News and Announcements

Welcome to the Pennhurst Memorial & Preservation Alliance

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

PMPA Signs Memorandum of Agreement for future Museum/Interpretive Center

Exciting news for the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance, as President James Conroy signed a Memorandum of agreement for the future ownership of the superintendent's residence on the upper campus of the Pennhurst State School and Hospital. Sometimes dreams do come true! This is exciting news for all who care about the real history of the now closed Pennhurst center. Along with the PMPA, the agreement was signed by two other parties; The Department of Military and Veterans affairs (DMVA) and the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).

The DMVA had proposed to demolish all unused buildings on the "upper campus" including Capital, Audubon, Buchannan and Keystone, but through ongoing mitigation efforts between all parties, and the historical significance of Pennhurst, the agreement was reached to save the superintendent's residence, the garage, and approximately 4 acres surrounding the residence. The four large buildings listed above were all deemed infeasible to rehabilitate due to their structural condition and are creating health and safety hazards on the property. These buildings have remained unoccupied for decades.

In addition to the upgrades and expansion of services for our veterans, The DMVA agreement will upgrade roads, provide new campus site lighting, and will design and procure no less than five informational signs about the history of the former Pennhurst State Hospital to be placed at various locations on and around the DMVA property for maximum public and DMVA patient visibility.

The DMVA has also agreed to photographically record all historic buildings before demolition and provide historic blueprints and documents related to Pennhurst. Original copies would go to the Pennsylvania State Archives and PMPA would receive electronic copies.

The PMPA looks forward to the development of a future onsite, educational, and interactive Interpretive Center and museum, memorializing its place in disability history and is looking forward to working with community volunteers to make it happen!

Six Year Draft Plan for New Interpretive Center

The Superintendants Mansion

Year 1: Mitigation, stabilization, abatement, and fundraising
Year 2: Renovation and fundraising
Year 3: Interpretive Center design and preparation
Year 4: Interpretive Center Stage 1 opens on the first level.

  • Rooms one and two show the PMPA existing traveling exhibit, three sets of four panels each, including interactive kiosks, with volunteer guides and interpretive experts.
  • Room three shows historical videos including seating for lectures and presentations:
    • Somebody Touched Me (1965, United States Social & Rehabilitation Service, a recently discovered documentary made at Pennhurst in 1966 narrated by Henry Fonda)
    • Suffer the Little Children (1968, Bill Baldini, NBC, the first expose of institutional conditions - through depicting Pennhurst, the nation quickly learned that the conditions were typical in our 293 institutions similar to Pennhurst)
    • With a Voice Comes Understanding (1997, PA Department of Publis Welfare, a series of interviews with leaders who helped close Pennhurst)
    • A Call of Conscience (2010, Pennhurst Memorial & Preservation Alliance, a concise 11 minute summary of the tragedy and the triumph of what happened in our nation's public institutions for citizens with intellectual disabilities)
    • Individual Lives (Interviews that preserve the life stories of people who lived at Pennhurst and either died there, or were released into new community homes in eastern Pennsylvania)

Year 5: Interpretive Center Stage 2 is completed in the lower level

  • "What It Was Really Like" multimedia experimental exhibit, designed to recreate what it was like to walk into a "ward" in the 1960s
    • It is multimedia, with wall photos derived from Christmas in Purgatory, wall paintings of people lined up o benches, reconstructed bathrooms without privacy, reproductions of pureed food on metal trays, video sequences looping from Suffer The Little Children and other sources in some rooms, and very loud and accurate reproductions of the sound of such a "ward". The most unforgettable component of that experience is almost universally reported to be the odor. This element of the multimedia experience will be considered with a bias toward inclusion.

Year 6: Interpretive Center Stage 3 is completed on the upper second level.

  • All four rooms will explain in sequence the social forces that led to Pennhurst's creation, decay, and closure and house artifacts with descriptive labels including
    • The reasons for the creation of Pennhurst and places like it, particularly the eugenics movement
    • The rapid decline of Pennhurst into underfunding, overcrowding, and finally conditions so inhuman that they could not be ignored by society
    • The awakening stirred by the media and families and courts - leading to the Right to Education, The Right to Treatment, and The Right to Community - and finally to the court funding that Pennhurst and places like Pennhurst were unconstitutional by their very nature
    • The ultimate triumph of movement to community support systems and far better lives. The legacy of Pennhurst is not misery, but rather that this is where the nation and the world first learned that "there is a better way" to support citizens who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. The impacts on national and international policy will be described as "still unfolding"
  • When complete, the rooms on the third floor will be held in reserve for overnight stays by visiting scholars, lecturers, staff and possibly paying visitors who are touring the full historic campus that is owned by a private group

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

Host our Traveling Exhibit: The Pennhurst Story - from Tragedy to Disability Rights

A free traveling exhibition detailing the rise and fall of the infamous Pennhurst State School and Hospital

Created by the PM&PA, this photographic jouney, consisting of thirteen 3'x7' retractable banners tells the story of Pennhurst in a three-part series detailing life at Pennhurst, the fall of Pennhurst, and the legacy of Pennhurst.

This exhibit can be set up in a large meeting room with plenty of space left for an audience. The exhibit is usually left in place for a month, with a grand opening program featuring speakers from the PM&PA and elsewhere. There is no cost to the sponsoring organization. Exhibit sponsors to date have included county governments, libraries, self-advocacy organizations, colleges, and service providers

This exhibit includes a free-standing interactive kiosk with historic recordings, a blueprint of a Pennhurst ward, and a look ahead to the future development of the onsite Pennhurst Interpretive Center and Museum.

If your organization is interested in hosting the Pennhurst exhibit, please contact Janet Albert-Herman at to discuss details and availability.

We are no longer working with a grant for this progect, so we are asking host sites to consider making a donation towards mileage, replacement, and repairs to the exhibit.

Washington DC Meeting with Smithsonian's National Museum Curator

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Meeting at the Smithsonian with Madeleine Will, Jim Conroy, and Katherine Ott.

Co-president Jim Conroy met with Smithsonian's National Museum curator, Dr Katherine Ott, of The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Dr. Ott was also the exhibition curator for "The Disability Rights Movement",  which looks at the efforts - far from over - of people with disabilities, and their families and friends, to secure the civil rights guaranteed to all Americans. This exhibit physically existed in the gallery from July 2000 to July 2001, marking the 10th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act,.  It is now a permanent online exhibition.

After mentioning the upcoming meeting with Madeleine Will over lunch at the Mayflower Hotel in DC, Madeleine asked if she could join Dr. Conroy. Madeleine Will is the parent of a son with Down syndrome and was Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (under the U.S. Department of Education) in the 1980's and has continued her advocacy at the national level for  over three decades, including Vice President of Public Policy at the National Down Syndrome Society.

Dr Conroy stated, "When we arrived, Dr. Ott had invited Ms. Beth Ziebarth, who is in charge of accessibility programs and policies of the Smithsonian. The four of us spent half an hour getting acquainted in the conference room, then 5 minutes in Dr. Ott's full-to-the-brim-with-fascinating-stuff office, and finally a half hour in the medical history storage room. Dr. Ott showed us some of the most intriguing items that have been donated, and fascinated us with tales & nuggets of disability history. The Smithsonian is really the key ally for our long term vision, and I think we now have that linkage made".

PMPA will remain in touch with these allies regularly.

The ADA Legacy Project

The ADA Legacy Project is an organization that is in line with the PMPA mission. PMPA Advisory Board member Colleen Weick of Minnesota's DD Council is a member. Katherine Ott of The Smithsonian Museum is an advisory member. This group seems ideal for us to join and further the concept of a national presence for memorialization. Therefore, The Directors of PMPA completed the membership application to join this organization.

The mission of The ADA Legacy Project is to honor the contributions of people with disabilities and their allies by:

  • preserving and promoting the history of the disability rights movement;
  • celebrating the impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as other related    disability rights legislation and accomplishments; and
  • educating the public to create opportunities for inclusion, access, and equal rights for the future.

Preservation, celebration, and education: this is how The ADA Legacy Project will honor this historic civil rights legislation and create its legacy: a world in which every citizen is accepted for who they are.

Jim Conroy to Co-author New Book

Dr. Jim Conroy, co-president of PMPA will once again be writing and compiling information for a brand new book titled: Threshold of Freedom: The Revolutionary Promise of Self-Determination for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities.  He along with co-author Patricia Carver, founder and owner of Community Drive Inc. of Brighton, Michigan, had their proposal accepted for publication by The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.  The AAIDD was founded in 1876, making it the oldest inter-disciplinary professional society with a focus on intellectual disability in the world.

According to Dr Conroy, “A vast majority of the book will focus on the collective writings of Tom Nerney.”  Tom is a long-time advocate for people with developmental disabilities, is director and co-founder of The Center for Self-Determination in Ann Arbor, Michigan and author of Lost Lives. The Center for Self-Determination is a national effort to help individuals with disabilities, family members and professionals implement the principles of self-determination. Self-determination is based on five core principles that support the belief that all people have the right to choose where they will live, how they will live their lives and with whom they will share them. They have both the right and the responsibility to use their lives to contribute to their communities in meaningful ways. A key part of self-determination is having personal control over the resources allocated for their support.  The forward to the book will be written by Madeleine Will.  

Answering the Call of Conscience:  An Economically-Viable Path to a Sensitive Re-Use at Pennhurst

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Preliminary Financial Feasibility Analysis, Historic Restoration of Pennhurst, August 2011

The nationally-renowned firm Urban Partners, with the assistance of grant funding from the Bard Foundation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, undertook an Economic Feasibility Study to see if and how the results of the 2009-2010 Community Design Collaborative Re-Use Design Study could be implemented. We are pleased to announce that the study has shown that the sensitive, meaningful re-use of 11 historic core buildings is financially viable. Download Urban Partner's report here.

Some important points:

  • The Community Design Collaborative study said the current building stock was the site’s greatest asset, and that it could be re-used without precluding a range of other use types on the property;
  • The township’s preservation ordinance supports preservation here;
  • The area’s most reputable real estate market analysis firm has found a use that could achieve preservation and still allow other types of development on 75% of the rest of the site;
  • An investor is willing to provide up-front funding of $15 million, with the net result of a higher-quality end product.

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.

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