accepted, and the date set for September (1950) – in Minneapolis.
And there was drama as 30-40 Minnesota parents and friends scurried to prepare for they knew not what. From May to September, letters raced cross-continent and a suggested plan of organization was formulated to present to the delegates at Minneapolis. And it was there that the National Association of Parents and Friends of Mentally Retarded Children, breathed for the first time. (But everybody ran out of breath and so when the name was changed in 1952 to National Association for Retarded Children, the people writing press releases particularly breathed a sigh of relief.)
Ninety persons registered at the convention. Of these, 42 were delegates from 23 organizations in the states of: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
A masterful statement of purposes emanated from the labors of that first convention. These were parents with a purpose. No money, no precedent, no policy to follow. The officers and directors, in most instances, were strangers to one and another – but strangers with a common goal – to help ALL retarded children and their parents. (Formal ratification of the Constitution by the necessary 20 local groups was accomplished on February 6, 1951.)
In installing officers on that memorable Saturday night (Sept. 30th), Luther W. Youngdahl, then Governor of Minnesota said: “Our great democracy can be measured best by what it does for the least of its little citizens.” He turned a small hotel auditorium into a cathedral as the hearts and souls of misty-eyed parents echoed those words.
From inertia to momentum, NARC gathered strength as it rolled. Recognition followed and there’s nothing that succeeds like success. Or to use the words of Voltaire:
“There is one thing stronger than all the armies of the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.”
(Note: The NARC charter was filed and recorded on March 27, 1953, in the State of Tennessee, corporation record book Miscellaneous A-21, page 344 and duly executed by the Secretary of State, Nashville on that date.)
* From “Blueprint for a Crusade”, 1954, Publicity and Publications Manual, NARC.
** (No special time seems to have been devoted to parent group activities on the program of the AAMD meeting held in Boston in 1948.)