Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Public Affairs and Administration

First Advisor

Dr. Ralph C. Chandler

Second Advisor

Dr. William Ritchie

Third Advisor

Dr. Donald Sellin


This dissertation traces the historical development of Michigan's public policy associated with the residential care and treatment of mentally retarded people. Michigan laws and programs from 1830 through 1983 were studied after being compared to a national history. The central question was: What factors, over time, influenced public policy related to residential care and treatment of the mentally retarded?

Initially, care was the responsibility of families and friends of the mentally retarded. This responsibility shifted from townships to counties, then to the state during the nineteenth century. Until the late 1800s many mentally retarded people were housed on county poor farms and in asylums for the insane. In 1895 the first state institution for the mentally retarded opened in Lapeer, Michigan.

The Lapeer State Home and Training School for the Feebleminded developed as a school designed to ameliorate mental retardation. By the 1930s Michigan's facilities had become large institutions to protect society from the retarded who were perceived as deviant. Institutions continued to grow in number and size between 1900 and 1960.

In the 1960s major changes began to take place in Michigan's public mental health system. The change process was studied using a framework developed by the Council of State Governments. The change factors studied included governmental initiatives, interest group actions, social consensus, resource availability and judicial opinion.

Change in Michigan public policy regarding the mentally retarded was influenced by combinations of change forces considered. Between 1960 and 1983, governmental initiatives and interest group action appear to have had the most direct, long-term impact on changing services. However, determination of degrees of influence was not within the scope of this study and quantitative rankings were not developed.

Public policy in Michigan has come full circle. In 1830 the mentally retarded were a familial or local responsibility. By the 1900s many were being moved into state institutions. Today the emphasis is again on family responsibility. Changes in the laws, population definitions and programs have been greatly influenced by both interest group actions and governmental initiative.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access