Before the 19th-century social reform movement, developmentally disabled people were relegated to almshouses and county poor farms where the "indigent, insane, epileptic and "idiotic" were housed together without regard to individual condition. Reformists advocated more humane treatment of the socially-dependent and by the mid-19 century had demonstrated the educability of the "mentally deficient" and opened homes for their care and training. In 1895, Wisconsin allocated $100,000 for the establishment of its first institution for the developmentally disabled.
Located in Chippewa Falls on 600 acres of land offered by the city, the "Wisconsin Home for the Feebleminded" opened June 17, 1897. The home, renamed the "Northern Wisconsin Colony and Training School" in 1923, provided care for children and adults and taught skills in self-care, farming, housekeeping, arts and crafts, and academics. In the 1970s, a new emphasis was placed on community care of the developmentally disabled, and the Northern Wisconsin Center for the Developmentally Disabled, renamed in 1976, began providing outreach services to individuals and communities.