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Faulty IQ Test Put Her in Institution : ‘Mildly Retarded’ Woman Held 57 Years

Associated Press

A judge ordered the city on Wednesday to release a 75-year-old deaf and ailing woman from an institution where she has spent the last 57 years since being apparently mistakenly diagnosed as severely mentally retarded.

“We are dealing with an individual who . . . has spent 57 years of her life institutionalized, when in all likelihood she should never have been placed there at all,” District of Columbia Superior Judge Gladys Kessler said.

Kessler ordered the city to set a timetable for sending Mattie Hoge to a group home for mildly retarded senior citizens and spend $55,350 to make the home accessible to the woman’s wheelchair.

‘No Way to Right Wrong’

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“There’s no way to right a wrong of 57 years,” said Donna Waulken, Hoge’s court-appointed guardian. “This does give her the opportunity to be able to live and benefit from life in the community. It’s about time.”

In a suit filed under the name “Jane Doe,” Hoge’s court-appointed lawyers first asked a judge in 1985 to order the city to release her immediately. Her lawyers said they have no record that she had left the Forest Haven grounds since being sent there in 1930.

Wheelchair-bound and partly paralyzed since suffering a stroke in 1966, Hoge has been kept for the last 15 years in Forest Haven’s Eliot Cottage, a center for the facility’s most severely and profoundly retarded residents, according to Karen Schneider, one of her lawyers. Schneider said Hoge, who knows some sign language, had been unable to communicate with other residents.

Hoge was 17 when she was placed in Forest Haven in 1930, according to court papers. Her mother had died in 1924 and she was placed in foster homes, where foster parents said she was difficult to control.

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Conflict in IQ Scores

An intelligence test at the time showed she had an IQ of 34. Kessler said several tests done in recent years showed her IQ may range up to 95, or just below what experts consider normal.

During the hearing, Georgetown University psychologist Linda Geller said she found Hoge “mildly retarded” but that it was impossible to make an accurate assessment because the woman had been confined with little communication for so many years.

“There is a substantial possibility she should never have been placed in Forest Haven,” Kessler said. “The IQ test done in 1930 was done by a person who had no skills in dealing with a deaf person.”

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