John F. Kennedy photo

Letter to Dr. Stafford L. Warren at the Opening of the White House Conference on Mental Retardation.

September 19, 1963

Dear Dr. Warren:

Please extend my best wishes to the delegates and participants at the White House Conference on Mental Retardation.

Society for too long has closed the door against the mentally retarded. Too often too many have been hidden in attics, locked up in institutions, shunned and neglected in their communities.

For over 5 million Americans, suffering from some degree of mental retardation, our present system of care might better be called our system of "don't care". For every dollar we pay to care for a patient in a general hospital, we pay less than 14 cents to care for the mentally retarded in public institutions-and patients in such institutions are increasing at the rate of two percent a year.

We have, in the past, forfeited a unique opportunity to develop an otherwise wasted human resource. In 1961, less than 50,000 mentally retarded individuals were served in our psychiatric outpatient clinics and other Federally supported, community based programs.

Only one out of every five mentally retarded school children is enrolled in special education programs in the public schools. Only 3,000 mentally retarded persons were vocationally rehabilitated in 1961--yet the cost to society of rehabilitation services is recouped many times over through the individual's increased earning power.

It is for these reasons that I requested you to convene this conference. I am gratified by the uniformly enthusiastic response of the State Executives. Our determination to combat mental retardation is indicated by the fact that representatives from all fifty States are expected at the Conference beginning today.

Never in the history of man has it been possible to achieve greater gains against this grave and complex problem. Recently acquired medical and scientific knowledge now make it possible to assure a productive and self-respecting life for the great majority of the mentally retarded.

I am gratified that many recommendations of the Panel on Mental Retardation have been incorporated into legislation now awaiting final Congressional approval. The bill (S. 1576) which has passed both the Senate and the House will provide federal funds for the construction of community mental retardation centers, as well as research and university centers to increase even more our knowledge in this field.

The Maternal and Child Health bill (H.R. 7544) which has passed the House would provide additional federal assistance to improve pre-natal, obstetrical and child care necessary to reduce the incidence of mental retardation.

We have left behind prejudice, superstition and ignorance which since the dawn of time distorted our thinking about the mentally retarded. We have entered a new era of understanding, hope and enlightenment. We are on the threshold of an exciting and great achievement which is a tribute to the skills and devotions of thousands of dedicated scientists, professional persons, and public and private citizens.

The transformation of the lives of millions of Americans will be realized to a very large extent through the efforts of the delegates and participants at this Conference. The retarded child will emerge from the attic of society to take his place on the school playground; and the retarded adult will move from a back bedroom or institutional ward to the day center and workshop.

There can be no greater evidence of American vitality, intelligence and humanitarian tradition.



[Dr. Stafford L. Warren, Special Assistant to the President on Mental Retardation, the White House Conference on Mental Retardation]

Note: The White House Conference on Mental Retardation was held on September 19 and 20 at Airlie House, Warrenton, Va.

For the President's remarks upon signing the bills referred to, see Items 434 and 447.

John F. Kennedy, Letter to Dr. Stafford L. Warren at the Opening of the White House Conference on Mental Retardation. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under


Simple Search of Our Archives