July will mark a half-century since an investigative news series – entitled “Suffer the Little Children” – revealed the problems at Pennhurst State School and Hospital in Spring City, writes Dennis Downey for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
A little more than 50 years ago, journeyman reporter Bill Baldini gained unheard-of access to the interior of the complex in Chester County, where his exposé focused on the inhumane conditions at the hospital. His documentary captured the neglect, indignity, and mistreatment of people with intellectual disabilities, who were often incarcerated without their consent.
The series aired on WCAU-TV every evening from July 1-5, 1968. It presented the nation with an image of half-clothed children and young adults who were walking aimlessly in overcrowded day rooms accompanied by a cacophony of sounds that assaulted their senses.
Baldini used his series to criticize government policy while offering a possibility of a more humane and compassionate future. He was one of the first to demonstrate the persuasive power of the media, by shaking people out of their blind indifference and complacency to demand change.
Read more about the Pennhurst State School and Hospital in the Philadelphia Inquirer here.