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Out of the Shadows: Events Leading to the Founding of Special Olympics

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A chronology of the people and events that led to creation of the world’s largest organization dedicated to promoting respect, inclusion and acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities.

Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation is established. The goals began as doing good works and later focused on how society cares for people with intellectual disabilities (then known as “mental retardation”) and to help identify and disseminate ways to prevent the causes of intellectual disability. The foundation is the first of its kind to focus efforts on this neglected population.

Eunice Kennedy is named a trustee of the JPK Jr. Foundation.

1948 - 1956
The JPK Jr. Foundation advocates for research into the causes of intellectual disability. The foundation also bestows grants for this research, including the first substantial ($1.2 million) grant in the nation's history for research into the causes of intellectual disability.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver takes over direction of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation

Eunice and Sargent Shriver begin series of fact-finding trips around the U.S. to institutions for people with intellectual disabilities. They start recruiting experts in the field to advise the JPK Jr. Foundation in a push for swifter progress in helping children and adults with ID and their families. The team of advisers expands to include Dr. Jerome Schulman, Northwestern University Medical School ; Dr. Richard Masland, National Institute of Neurological Diseases; and Dr. George Tarjan, Pacific State Hospital for children with intellectual disabilities, Pomona, Calif.

JPK Jr. Foundation donates $1 million to establish the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Laboratories for Research on Mental Retardation at Massachusetts General Hospital -- the first center in the world to focus on research into mental retardation. Other grants are awarded to selected research centers nationwide, including Stanford and Georgetown universities, as well as to the First International Conference on Mental Retardation. Dr. Robert Cooke, Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine comes aboard as adviser to the JPK Jr. Foundation.

John F. Kennedy is elected President of the United States. At the urging of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the newly elected president makes intellectual disabilities a priority of the new administration.

Dr. Cooke is named to the President-elect's health-care transition team.

Spring 1961
The President’s health care transition team – working with Eunice Kennedy Shriver -- recommends the creation of a National Institute for Child Health and Human Development.

11 October 1961
President John F. Kennedy announces that research into intellectual disability has been "too long postponed" and will become a national priority. He also announces the establishment of a President's Panel on Mental Retardation. Eunice Kennedy Shriver is consultant to the panel and becomes known as the committee’s “guiding force.” Panel members include Dr. Leonard Mayo, Dr. Robert Cooke, Dr. George Tarjan, Dr. Richard Maslan and Dr. Elizabeth Boggs. President Kennedy gave the panel one year to develop a "national plan."

4 November 1961
The JPK Jr. Foundation launches an awards program to recognize leadership and advances in research in the field of intellectual disabilities. A chief goal of the program’s “significant” awards is to encourage scientists to direct their research to the field of intellectual disabilities.

March 1962
Eunice Kennedy Shriver gives address on the President’s Panels pioneering work and announces that -- for people with intellectual disabilities -- "the years of indifference and neglect, the years of callous cynicism and entrenched prejudice, are drawing to a close. The years of research and experiment ... are upon us now with all their promise and challenge."

June 1962
Eunice Kennedy Shriver opens a summer camp for young people with intellectual disabilities at her home in suburban Washington, D.C. What was then known as “Shriver Camp” welcomes dozens of young people from local institutions and agencies; campers range in age from about six to 16. Volunteer counselors are recruited from local high schools and colleges with the goal of having a one-to-one instructional ratio with campers. Experts in the field, including Dr. John Throne and Dr. George Jervis, are on hand to work with the campers and help train the counselors

July 1962
A second day camp for children with intellectual disabilities opens in Washington, D.C. This camp is funded by the JPK Jr. Foundation. The Foundry Branch Day Camp (later called Sunny Grove) is the first in a series of JPK Jr. Foundation-funded day camps for children with disabilities. The JPK Jr. Foundation Day Camp Program was designed to serve as a catalyst to encourage the establishment of other summer camps as well as year-round programs.

September 1962
Eunice Kennedy Shriver reveals that her sister -- also U.S. President Kennedy’s sister -- has an intellectual disability, the first such public acknowledgement by the Kennedy family. The article in the popular “Saturday Evening Post” -- titled “Hope for the Retarded” -- becomes known as a "watershed in changing attitudes towards people with retardation." The piece was “read by millions, and further convinced parents that having a child or sibling with mental retardation was nothing to feel shame or guilt over."

16 October 1962
The President’s Panel on Mental Retardation releases a 311-page proposed program for “National Action to Combat Mental Retardation.” The report provides guidance for developing federal special education programs; establishes goals, guidelines and parameters for expanded research and legislation; as well as increases federal funding in education, personnel training, and residential care.

17 October 1962
President Kennedy signs legislation launching the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development within the National Institutes of Health. The goal was the pursuit of research aimed at understanding human development with a focus on developmental disorders, including intellectual disabilities. (In 2008, the institute would be renamed the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in honor of Mrs. Shriver's “essential role” in its founding.)

6 December 1962
The Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation’s First International Awards program is held to recognize past and current contributions to research, service and leadership in the field of intellectual disability.

5 February 1963
President Kennedy announces “a bold new approach” to addressing the needs of people with mental retardation and mental illness: the Maternal and Child Health and Mental Retardation Planning Act, which would grant $265 million in federal aid over five years to support programs for the mentally retarded, and the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Construction Act, which would grant $330 million over five years for new buildings to serve disabled citizens.

June 1963
Camp Shriver opens for a second summer. Consultants include Dr. William Freeberg, who received the nation's first Ph.D. in recreation; in the mid-1950s, he began organizing camping experiences for children with disabilities. Later, at Southern Illinois University, he put together programs exclusively for children with intellectual disabilities.

Summer 1963
Kennedy Foundation camps expand their reach nationwide. Nearly 800 young people with intellectual disabilities take part. A training institute for JPK Jr. Foundation-supported camp directors and staff is held at the Southern Illinois Institute in Carbondale, Ill. under the direction of Dr. Freeberg.

24 October 1963
President Kennedy signs the Maternal Child Health and Mental Retardation Planning Amendment to the Social Security Act, the first major legislation to specifically address mental retardation and mental illness. The amendment incorporated many of the panel's recommendations and provided planning grants to enable states to update their intellectual disabilities programs.

31 October 1963
President Kennedy signs a second bill to fund construction of facilities related to the care and treatment of people with intellectual disabilities. These included research centers that would study the causes of intellectual disabilities, university-related diagnostic treatment clinics, and community-based centers for the care of people with intellectual disabilities. The law also increased funding to train teachers of children with intellectual disabilities.

22 November 1963
President Kennedy is assassinated.

April 1964
Kennedy Foundation holds two-day conference on the importance and benefits of physical activity for people with intellectual disabilities, run by Dr. Freeberg. Findings include: improving physical fitness opportunities for people with ID helps lead to many other opportunities, including employment, for people with ID.

May 1964
The first conference on "Developing Special Recreation Programs for the Retarded" is held in Washington, D.C. It is sponsored by the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation.

June 1964
Camp Shriver opens for a third summer. Dr. James N. Oliver of England is tapped as a consultant to the camp. His ground-breaking 1958 study showed that physical exercise and activities for children with intellectual disabilities had positive effects that also carried over into the classroom ("The Effects of Physical Conditioning Exercises and Activities on the Mental Characteristics of Educationally Sub-Normal Boys, British Journal of Educational Psychology, XXVIII, June 1958).

September 1964
The Kennedy Foundation pushes ahead on idea of physical activity for people with intellectual disabilities beyond day camps and summer activities. Eunice Kennedy Shriver establishes a board of experts to further this idea, with the goal of developing year-round programs. The board includes Dr. Freeberg, Illinois; Arthur Peavy, Miami; Francis Kelley, Storrs, Conn ; Francis Lynch, Quincy, Mass.; Robert Crawford, Philadelphia. Also attending are Dr. Hans Krause, President's Panel on Physical Fitness; and Dr. John Throne, adviser to Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, Washington, D.C.

September 1964
Eunice Kennedy Shriver hosts a JPK Jr. Foundation Board meeting at her home to receive recommendations on establishing "year-round recreation programs" for people with intellectual disabilities. Three cities are selected for pilot projects: Boston, Mass; Greensboro, N.C., and Chicago, Ill.

October 1964
Eunice Kennedy Shriver continues work with Kennedy Foundation programs, including personally teaching physical education classes to young people with intellectual disabilities.

March 1965
Six major universities begin offering curricula leading to specialty degrees in recreation for people with intellectual disabilities.

March 1965
Eunice Kennedy Shriver calls for a nationwide physical fitness program for people with intellectual disabilities. The plan includes a national tournament of athletic contests, starting at the local level.

April 1965
Kennedy Foundation-AAHPER committees begin work on organizing year-round national fitness programs for people with intellectual disabilities. Dr. Julian Stein is appointed chairman of a task force on programs. Stein is author of the ground-breaking work on “Adapted Physical Education for the Educable Mentally Handicapped," Journal of Health, Physical Education and Recreations, December 1962. Dr. Stein had been working with ID students in Arlington, VA in the 1950s and introduced a physical ed class in 1959 that included basketball, volleyball, football and athletics. In addition, Dr. Robert Holland is appointed director of the joint Project on Recreation and Fitness for people with intellectual disabilities.

May 1965
Chicago Park District sends 10 recreation teachers, including Anne McGlone Burke, to Dr. Freeberg’s workshop in Carbondale, Ill.

15 June 1965
Eunice Kennedy Shriver holds news conference to announce a new nationwide program -- a joint venture by the JPK Jr. Foundation, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and the American Association of Health, Physical Education and Recreation (AAHPER ) She says, ”We are witnessing here today the opening of an unprecedented new era" for people with ID in schools, summer camps and year-round programs. EKS also announces the appointment of Dr. Frank Hayden as foundation director of the National Physical Fitness Program for the Retarded, working with Dr. Holland.

June 1965
Camp Shriver continues for a fourth summer. Dr. Frank Hayden of Canada comes aboard to replace Dr. Freeberg, who returns to Southern Illinois University. Dr. Hayden is the author of a 1964 research project conducted under the auspices of the Metropolitan Toronto Association for Retarded Children, the School of Physical and Health Education of the University of Toronto, and Rotary Clubs of Metropolitan Toronto. It is titled, "Physical Fitness for the Mentally Retarded."

April 1966
The Kennedy Foundation sponsors an international symposium on physical education, nutrition and other topics related to treatment and help for people with ID. Dr. Oliver, Dr. Keogh and others attend. Awards are also given.

June 1966
Dr. Julian Stein becomes full-time director of the AAHPER program under direction of the JPK Jr. Foundation.

2 November 1966
Eunice Kennedy Shriver proposes “nationwide sports contests” between teams of young people with intellectual disabilities. She also cites “dramatic” improvement in learning skills among people with intellectual disabilities as a result of physical training.

June 1967
Camp Shriver-type day camps now provide summer activities for over 7,000 children with intellectual disabilities.

Summer 1967
Sargent Shriver meets with the president of the Chicago Park District to discuss lack of progress in Kennedy Foundation-funded programs in Chicago. Board President William McFetridge and Vice President Daniel Shannon begin pushing for more active programs for people with intellectual disabilities. They create a task force aimed at stepping up the program's activities; members include Anne McGlone Burke, recipient of a 1965 Kennedy Foundation grant who’d found great success working with children with intellectual disabilities. Dr. Freeberg joins as a consultant on this project.

Fall 1967
The Chicago Park District begins plans for a citywide track meet modeled after the Olympics. A proposal is made to Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Kennedy Foundation. Shriver embraces the project and asks Anne McGlone Burke to enlarge the scope to include athletes from around the country.

January 1968
Anne McGlone Burke travels to Washington to meet with Kennedy Foundation staffers to continue discussion of a large-scale athletic event for people with intellectual disabilities. She later submits a plan for an event to be held in Chicago working jointly with the Kennedy Foundation.

29 March 1968
Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Chicago Park District hold a news conference to announce plans for the first "Olympic" games for children with intellectual disabilities.

20 July 1968
The first International Special Olympics Summer Games are held at Soldier Field in Chicago, a joint venture between the Kennedy Foundation and the Chicago Park District. The advisory committee to the Chicago Special Olympics includes Dr. William Freeberg, Southern Illinois University; Dr. Frank J. Hayden, Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation; Dr. Peavy; William McFetridge, Anne McGlone Burke; Stephen Kelly of the Chicago Park District; and Olympic decathlon champion Rafer Johnson. Eunice Kennedy Shriver is honorary chairman. Dr. Hayden was also executive director of the games.

Note: The opening ceremony includes a teen runner carrying a torch to light a 45-foot high "John F. Kennedy Flame of Hope." Over 200 events are offered, including broad jump, softball throw, 25-yard swim, 100-yard swim, high jump, 50-yard dash; and water polo. Mrs. Shriver pledges that more games will be held in 1970 and every two years thereafter in a "Biennial International Special Olympics."

2 August 1968
Special Olympics is officially incorporated, with Dr. Frank J. Hayden, Beverly Campbell and Wallace Duncan of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation listed as co-incorporators.

2 December 1968
Sen. Edward Kennedy announces the formation of Special Olympics, Inc. A seven-member Board of Directors is named: Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Frank Hayden, Robert Cooke, Rafer Johnson, Thomas King, James Lovell and G. Lawrence Rarick. Anne McGlone Burke is later added. Beverly Campbell is named director of community relations.