In 1922, the Massachusetts State Legislature appropriated funds for the creation of an institution in Belchertown, MA, a rural farm town nestled in the hills of the Pioneer Valley. As a result of a progressive movement led by Dorthea Dix in the mid 19th century, institutions like Belchertown became the popular means of accomodation for the "feebleminded" in the early 20th century.
As investigations into the causes of disabilities intensified, however, social policy transformed from protecting the disabled to quarantining individuals seen as genetically defective and dangerous to society. Isolated from the general population and suffering from a lack of funding, the Belchertown State Schools figuratively and literally crumbled from within.
As the plight of the residents at Belchertown worsened, concerned parents and friends led a grassroots movement for change. A class-action lawsuit, headed by Umass professor and activist Benjamin Ricci in 1973, led to a fundamental rethinking of social policy towards the disabled.
Purgatory. chronicles the tragic history of the Belchertown State Schools from conception to close, investigating what exactly went wrong as well as the problems faced by those with disabilities in the present and future.