It has now been 40 years since the publication of Blatt and Kaplan's (1966)  Christmas in Purgatory, a photographic exposé of institutions. In this article I review this landmark work in the context of some of the major events in the field of mental retardation in the era immediately following its publication. The growing dissatisfaction with abusive and dehumanizing conditions at institutions soon led to the emergence of new concepts and philosophies as well as law suits that eventually challenged the very existence of institutions.

“There is hell on earth,” wrote Burton Blatt (Blatt & Kaplan 1966), “and in America there is a special inferno. We were visitors there during Christmas, 1965” (p. v). Blatt, then a professor at Boston University, had followed the controversy surrounding Senator Robert Kennedy's unannounced visits to New York's Willowbrook and Rome State Schools in fall 1965....

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