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Archives & Special Collections

Willowbrook State School Documentation Project

Willowbrook State School Main Building
The Main Building.
College of Staten Island Records

The College of Staten Island’s Archives and Special Collections is building a collection of materials documenting the “unofficial” history of the Willowbrook State School. The records constituting the official history (memos, reports, financial records, legislative materials, etc.) are in the hands of the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disability and the New York State Archives.

At CSI we hope to collect materials that reflect the experiences of residents, staff members at all levels, and parents and caregivers. By focusing on this unofficial history of the school, CSI can make an important contribution to historical research.

So far, we have completed three projects. We have created a list of materials already held by archives nationally and by our own archives. These lists are available on our website. We have also used funding provided by the New York State Archives’ Documentary Heritage Grant Program to create a historical overview of the school and develop a plan for documenting the school’s unofficial history.

We are now ready to begin a documentation project. The first stage involves identifying people and organizations with archival material and those with experiences and memories to share. The archival material could include, correspondence, event posters, newsletters, flyers, photographs, newspaper clippings, notes, or other items. Those with memories to share could be people from any of the groups in which we are interested (residents, staff members, and parents and caregivers).

At the second stage of the documentation project we will ask people and organizations to contribute materials to our archives and/or participate in a major oral history project. During this project, professional oral historians will conduct interviews that will be recorded, transcribed, and cataloged for our collection.

We believe that the history of the Willowbrook State School is crucial to understanding the history of the treatment of people with developmental disabilities. The College of Staten Island, as the institution that has come to occupy the site of the school, has a unique opportunity to make information available about the school’s history.

How to Find Patient Information

Access to records of patients in state psychiatric centers is indefinitely restricted. However, former patients, their legal representatives, immediate family members and descendants may request this information. Requests should be communicated to:

  1. The New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities:
  2. The New York State Archives 518-474-8955
  3. The Staten Island Developmental Disabilities Service Organization (SIDDSO) 1150 Forest Hill Rd., Building 46 Staten Island, NY 10314 718-983-5200

For the complete guidelines regarding access to Psychiatric Center Records, please visit the New York State Archives Policy on Access to Records.

How You Can Help

Please fill out this questionnaire and mail it to us. The survey file is in Adobe PDF, and you can download a free reader here. Or, contact us to let us know of your interest in the project by telephoning the Archives at 718-982-4128 or e-mailing