Patricia Clapp Papers

What's online?

The Patricia Clapp online records include correspondence, speeches, and publications relating to Clapp’s career as an advocate for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The digitization of these materials has been made possible by the Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium.

What's in the entire collection?

The Patricia Clapp Papers contain records collected and created by Clapp throughout her career as an advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Western Pennsylvania.The records include correspondence, news clippings, award certificates, event programs, copies of speeches, and images pertaining to Clapp’s career.

About Patricia Clapp

Patricia "Pat" Clapp is an advocate for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Born in 1928to Adam and Inez Fornof in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, Clapp graduated from Wilkinsburg High School in 1947. During this time Clapp worked at the Mayview State Hospital with Occupational Therapy nurses. In 1952, Pat married Harry Patterson Clapp, an engineer from Greensboro, North Carolina. Around this time Clapp involved herself with the Junior Section of the General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC) where she fought for the right of Emma Hagerty to have her daughter with Down Syndrome attend public school. When the school refused to allow Hagerty's daughter in, the Junior Section of the GFWC raised funds to create their own pre-school for children with developmental and intellectual disabilities. In 1953, the group founded the Wilkinsburg Pre-School for the Mentally Retarded Children at the South Avenue Methodist Church in Wilkinsburg. Pat worked at the pre-school as a volunteer.

Pat and Harry Clapp had three children together: Jeff, Jean, and David. With the arrival of David in 1955, the Clapps entered the world of having a child with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as David was born with Down Syndrome. The Clapps refrained from telling others of David's condition until 1961 when Pat listened to Dr. Ted Johnson give a speech to the Junior Section of the GFWC regarding his life as a father of a child with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Around 1959, when David was ready to attend pre-school, Clapp began volunteering with the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC) and the Allegheny County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (ACC-PARC).

Clapp's involvement with ACC-PARC and PARC grew over time, Governor Scranton appointed her to the Board of Directors for the Western State School in 1963. Clapp served as president of ACC-PARC for the years 1964 through 1966. Clapp eventually became president of PARC from 1971 until 1973. During her tenure as president, PARC campaigned for the right to equal education for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. During this time, public schools were entitled to deny children with intellectual disabilities the right to attend their schools and recommended parents institutionalize their children. In addition to the experience of Emma Hagerty and her daughter, the Clapps experienced this first-hand with their own son, David. School officials told the Clapps that their best option for David was to place him in an institution. The Clapps refused and chose to use Pat's position as president of PARC to fight for equal education for all children with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Pennsylvania. The court case PARC v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania lasted between 1971 and 1972, and featured parents of children with intellectual disabilities denied free public education suing the state. The case settled in 1972 with a consent decree that stated that no child between the ages of 6 and 21 would be denied an education based on their intellectual or developmental disability. Due to the decree and PARC's efforts, it laid the foundation for Federal Public Law 94-142, Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, later renamed the "Individuals with Disabilities Education Act" (IDEA).

During Clapp's tenure as president of PARC, she also fought to eliminate the involuntary of testing of vaccines on children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Institutions across the state used children as test subjects for vaccines, without their parents' knowledge or permission (sometimes parents received a permission form from the institution after the experiment). Vaccines tested for meningitis, pneumococcal pneumonia, and the flu were among those tested. Girls within the institutions were given a birth-control "shot" against their will. With pressure from PARC and public opinion, the practice of testing of vaccines on children with intellectual and developmental disabilities in state-run institutions ended in 1973.Throughout her career, Clapp was also known for creating opportunities for young people to build relationships with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Such initiatives include the HOPE Corps and the Youth PARC.

It was also during this time that Helene Wohlgemuth, the state welfare secretary, visited the Polk State School in Venango County and discovered other human rights violations. Within the institution, wooden cages housed residents considered by staff to be "unruly." The overcrowded and understaffed institution also resorted to using drugs to sedate patients. Three days after her visit, Wohlgemuth wrote a letter to James H. McClelland, director of the institution, informing him that he was dismissed from his role. PARC and the Allegheny County Chapter of the PARC (ACC-PARC) supported this decision.For those supportive of McClelland, Wohlgemuth’s decision sparked outrage. Linking this action to ACC-PARC and PARC’s unannounced site visits to Polk, people opposing McClelland’s dismissal hanged Pat Clapp and fellow PARC advocate Eleanor Elkin in effigy.

In 1976, Governor Shapp appointed Clapp to the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. Following this appointment, Clapp remained active with PARC which witnessed the closure of institutions, like Pennhurst State School and others, across the state (the closure of these institutions is also known as "deinstitutionalization").

In 1979, the Clapp family moved to Virginia. While in Virginia, Pat involved herself with the Northern Virginia Association for Retarded Children (No. Va. ARC), now known as The Arc of Northern Virginia. Clapp remained active with the organization until she moved with her family to North Carolina, following Harry's retirement. Clapp continued her work as an advocate with the Association for Retarded Citizens of Greensboro, Inc. (now known as The Arc of Greensboro) and The Arc of North Carolina following the move.

In compliance with its affiliation with the national organization, the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children changed its name to the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Citizens between the years 1973 and 1981. In 1992, the organization changed its name to its current name of The Arc of Pennsylvania. The ACC-PARC followed similar name changes and became known as the Arc of Allegheny County. As of the writing of this finding aid, the Arc of Allegheny, Beaver, and Westmoreland Counties are child organizations of ACHIEVA.

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