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Tasmania - Glossary Term

Feeble-Minded (1920 - 1963)


Feeble-minded was a term used in the early to mid twentieth century to describe a mild form of intellectual disability.


Section Five of the 1920 Mental Deficiency Act described feeble-mindedness as:

persons in whose case there exists from birth or an early age mental defectiveness not amounting to imbecility, yet so pronounced that they require care, supervision, and control for their own protection or for the protection of others, or in the case of children, that they by such defectiveness appear to be permanently incapable of receiving proper benefit from instruction in ordinary schools.

The Act established the Mental Deficiency Board which supervised children and adults diagnosed as feeble-minded or with other forms of so called mental deficiency. It also established the State Psychological Clinic which provided the diagnosis.

Influenced by eugenics, the framers of the Act did not believe that so called feeble-mindedness could be cured. However, they did think that, with proper training and supervision, children that received the diagnosis could lead happy lives.

Children diagnosed as feeble-minded often did not have an intellectual disability. Challenging behaviour, inadequately managed physical disabilities such as deafness, educational disadvantage, an institutional upbringing, and poverty, neglect or abuse could all lead to this diagnosis.

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Journal Articles

  • Rodwell, Grant, ''If the feeble-minded are to be preserved': special education and eugenics in Tasmania, 1900-1930', Issues in educational research, vol. 8, no. 2, 1998, pp. 131-156. Also available at Details

Prepared by: Caroline Evans