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Theodore Hammond Smith: Disabilities Care Innovator

By 1897, Theodore Hammond Smith’s parents were radical innovators in the field of treating people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Theodore followed their lead by becoming a medical professional. In 1935 he purchased a large estate in Ben Lomond, the old Musgrove mansion. He renamed it the Blake Hammond Manor. Under Theodore’s stewardship, the Manor would transform into a school for disabled children. Then, disabled people were often excluded from society or treated with invasive attempts to “fix” the mind and body, such as lobotomies or shock therapies. Theodore’s approach was to create a dignified home-like space where disabled children would be holistically educated. These scholars would learn traditional subjects, productive skills, how to live with their disabilities, and how to live with others in a communal setting to support their rightful place in the larger social structure. Theodore operated the school in Ben Lomond until he became gravely ill in 1968 and the property had to be sold.

Four women in period dress, one sitting and two standing pose for a photograph with a little girl in a white dress stands, holding onto the leg of the sitting woman.

The Right to Live
Smith Family Archive

Theodore Hammond Smith (pictured) was a medical professional, served in the United States Navy Medical Corps, was a world traveler, and beloved father.

The Right to Live
Smith Family Archive

The school was designed and arranged to resemble typical classrooms. Theodore’s dedication to treating people with dignity and equity is evidenced in the design and composition of classrooms. This extends to the larger layout of buildings and halls, which grouped the students according to need and ability. Many students lived with a degree of independence.

A woman stands in fine clothing, including a fur collared coat, heeled shoes, large brimmed hat, and holding a handbag.
A couple stands on the front stairs of a house in period clothing.

The Right to Live
Smith Family Archive

The Blake Hammond Manor Booklet documents Theodore’s philosophy of equity and compassionate guidance in treating disabled people. Though unacceptable now, it uses terms seen as progressive in their moment to describe difference. Theodore’s progressive structure of education was about capability and human dignity. It was a project of liberation. His philosophy of habilitation and education considered the whole person, strove toward social integration, and appreciated the beneficial effects of the natural environment. He chose Ben Lomond and the Santa Cruz Mountains for a reason! The beauty of the forest and landscape was a part of Theodore’s ideas about treatment.

Lino: Page & Activist
Phil Reader: Historian & Writer
Martina Castro Lodge: Californio Land Grantee
Axel Erlandson: Arboreal Sculptor
Dora Anderson: Servicewoman & Teacher
London Nelson: School Benefactor
Cora E Drew: Poetess
Ariana Jones: Community Activist
Oscar Corcoles: Community Programmer
Rhonda Harper: Surfer & Founder
Mabel Lucien Davis Pinkney Ritchardson: Singer & Church Leader
Theodore Hammond Smith: Disabilities Care Innovator
Hiroshi Shikuma: Strawberry Farmer
José Galvan Amaro: Labor Activist & Ag Worker
Apolonia Dangzalan: Redwoods Lumberer
Mary Ann Borina Radovich: Businesswoman
Ekua Omosupe: Professor & Writer
Michael Bergazzi: Redwoods Lumberer
Alison Kim: Writer & Archivist
Carrie Lodge: Stenographer & Storyteller