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B MS c44

Kerlin, Isaac Newton, 1834-1893. Papers, 1838-1970 (inclusive), 1838-1891 (bulk): Finding Aid.

Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine)


Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine)

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: B MS c44
Repository: Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine)
Title: Isaac Newton Kerlin Papers,
Date(s): 1838-1970 (inclusive),
Date(s): 1838-1891 (bulk).
Quantity: 1 collection (.4 cubic feet (1 letter size document box).)
Abstract: The Isaac Newton Kerlin Papers, 1838-1970 (inclusive), 1838-1891 (bulk) consist of correspondence, notes, photographs, reports, and publications produced and collected by Isaac Newton Kerlin as Superintendent of the Pennsylvania Training School for Feeble-Minded Children in Elwyn from 1863 to 1893. A letter from 1970 contains a request from the owners of the Elwyn Institute for the donation of Kerlin's papers.

Processing Information:

Processed by Jessica Lee Gleason under the supervision of Bryan Sutherland, October 2010.
Processing staff in the Center for the History of Medicine analyzed, arranged, and described the records and created a finding aid to improve access to the collection. To enhance preservation, processing staff re-housed the collection and, where necessary, photocopied documents onto acid-free paper. Folder titles were transcribed from originals.

Conditions Governing Access:

Access requires advance notice. There are no restrictions on this collection. Records are stored on-site. Contact the Public Services for further information.

Conditions Governing Use:

The Boston Medical Library does not hold copyright on all the materials in the collection. Requests for permission to publish material from the collection should be directed to Public Services. Researchers who obtain permission to publish from Public Services are responsible for identifying and contacting the persons or organizations that hold copyright. Public Services and Access Information.

Preferred Citation:

Isaac Newton Kerlin Papers, 1838-1970 (inclusive), 1838-1891 (bulk). B MS c44. Boston Medical Library, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Boston, Mass.

Related Papers at Houghton Library, Harvard University

Biographical Note

Isaac Newton Kerlin (1834-1893), M.D., 1856, University of Pennsylvania, served as superintendent of the Pennsylvania Institute for Feeble-Minded Children in Elwyn, Pennsylvania from 1858 to 1893. His work there included the study and care of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (mental retardation), as well as the promotion of similar charitable schools. The mission of the Institute was to care for children with special needs, keeping them from living on the streets or being jailed with violent criminals.
Isaac Newton Kerlin was born in Burlington, New Jersey on 27 May 1834. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1856, he acted as the Assistant Superintendent of the Pennsylvania Training School for Feeble-Minded Children at Germantown, Pennsylvania (1856-1862). In 1859, the school was relocated to Elwyn, Pennsylvania. In 1862, Kerlin enlisted as a medical officer in the Army of the Potomac, serving for one year before being recalled to the Pennsylvania Institute for Feeble-Minded Children to become Superintendent, a position he held from 1863 to 1893.
In the nearly three decades of this tenure at the Pennsylvania Training School for Feeble-Minded Children, Kerlin was a leader in the field of mental retardation. During this time, the school saw its greatest growth; at the start of his term there were 144 pupils at the school and upon his death there were well over 800. Starting in 1876, he promoted the development of similar institutions, in the belief that mentally retarded persons should not be neglected in insane asylums, penal institutions, or almshouses. A deeply religious man, Kerlin tolerated no ill-treatment of his patients, prohibiting all attendants from carrying switches, canes, or sticks. All sterilizations of patients at Elwyn were performed with the consent of the parents. Kerlin believed that institutions were not solely for children and that all feeble-minded persons were wards of the state.
Isaac Newton Kerlin was a member of the American Association on Mental Deficiency. He served as the Secretary of the National Association of the Medical Officers of American Institutions for the Feeble-Minded, spending the summer of 1889 abroad examining foreign institutions in Great Britain, Norway, and Denmark. He later served as Nestor and succeeded to President in 1892.
In 1865, Isaac Newton Kerlin married Harriet C. Dix (1842-1892) of Massachusetts. They had four children: John Ware Sharpless; Isaac Newton, Jr.; Ward Dix; and Thaddeus Leavitt. Kerlin died 25 October 1893 and was buried on the grounds at Elwyn.

Resources about Isaac Newton Kerlin.

Series and Subseries in the Collection

Scope and Content

The Isaac Newton Kerlin Papers, 1838-1970 (inclusive), 1838-1891 (bulk) consist of correspondence, notes, photographs, reports, circulars, pamphlets, admission papers, obituaries, and publications. Series I contains Kerlin's personal and professional correspondence, which focuses on the functions and business of Elwyn as well as the topics of mental health, mental retardation, and religion. Additionally, Series I contains photographs of Isaac Newton Kerlin and his wife and those of the Elwyn Institute Archives in 1970; a Christmas circular; the personal notes of Kerlin for lectures and papers on the subject of feeble-mindedness; and obituaries of Kerlin. Included in Series I correspondence are letters of Caspar Wistar Pennock, consisting of personal correspondence to Pennock and his wife, and letters from the Japanese author and Christian evangelist, Kanzo Uchimura (1861-1930). In this series, the items other than correspondence were folded into the letters. Series II contains publications collected by Kerlin, including two articles and the book The Manual of Elwyn published in 1891. Also included is a hymnal to Dorothea Dix from Kerlin, with an included letter; two annual reports from the Pennsylvania Training School for Feeble-Minded Children; and a circular and a pamphlet.
Materials are in English and Japanese. (All Japanese materials have accompanying English translation.)

Container List

Additional Index Terms

Hospitals, Psychiatric
Mental retardation
Children with mental disabilities--Education
Mentally ill--Care
Psychiatric hospitals--Pennsylvania
Kerlin, Isaac Newton, 1834-1893
Dix, Dorothea Lynde, 1802-1887
Kerlin, Harriet Caroline Dix, 1842-1892
Pennock, C. W. (Caspar Wistar), 1799-1867
Uchimura, Kanzo, 1861-1930
Elwyn Institute
Pennsylvania Training School for Feeble-Minded Children