News and Announcements

Welcome to the Pennhurst Memorial & Preservation Alliance

PMPA Board Meetings

2nd Saturday of Every Month - 10 AM

Because of COVID-19 advisories and the need for social isolation, board meetings will only be held by teleconferencing using ZOOM until further notice.

Join us on Zoom at and log in
Guests welcomed to attend

The Mission of the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance is to promote an understanding of the struggle for dignity and full civil rights for persons with disabilities, using the little-known history at Pennhurst. By sharing this tragic story as well as its landmark victories, we seek to educate citizens in local, national and international communities, to assure that we never go back.

The Vision of the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance is to be part of an effort to create a world-class museum to honor and memorialize the ongoing civil and human rights struggle of Americans with disabilities at a location of national significance, to assure that we never go back.

There are many steps involved in each of these aspects of the mission, including collecting the stories of the people who lived here and were affected by the world-changing achievements wrought here. We invite your support of these works, which require an extraordinary amount of time and money.

Your donations of time and money are crucial to the growth and development of the PMPA

Pennhurst Then and Now

A poem by By Kate Jirik, Ph.D., PMPA Board Member
Click here

Join Us In A Dream!

It's about time to have a National Museum of Disability History and Civil Rights

The Vision of the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance is to be part of an effort to create a world-class museum to honor and memorialize the ongoing civil and human rights struggle of Americans with disabilities at a location of national significance, to assure that we never go back.

Our goal this year is to invite leaders of local, state and national disability advocacy organizations representing all disabling conditions, political leaders, foundations and public figures to an organizing meeting to kick off this effort.

In 2017, we all celebrated the 30th anniversary of the closing of Pennhurst in 1987, a historic moment leading to the development of community alternatives and family supports, and this year celebrate the 30th anniversary of the groundbreaking documentary, Suffer The Little Children, that shocked the general public upon seeing the dehumanizing conditions at Pennhurst, only 35 miles outside Philadelphia.  This documentary galvanized public opinion and the parent advocacy movement and led to the first federal class action court suit seeking guarantees of a free and appropriate public education of all children regardless of the level or severity of the disabling condition. The Pennsylvania consent decree, signed in 1972, led to the passage of federal Public Law 94-142, The Education of All Children Act (now known as IDEA)

Join us in this continuing historic civil rights journey by respecting the past as a lesson about how to create a more preferred future for more than 54 million Americans with disabling conditions and their families.


About Pennhurst: A Place of Triumph

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The recently unveiled Pennhurst Historical Marker, Spring City

Once called the shame of the nation, Pennhurst was the epicenter of a civil and human rights movement that changed the way the world saw people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The atrocities of neglect at Pennhurst resulted in Supreme Court litigation that sounded the death knell for institutionalization worldwide. Pennhurst stands as a monument not just to the despair of social apathy but more importantly to the bright triumph of an engaged citizenry--and the eternal hope that great change is possible from the cumulative efforts of caring people. For these reasons it must be preserved.

Pennhurst was the battleground in a monumental struggle to secure basic human rights for the last group of Americans to attain privileges assumed to be the natural freedoms of all persons. Pennhurst's historic and beautiful campus is, like Valley Forge and Independence Mall to the east, hallowed ground in the struggle for dignity and self-determination, a western anchor to a freedom corridor, that, though stretching but a few miles, reaches all the way around the world.

Through preservation and adaptive re-use of the historic Pennhurst campus, the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance seeks to ensure that those achievements won at Pennhurst are neither lost nor forgotten. We seek to reclaim this once painful place as a center of conscience, healing, and outreach. This process is essential in the creation and preservation of a society where, all people are valued and respected, and where all people have the knowledge, opportunity, and power to improve their lives and the lives of others. Join us.

Historic 1968 Elwyn Video Discovery - Moving from Institution to Community

A 1968 film about moving folks from institution to community was just unearthed. The 8 minute documentary shows the successful transition of people from the Elwyn Institute in Pennsylvania into community living and working. It is likely that this is the first evidence of the process of deinstitutionalization. Thanks to Albert Bussone, formerly of Elwyn. PMPA digitized the film for preservation. See it here.

"Pennhurst and the Struggle for Disability Rights"

The new book, "Pennhurst and the Struggle for Disability Rights" co-authored by PMPA Board Members Dr. Dennis Downey and Dr. Jim Conroy and published by Penn State University Press, can now be ordered from Amazon and Penn State University Press. The book is a must for everyone in the disability field and will make an excellent reference book to teach students in colleges and universities as Pennhurst was the forerunner of using the Federal courts to end dehumanization and discrimination of persons living in institutions which led to the beginning emergence of community based services.

Conceived in the era of eugenics as a solution to what was termed the "problem of the feeble-minded," state-operated institutions subjected people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to a life of compulsory incarceration. One of nearly 300 such facilities in the United States, Pennhurst State School and Hospital was initially hailed as a "model institution" but was later revealed to be a nightmare, where medical experimentation and physical and psychological abuse were rampant. At its peak, more than 3,500 residents were confined at Pennhurst, supervised by a staff of fewer than 600.

Using a blended narrative of essays and first-person accounts, this history of Pennhurst examines the institution from its founding during an age of Progressive reform to its present-day exploitation as a controversial Halloween attraction. In doing so, it traces a decades-long battle to reform the abhorrent school and hospital and reveals its role as a catalyst for the disability rights movement. Beginning in the 1950s, parent-advocates, social workers, and attorneys joined forces to challenge the dehumanizing conditions at Pennhurst. Their groundbreaking advocacy, accelerated in 1968 by the explosive televised exposé Suffer the Little Children, laid the foundation for lawsuits that transformed American jurisprudence and ended mass institutionalization in the United States. As a result, Pennhurst became a symbolic force in the disability civil rights movement in America and around the world. 

Use QR code to purchase the book

Extensively researched and featuring the stories of survivors, parents, and advocates, this compelling history will appeal both to those with connections to Pennhurst and to anyone interested in the history of institutionalization and the disability rights movement.

The Pennhurst Images of America Book Is Now Available!

Pennhurst Images of America Book

Pennhurst State School and Hospital (Images of America) by the PMPA's J. Gregory Pirmann, and published by Arcadia Publishing, is now available for purchase at Amazon!

The archival images in this book primarily come from reports sent to the legislature by the board of trustees in the first 20 years of Pennhursts existence. Others have been gathered from a variety of sources, collected over the years by the author. This book provides a unique window into the separate world of Pennhurst State School and Hospital, reminding those who were part of it of what they saw and did there and giving those who know only what they have heard or seen a different picture of what Pennhurst truly was.

Click here to purchase the book at Amazon Smile.

Amazon Shoppers: You Can Help Support PMPA

When you shop on AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to PMPA. Every item available for purchase on is also available on AmazonSmile ( at the same price. When first visiting AmazonSmile, customers are prompted to select a charitable organization. Please select “ Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance”. You will only have to do this once. You will see eligible products marked "Eligible for Amazon Smile donation" on their product detail pages. For those of you who have an Amazon Prime account, you can use your Prime account and still use the Smile website.

Let Amazon help support PMPA!




Admin Line Drawing
Principal drawing by Emily Scali
Click Here for Emily Scali's drawing of Admin, Mayflower & Limerick buildings


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Official Statement Regarding Trespassing on the Pennhurst Property