Feeble-mindedness (rarely Above 75 I Q)

There are innumerable grades of mental deficiency ranging from somewhat below

average intelligence to profound idiocy. In the literal sense every individual

below the average is more or less mentally weak or feeble. Only a relatively small

proportion of these, however, are technically known as feeble-minded. It

is therefore necessary to set forth the criterion as to what constitutes

feeble-mindedness in the commonly accepted sens
of that word.

The definition in most general use is the one framed by the Royal

College of Physicians and Surgeons of London, and adopted by the English

Royal Commission on Mental Deficiency. It is substantially as follows:--

_A feeble-minded person is one who is incapable, because of mental

defect existing from birth or from an early age, (a) of competing on

equal terms with his normal fellows; or (b) of managing himself or his

affairs with ordinary prudence._

Two things are to be noted in regard to this definition: In the first

place, it is stated in terms of social and industrial efficiency. Such

efficiency, however, depends not merely on the degree of intelligence,

but also on emotional, moral, physical, and social traits as well. This

explains why some individuals with I Q somewhat below 75 can hardly be

classed as feeble-minded in the ordinary sense of the term, while others

with I Q a little above 75 could hardly be classified in any other


In the second place, the criterion set up by the definition is not very

definite because of the vague meaning of the expression "ordinary

prudence." Even the expression "competing on equal terms" cannot be

taken literally, else it would include also those who are merely dull.

It is the second part of the definition that more nearly expresses the

popular criterion, for as long as an individual manages his affairs in

such a way as to be self-supporting, and in such a way as to avoid

becoming a nuisance or burden to his fellowmen, he escapes the

institutions for defectives and may pass for normal.

The most serious defect of the definition comes from the lax

interpretation of the term "ordinary prudence," etc. The popular

standard is so low that hundreds of thousands of high grade defectives

escape identification as such. Moreover, there are many grades of

severity in social and industrial competition. For example, most of the

members of such families as the Jukes, the Nams, the Hill Folk, and the

Kallikaks are able to pass as normal in their own crude environment, but

when compelled to compete with average American stock their deficiency

becomes evident. It is therefore necessary to supplement the social

criterion with a more strictly psychological one.

For this purpose there is nothing else as significant as the I Q. All

who test below 70 I Q by the Stanford revision of the Binet-Simon scale

should be considered feeble-minded, and it is an open question whether

it would not be justifiable to consider 75 I Q as the lower limit of

"normal" intelligence. Certainly a large proportion falling between

70 and 75 can hardly be classed as other than feeble-minded, even

according to the social criterion.

_Examples of feeble-minded school children_

_F. C. Boy, age 8-6; mental age 4-2; I Q approximately 50._ From

a very superior home. Has had the best medical care and other

attention. Attended a private kindergarten until rejected

because he required so much of the teacher's time and appeared

uneducable. Will probably develop to about the 6- or 7-year

mental level. High grade imbecile. Has since been committed to a

state institution. Cases as low as F. C. very rarely get into

the public schools.

_R. W. Boy, age 13-10; mental age 7-6; I Q approximately 55._

Home excellent. Is pubescent. Because of age and maturity has

been promoted to the third grade, though he can hardly do the

work of the second. Has attended school more than six years.

Will probably never develop much if any beyond 8 years, and will

never be self-supporting. Low-grade moron.

_M. S. Girl, age 7-6; mental age 4-6; I Q 60._ Father a

gardener, home conditions and medical attention fair. Has twice

attempted first grade, but without learning to read more than a

few words. In each case teacher requested parents to withdraw

her. "Takes" things. Is considered "foolish" by the other

children. Will probably never develop beyond a mental level of

8 years.

_R. M. Boy, age 15; mental age 9; I Q 60._ Decidedly superior

home environment and care. After attending school eight years is

in fifth grade, though he cannot do the work of the fourth

grade. Parents unable to teach him to respect property. Boys

torment him and make his life miserable. At middle-moron level

and has probably about reached the limit of his development. Has

since been committed to a state institution.

_S. M. Girl, age 19-2; mental age 10; I Q approximately 65 (not

counting age beyond 16)._ From very superior family. Has

attended public and private schools twelve years and has been

promoted to seventh grade, where she cannot do the work. Appears

docile and childlike, but is subject to spells of disobedience

and stubbornness. Did not walk until 4 years old. Plays with

young children. Susceptible to attention from men and has to be

constantly guarded. Writing excellent, knows the number

combinations, but missed all the absurdities and has the

vocabulary of an average 10-year-old. The type from which

prostitutes often come.

_R. H. Boy, age 14; mental age 8-4; I Q 65._ Father Irish,

mother Spanish. Family comfortable and home care average. Has

attended school eight years and is unable to do fourth-grade

work satisfactorily. Health excellent and attendance regular.

Reads in fourth reader without expression and with little

comprehension of what is read. Fair skill in number

combinations. Writing and drawing very poor. Cannot use a ruler.

Has no conception of an inch.

R. H. is described as high-tempered, irritable, lacking in

physical activity, clumsy, and unsteady. Plays little. Just

"stands around." Indifferent to praise or blame, has little

sense of duty, plays underhand tricks. Is slow, absent-minded,

easily confused, in thought, never shows appreciation or

interest. So apathetic that he does not hear commands. Voice

droning. Speech poor in colloquial expressions.

Three years later, at age of 17, was in a special class

attempting sixth-grade work. Reported as doing "absolutely

nothing" in that grade. Still sullen, indifferent, and slow in

grasping directions, and lacking in play interests. "No

apperception of anything, but has mastered such mechanical

things as reading (calling the words) and the fundamentals in


In school work, moral traits, and out-of-school behavior R. H.

shows himself to be a typical case of moron deficiency.

_I. M. Girl, age 14-2; mental age 9; I Q approximately 65._

Father a laborer. Does unsatisfactory work in fourth grade.

Plays with little girls. A menace to the morals of the school

because of her sex interests and lack of self-restraint. Rather

good-looking if one does not hunt for appearances of

intelligence. Mental reactions intolerably slow. Will develop

but little further and will always pass as feeble-minded in any

but the very lowest social environment.

_G. V. Boy, age 10; mental age 6-4; I Q 65._ Father Spanish,

mother English. Family poor but fairly respectable. Brothers and

sisters all retarded. In high first grade. Work all very poor

except writing, drawing, and hand work, in all of which he

excels. Is quiet and inactive, lacks self-confidence, and plays

little. Mentally slow, inert, "thick," and inattentive. Health


Three years later G. V. was in the low third grade and still

doing extremely poor work in everything except manual training,

drawing, and writing. Is not likely ever to go beyond the fourth

or fifth grade however long he remains in school.

_V. J. Girl, age 11-6; mental age 8; I Q 70._ Has been tested

three times in the last five years, always with approximately

the same result in terms of I Q. Home fair to inferior. Has been

in a special class two years and in school altogether nearly six

years. Is barely able to do third-grade work. Her

feeble-mindedness is recognized by teachers and by other pupils.

Belongs at about middle-moron to high-moron level.

_A. W. Boy, age 9-4; mental age 7; I Q 75._ A year and a half

ago he tested at 6-2. From superior family, brothers of very

superior intelligence. In school three years and has made about

a grade and a half. Has higher I Q than V. J. described above,

but his deficiency is fully as evident. Is generally recognized

as mentally defective. Slyly abstracted one of the pennies used

in the test and slipped it into his pocket. Has caused much

trouble at school by puncturing bicycle tires. High-grade moron.

_A. C. Boy, age 12; mental age 8-5; I Q 70._ From Portuguese

family of ten children. Has a feeble-minded brother. Parents in

comfortable circumstances and respectable. A. C. has attended

school regularly since he was 6 years old. Trying unsuccessfully

to do the work of the fourth grade. Reads poorly in the third

reader. Hesitates, repeats, miscalls words, and never gets the

thought. Writes about like a first-grade pupil. Cannot solve

such simple problems as "How many marbles can you buy for ten

cents if one marble costs five cents?" even when he has marbles

and money in his hands. Described by teacher as "mentally slow

and inert, inattentive, easily distracted, memory poor, ideas

vague and often absurd, does not appreciate stories, slow at

comprehending commands." Is also described as "unruly,

boisterous, disobedient, stubborn, and lacking sense of

propriety. Tattles."

Three years later, at age of 15, was in a special class and was

little if any improved. He had, however, learned the mechanics

of reading and had mastered the number combinations.

Deficiencies described as "of wide range." Conduct, however, had

improved. Was "working hard to get on."

A. C. must be considered definitely feeble-minded.

_H. S. Boy, age 11; mental age 8-3; I Q approximately 75._ At

8 years tested at 6. Parents highly educated, father a scholar.

Brother and sister of very superior intelligence. Started to

school at 7, but was withdrawn because of lack of progress.

Started again at 8 and is now doing poor work in the second

grade. Weakly and nervous. Painfully aware of his inability to

learn. During the test keeps saying, "I tried anyway," "It's all

I can do if I try my best, ain't it?" etc. Regarded defective by

other children. Will probably never be able to do work beyond

the fourth or fifth grade and is not likely to develop above the

11-year level, if as high.

_I. S. Boy, age 9-6; mental age 7; I Q 75._ German parentage.

Started to school at 6. Now in low second grade and unable to do

the work. Health good. Inattentive, mentally slow and inert,

easily distracted, speech is monotone. Equally poor in reading,

writing, and numbers. I. S. is described as quiet, sullen,

indifferent, lazy, and stubborn. Plays little.

Three years later had advanced from low second to low fourth

grade, but was as poor as ever in his school work. "Miscalls the

simplest words." Moral traits unsatisfactory. May reach sixth or

seventh grade if he remains in school long enough.

I. S. learned to walk at 2 years and to talk at 3.

The above are cases of such marked deficiency that there could be no

disagreement among competent judges in classifying them in the group of

"feeble-minded." All are definitely institutional cases. It is a matter

of record, however, that one of the cases, H. S., was diagnosed by a

physician (without test) as "backward but not a defective." and with the

added encouragement that "the backwardness will be outgrown." Of course

the reverse is the case; the deficiency is becoming more and more

apparent as the boy approaches the age where more is expected of him.

In at least three of the above cases (S. M., I. S., and I. M.) the

teachers had not identified the backwardness as feeble-mindedness. Not

far from 2 children out of 100, or 2 out of 1000, in the average public

school are as defective as some of those just described. Teachers get so

accustomed to seeing a few of them in every group of 200 or 300 pupils

that they are likely to regard them as merely dull,--"dreadfully dull,"

of course,--but not defective.

Children like these, for their own good and that of other pupils, should

be kept out of the regular classes. They will rarely be equal to the

work of the fifth grade, however long they attend school. They will

make a little progress in a well-managed special class, but with the

approach of adolescence, at latest, the State should take them into

custodial care for its own protection.