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History of Sonoma Developmental Center
An Early Picture of Sonoma Developmental Center
Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) is the oldest facility in California established specifically for serving the needs of individuals with developmental disabilities. The facility opened its doors to 148 residents on November 24, 1891, culminating a ten-year project on the part of two prominent Northern California women who had children with developmental disabilities.
In 1883, Julia Judah and Frances Bentley were responsible for forming the California Association for the Care and Training of Feeble Minded Children. Its aim was "to provide and maintain a school and asylum for the feeble-minded, in which they may be trained to usefulness."
The first facility was opened in May 1884, at White Sulphur Springs near Vallejo. Beset by problems, the association petitioned the California legislature for assistance, and a bill was passed calling for the creation of the California Home for the Care and Training of the Feeble Minded. The new board chose a 51-acre site in the town of Santa Clara to handle twenty residents.
When the Santa Clara home became inadequate a few years later, the legislature appointed a commission and appropriated $170,000 to purchase land, construct facilities and handle commission expenses. The commission included Captain Oliver Eldridge, after whom the community of Eldridge is named. Following lengthy legislative battles over the proposed funding, the commission selected the present site: a 1640-acre parcel which featured an ample water supply, drainage, and two railroad lines that passed through the property.
The facility at Eldridge has undergone many significant changes, including four name changes. In 1909, the name was changed from the California Home for the Care and Training of the Feeble Minded to the Sonoma State Home. In 1953, Sonoma State Home became Sonoma State Hospital; and in 1986, the name was changed to Sonoma Developmental Center. Over the years, the facility has expanded several times, including two major expansions: A thirteen million dollar expansion program was initiated in 1948, and another five million dollars was appropriated in 1956. The most recent renovation took place between 1979 and 1982, during which all the living units were renovated at a cost of about one million dollars per building, primarily to improve safety, privacy and individualized care.
Many changes over the last 110 years include attitudes, philosophies, values, and beliefs in regard to the treatment of developmentally disabled people. There is one constant that ties the present and the future to every epoch of the Center's history: As society's understanding of developmental disabilities has improved, SDC has consistently responded by improving services. Sonoma Developmental Center has always been and will always be committed to continuous improvement of its comprehensive array of therapeutic services.