Whitten Center was South Carolina’s first and largest institution housing persons labeled as mentally handicapped or developmentally disabled. Located in Clinton, the facility was chartered in 1918 and admitted its first patients in September 1920. Initially called the South Carolina State Training School for the Feeble-Minded, the facility was designed to protect South Carolina’s citizens from the “menace of the feeble-minded.”
The Training School’s first superintendent was Benjamin Whitten, a medical doctor who had been the assistant superintendent of the South Carolina State Hospital for the Insane in Columbia. Whitten remained as superintendent of the Training School for forty-seven years, retiring in 1965. At its opening, the institution housed approximately fifty male and female patients, mostly in their teens and early twenties. The facility did not admit black residents until 1965. Chronically underfunded and understaffed throughout Whitten’s tenure, the institution nevertheless managed to serve an increasing population of individuals with a range of problems.
The facility was renamed Whitten Village in 1952 and became Whitten Center in 1972. By the 1950s, with improved funding on the state level and the influx of federal funds, Whitten’s facilities and population increased dramatically. In 1965 Whitten Village served more than 2,500 residents. However, as society moved to a different understanding of mental retardation, the number of patients began to decline. With federal funding going toward public school special education and parents increasingly caring for their children at home, Whitten Center’s population continues to both decline and age. As of January 2002 Whitten Center, under the auspices of the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, housed 372 residents.
Noll, Steven. Feeble-Minded in Our Midst: Institutions for the Mentally Retarded in the South, 1900–1940. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.
Whitten, Benjamin O. A History of Whitten Village. Clinton, S.C.: Jacobs, 1967.