UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Remove from our midst these unfortunates : a historical inquiry into the influence of eugenics, educational efficiency as well as mental hygiene upon the Vancouver school system and its special classes, 1910-1969 Thomson, Gerald E.


This is a history of special education in the Vancouver school system from 1911 to 1969. Special education is taken in the broadest sense to mean all forms of school instruction specifically created to depart from the preparation of a pupil for matriculation or academic graduation. The historical course of school reform in Vancouver was driven by the need to accommodate children who traditionally left school for work when they became too old for their grade placement. However, in a general sense, this history documents the evolution of the Vancouver school system itself from the early to mid-twentieth century and the forces which lay behind various aspects of school reform. The special classes for subnormal students was the first reform effort to deal with non-traditional pupils or feeble-minded school children as found by the second school doctor after 1910. This, in turn, led to the hiring of an American psychologist from Seattle, Washington, to find a new type of feeble-minded child, the higher-grade moron, in order to expand the special classes even further. The psychologist introduced mental testing into Vancouver's schools and helped to create a climate of acceptance for such scientific innovations in education. This study reveals the important role a group of principals played in promoting education reform within Vancouver's schools. They began to take courses at the University of Washington during the early 1920s and helped to popularize many facets of American educational efficiency. Platooning, mental testing, differential high school curriculum organized into vocational/academic tracks, and the expansion of the special classes for subnormal children acted to organize, as well as categorize, large numbers of students in order to achieve educational efficiency. The creation of the Bureau of Measurements in 1927 and the opening of Kitsilano Junior High in 1928 represented the culmination of this effort to bring scientific efficiency to the schools of Vancouver. The influence of the 1925 Putman/Weir Survey of the School System must be re-evaluated in light of the evidence this study presents regarding the transmission of ideas from the Seattle school system and the University of Washington to Vancouver. The study also elucidates two other intellectual forces that propelled school reform in Vancouver. American educational efficiency has already been mentioned. Eugenics and the promotion of its principles by the first special education teacher, the first woman to chair the School Board, and the Local Council of Women had long-term consequences. The eugenic rationale for the segregation of subnormal school children became entrenched in educational policies of the school system itself. The forced institutionalization of the feebleminded, as well as their sterilization, were legalized under provincial statutes. Mental hygiene was officially introduced to Vancouver's schools in 1939 and was dispensed by the first clinical psychiatrist who remained in his position of authority until retiring in 1969. As head of the Mental Hygiene Division of the Metropolitan Health Services during the post-Second World War period the psychiatrist began training counsellors to deal with mentally-troubled youths. Archival data shows that most of these troubled youths were from the working-class east side of the city as opposed to the wealthier west side. What emerges is a historical pattern emerges of discrimination against various types of exceptional students who had to be removed from the midst of the regular classroom. This study encompasses the scope of school reorganization in Vancouver during the period 1911 to 1969 through various special education reforms. It traces the erosion of traditional education but also attempts to reveal the conservative nature of the enacted school reforms. The differentiation, segregation and labelling of students in order to educate them according to their natural intellectual ability was on the surface educationally progressive. In the end this study will show these practices to be more bureaucratic solutions than reformist measures.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.

Usage Statistics