"A National Plan to Combat Mental Retardation"

President Kennedy, brother of Rosemary

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy gathered a distinguished panel of experts to develop "A National Plan to Combat Mental Retardation." On February 5, 1963, Kennedy made a speech to the Congress of the United States, where he announced the panel's findings and asked for support for new resources to address the needs of people with mental retardation and mental illness: the Maternal and Child Health and Mental Retardation Planning Act, which granted $265 million in federal aid over five years to support programs for the mentally retarded, and the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Construction Act, which granted $330 million over five years for new buildings to serve disabled citizens.

n October 23, 1963, less than a month before his assassination, Kennedy spoke at a White House ceremony attended by Arc Massachusetts leaders John Fettinger, Don Guild and Dr. Gunnar Dybwad, before signing the bills into law.

 Signing of the Maternal and Child Health and Mental Retardation Planning Bill, October 24, 1963, the White House


Virtually every state launched a federally funded Mental Retardation Planning Project.  Massachusetts responded in 1966 when Governor John Volpe passed Chapter 735, the Massachusetts Mental Health and Retardation Planning Projects, which laid out the state's area and regional structure, as well as creating a focus on community-based services outside of institutional settings. The concept of using private vendors was written into the legislation.

The project was administered by Harold W. Demone, Jr., Ph.D., along with William J. Curran, legal counsel, and internationally-recognized pioneer in health care law. Arc representatives Don Guild, John Fettinger and Moses Frankel served on the planning board along with Burton Blatt and Father Robert Drinan.

The Arc of Massachusetts greatly appreciates the time and assistance provided by the archival and research staff at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in compiling the historic images and text on these pages.