Sonoma Developmental Center

Eldridge, California


The Sonoma Developmental Center is the oldest facility in California, privately founded in 1883 by Julia Judah and Frances Bentley in Vallejo, California. Judah and Bentley were mothers of children with developmental delays, and opened the home "to provide and maintain a school and asylum for the feeble-minded, in which they may be trained to usefulness."

The center was taken over by the State of California in 1885 and was relocated to Santa Clara, California in order to serve the size of the population. The center was originally named the California Home for the Care and Training of the Feeble Minded.

Populations quickly exceeded the Santa Clara location and the government purchased 1500 acres for $51,000 in Eldridge, California in Sonoma County, which is where the home remains today. The doors of the Eldridge location were opened on November 24, 1891 to 148 residents. The home cared for individuals between the ages of 5-18 who were "incapable of receiving instructions in the common schools."

In 1904, there were 541 inmates and a staff of 70, making it the largest employer in the country. The home was under the care of the superintendent, Dr. Fred O. Butler from 1918 to 1949. In this time, 5,000+ patients were involuntarily sterilized, making this home the most vigorous sterilization program in any California state institution. According to hospital records, about 1 in 3 of the sterilization that happened were under Butler's tenure.

Name Changes:

  • 1909: Sonoma State Home
  • 1953: Sonoma State Hospital
  • 1986: Sonoma Developmental Center.
Sterilization victims seek compensation
Karen Alve's Story

A sister tells her perspective on the treatment of her late brother and his medical health while in Sonoma State Home.

Building Layouts and Renovations

The home was a total of 520 feet to begin with. It consisted of a North wing and a South wing; the North wing was 2 stories for the male residents; the South wing was 2 stories for the female residents. Included in the layout was a kitchen, client dining rooms, employee dining rooms, an assembly hall, and dormitories. The earthquake of 1906 caused part of the building to collapse, initiating the construction of the administrative offices as the center of the property.

In 1948 the center was provided $13 million by the government to expand the center with an additional $5 million appointed in 1956. Since then there have been renovations in 1979 and 1982, in which the living units were renovated at the cost of $1 million per building. These renovations were all made for safety, privacy, and improving individual care for the patients.

Present Day

The center is operated by the California Department of Developmental Services. The center is located on the same property surrounded by trees, streams, and lakes. The primary customers are residents, families, advocates, employees, and other service providers. The center has a residential campground, a store, a cafeteria, a post office, a petting farm, sports fields, a swimming pool, a plant nursery, and picnic areas.

The center provides a variety of programs

1: Intermediate Care Facility--Sensory Adaption, Orientation & Life Skills Development

2: Nursing Facility--Continuation of medical services

3: Nursing Facility--Physical Development and Intervention

4: Intermediate Care Facility--Behavior Intervention

5: Intermediate Care Facility--Social and Behavioral Intervention

"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, SDX 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."