Thursday, May 31, 2007

Quick check in from SDS, Day 1

So I'm in the lobby at the airport Hilton in Seattle, catching a few minutes of internet access to check in from the 20th meeting of the Society for Disability Studies, which started today and runs through Saturday night. I gave my presentation this morning (on a panel about "global disability," which was a stretch for this US historian, but I think it turned out fine). Next stop was a fine panel of philosophers speaking on personhood, dignity, and justice for people with "severe mental retardation" (and they were careful to assure us that they understood the problems with the term and the diagnosis, but that they would be using it in part to confront all that). I'm usually wary of philosophy panels (just don't have a theory brain, myself)--but Licia Carlson, Sophia Wong, and Anna Stubblefield all gave talks that were engaging and very grounded. After lunch, I took a bus over to the University of Washington campus to see a performance by the wondrous collaborative effort that is the Anarcha Project--I didn't realize I'd be seeing the culmination of the last of their workshops in this format, so that was bittersweet, but very worthwhile.

Now I'm waiting for the 5:15 sessions to start--I'm planning to attend the one titled "'Minority Identities Under Construction': Intersections of Gender, Disability, and the Public Sphere." More tomorrow!

(And I'll add in some links for this entry when I get a chance.)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Rice Crackers and Sunshine

There was a great opinion piece in Sunday's LA Times. Titled "You know what makes me sick?" by Massachusetts writer Heather Abel, it details the years of misdiagnosis and mistreatment she experienced before getting the right diagnosis for her (celiac disease). She concludes with the bottom line:
I am relieved that treatment for celiac is as low-tech as rice crackers. But I wonder whether, if my disease did have a pharmaceutical remedy, doctors would have diagnosed it earlier. 'Here,' they would have said, 'free samples! Take four.'
Heather Abel's mother, Emily Abel, is credited as contributing to this essay. Emily Abel (a professor at UCLA) has been writing about the history of public and private health issues for years; her Hearts of Wisdom (Harvard UP 2000) is my favorite go-to text on family caregiving in US history, rich in detail and variety. Her latest book, Suffering in the Land of Sunshine (Rutgers UP 2006) is about tuberculosis as a public health issue, a cultural phenomenon, and a personal experience in early 20c. Los Angeles. (Haven't checked it out yet, but it's on my list.)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Well, we can dream....

Sitemeter says that someone in New York hit on DS,TU by searching the phrase "who is on the 1995 penny?"

They came to our entry on Ed Roberts (who died in 1995).

If only!

(And if I had more time and talent, I'd make a graphic right now, showing Ed Roberts depicted on coinage. Surely he's due to be on some US postage, at least?)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Long Road Home: Celebrating Olmstead in Georgia

Cindy Sue of Six Almost Seven has details about the celebration for the 8th anniversary of the Olmstead decision in Georgia--they're looking for participants and volunteers. If you can be in Atlanta on Friday June 22, check it out. As one component of the day's events, Endeavor Freedom will be filming stories for preservation in the Georgia Disability Rights Exhibit. That makes so much sense. If you already have activists and survivors gathered to rally and celebrate, it's a perfect opportunity to record the stories that would otherwise be lost.

Friday, May 25, 2007

May 26: Dorothea Lange (1895-1965)

"I think it was perhaps the most important thing that happened to me. It formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me, humiliated me, all those things at once. I've never gotten over it, and I am aware of the force and power of it."

So said American photographer Dorothea Lange (1895-1965, pictured at left, in profile), about having contracting polio at age 7. She walked with a limp throughout her life, and experienced post-polio syndrome in her later years, before she died from cancer at age 70. She's best known for the 1936 "Migrant Mother" photograph, which depicts Florence Thompson, an Oklahoma woman, with two of her children, in California during the Depression.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

May 24: Helen Brooke Taussig (1898-1986)

On this date in 1898, pediatric cardiologist Helen Brooke Taussig was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

This website has some interesting photos of her work with "blue babies"--children born with a heart condition known as tetralogy of Fallot, which affects oxygenation. The second photo shows a small child in a very large wicker wheelchair (how on earth is she staying in that chair? no wonder she looks so annoyed, eh?). There's also a graphic from a 1947 charity appeal, "Saving our Doomed 'Blue' Babies." Helen Taussig's research was also crucial in the decision to keep thalidomide from being approved for use in the US.

But she had personal experience with disability too. She was a frail child who survived tuberculosis, and struggled with dyslexia long before it was an identified learning disability. By the time she completed requirements for her M.D. in 1927, she had lost her hearing, too--legacy of a childhood bout with whooping cough. Deafness was an unusual challenge for a cardiologist, in an era when the stethescope was the main tool of the trade--so she became an expert at alternative means of monitoring heart structure and function.

Disability Blog Carnival #15 is up NOW!

Kathryn at Ryn Tales has done a fine job organizing a wide array of links around the theme of "Family." One word, but so many interpretations and issues swirling inside it, and clicking through the links could keep you busy, entertained, amazed, and learning for the next few days.

Next carnival (sweet #16) is due up at Pilgrim Girl on June 14, with the theme "Borders." Take that theme and run with it. Then submit your links at the site, or in comments here, there, somewhere--we'll find you. And hey--anyone want to host in the depths of summer, July and August? A Blog Carnival pool party, maybe? Let me know. A final reminder--you can submit links to a wide array of blog carnivals at the same site, click "Browse all carnivals" to get a complete listing. I try to submit a few disability bloggers' links to other carnivals every month--it's good to reach new audiences, and trace some unexpected connections.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

May 23: Margaret Fuller (1810-1850)

Today is the birthday of American writer Margaret Fuller (shown at left). She is best remembered as the most prominent woman among the American Transcendentalists, a friend of Emerson, and the author of Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845). She had lifelong migraines that she traced to her early education. Fuller believed that her ambitious father's rigorous schedule of late-night study gave her "premature development of the brain...which at the time prevented the harmonious development of my bodily powers and checked my growth, while, later, they induced continual headache, weakness, and nervous affections of all kinds...even, although I have learned to regulate and understand my now morbid temperament--to a premature grave." (from Fuller's Memoirs, 1851: 7, as quoted in Davis 1999, cite below). This theory was in keeping with the mid-19th century fear of "precocity," considered one of the worst things a parent could nurture in a child, because it would overtax their small growing bodies and imbalance their further development.

Fuller taught her younger brothers, especially after their father's death left the family resources strained. Her youngest brother, Lloyd, was considered strange and backward, hard to manage. Margaret remained his champion: "Fit out the children for school, and let not Lloyd be forgotten," she wrote to her widowed mother in 1837. In another letter, she reminded a doubting brother that Lloyd "can be influenced by kindness to do his duty" (from letters, both found in Hudspeth, as quoted in Richards, see below).

In her journalism, Margaret Fuller was among the first to report on asylum conditions in the nineteenth century. From Paris, she wrote for American audiences about the innovative "School for Idiots" in that city, and the possibilities she saw there for better care and education:
I wept the whole time I was in this place a shower of sweet and bitter tears; of joy at what had been done, of grief for all that I and others possess and cannot impart to these little ones....I thought sorrowfully of the persons of this class whom I have known in our country, who might have been so raised and solaced by similar care. I hope ample provision may erelong be made for these Pariahs of the human race...

(From Margaret Fuller, At Home and Abroad , pages 211-212)
Fuller died long before her time, not from her "morbid temperament," but in a shipwreck off the coast of Long Island. She had just turned 40, and perished with her husband and son on their way back to the US from Italy.


Cynthia J. Davis, "Margaret Fuller, Body and Soul," American Literature 71(1)(March 1999): 56.

Donna Dickerson, Margaret Fuller: Writing a Woman's Life (Palgrave MacMillan 1993).

Robert N. Hudspeth, ed. The Letters of Margaret Fuller (Cornell UP 1983).

Penny L. Richards, "Beside her Sat her Idiot Child: Families and Developmental Disability in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America," in Steven Noll and James Trent, eds., Mental Retardation in America: A Historical Reader (NYU Press 2004).

Monday, May 21, 2007

While Strolling through the Park One Day...

...In the Merry Merry Month of May...

Okay, I can't pretend it was a surprise, so the song ends there. But I did take this photo today in the park--at Aidan's Place, an accessible playground near UCLA. It's Heather Mills showing a prosthetic leg to a little girl named Sammy, who recently had an amputation, while Sammy's older sister looks on from a swing. Today is Sammy's eighth birthday. (What you can't see is the film crew from Entertainment Tonight, and the very long white limo that was waiting a few feet away.) We were there because Shane's Inspiration, an organization that builds accessible playgrounds here in Southern California, asked some of the park regulars to be there during Mills' visit, even though it was a Monday morning--going to school or playing in the park? Not a difficult call, really. So we knew there'd be some hoopla, and cake, but it was such an "only in LA" bizarro family outing, we couldn't resist. (I think the story will be on ET Tuesday night--I doubt we're actually in any of the footage, but if we are, I'm the mom in the black hat.)

Blogger problems, please stand by

I know I'm not the only one, but right now I can't seem to save drafts, so I'm prevented from making longish posts with links and things (which usually require more than one sitting for me to complete). Stand by! Or sit by, or y'know, just do your thing... I'll be back.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Mr. Shardlow's Opus (and Mr. Corey's too)

Kudos to the teachers at Frank H. Harrison Middle School in Yarmouth, Maine, who have set up a Wiki for their eighth-grade students to produce webpages about civil rights--including disability rights. The idea is nifty--a wiki is a great tool for collaboration, and (after registering) parents and community members are invited to join in gathering and organizing information about the history, law, and cultural aspects of various civil rights movements. In conjunction with the online aspect of their study, students are also creating exhibits for a "Civil Rights Museum," which will be open to the public on the evening of June 5. If you can't make it to the exhibit (kind of a long commute for me, from Southern California to Maine), at least tour the disability rights movement pages that the Harrison students are creating:
  • Pat, Elizabeth, and Smythe from Rod Corey's class have a page called Rights of the Disabled, which currently features short profiles of Ed Roberts, John Tyler, Jeff Moyer, Gabriela Brimmer, Dorothea Dix, Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah; as well as sections about laws and historical eras.
  • Catie, Read, and Alicia from Bill Shardlow's class have a page called Laws Affecting Disabled Americans--section titles include "Disability Discrimination," "Disabled and Sports," "Quotes," and "Quick Facts."
Pat, Elizabeth, Smythe, Catie, Read, and Alicia, great work! You're learning stuff about disability that most adults don't understand yet, and you're learning it in the context of civil rights--that's terrific. Mr. Corey, Mr. Shardlow, and the other Harrison Middle School eighth-grade teachers are doing fine work. I've taught middle school, and I'm really impressed with this project. Maybe you can drop them a note if you agree.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Mother's Day image

Changing Times: Los Angeles in Photographs 1920-1990 is a new online archive of digitized newspaper photographs, maintained by UCLA Library Special Collections. It's a rich and searchable collection. The following photo stood out for me, as a fine image to share on Mother's Day in the US:
According to the caption at the website, this is Magdalena Wodke, a member of the Totally Confident Disabled Drill Team, with her son on her lap, on a track at Northridge in 1984. It's an LA Times photo from August 1984. What was that team again? The Totally Confident Drill Team was part of Operation Confidence, an independent-living and vocational training project begun in 1980 at Widney High School in Los Angeles. The TC Drill Team performed at the Summer Olympics in 1984, which is when this photo was taken. I can't find more about Magdalena Wodke, or her son (who would be about 23 now).

Friday, May 11, 2007

May 11: Chang and Eng Bunker (1811-1874)

Asian history, Southern history, disability history--how about all three? On this date in 1811 (by tradition), conjoined twins Chang and Eng were born in the province of Samutsongkram, Siam (now Thailand), to ethnic Chinese parents. The boys' bodies were connected at the chest, by a band of cartilage that joined their sternums; they had two livers, but the organs were fused. When they were teenagers, a British merchant hired them from their mother for a world tour. They parted ways with their managers, after a few years, and took control of their own exhibition schedule. Thus (unlike many human attractions of the day) they made a fortune. They returned to the exhibition circuit whenever they needed more money quickly. Their billing, "The Siamese Twins," became a popular term for all conjoined twins.

With their fortune, they bought a plantation (and slaves) in North Carolina, adopted the surname Bunker, and in 1843 married local sisters Adelaide and Sallie Yates. Over the next twenty years, Chang and Adelaide had ten children together; Eng and Sallie had eleven or twelve children together (sources vary). Their children were often included in publicity photos such as the image above; in part because they too were a "curiosity," in a time and place when Asian facial features were seldom seen, and in part because they were part of the men's display of "normality" and masculinity. Chang and Eng Bunker died a few hours apart in the winter of 1874, at the age of 63.

The twins' tour routine included a medical examination in each town--in part as publicity, and in part to counter charges of fakery. So there's an extensive archival record of newspaper accounts and medical opinions on the men's bodies. There's also a small collection of their papers in the Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina...and a popular exhibit about Chang & Eng at the Andy Griffith Museum in Mount Airy NC (an unexpected juxtaposition, perhaps, but it's near the site of their homes, and they're buried in a churchyard nearby). Like many large Southern families, the descendants of the Bunkers now hold annual gatherings in Mount Airy.

In 1999, a bronze monument to "In-Jan" (as they're known) was dedicated near their birthplace in Thailand. And in 2001, a bridge in Surry County NC was named the Eng and Chang Bunker Memorial Bridge in their honor--because it is a "twin bridge."

Image above: A well-known c1865 portrait of the Bunkers, seated between their wives; two boys (Patrick and Albert) are seated at their fathers' feet. The photo was taken by Civil War photographer Mathew Brady.

For further reading

Alice Domurat Dreger, One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal
(Harvard University Press 2005).

Alice Domurat Dreger, "Jarring Bodies: Thoughts on the Display of Unusual Anatomies," Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 43(2)(2000): 161-172.

Margrit Shildrick, "Unreformed Bodies: Normative Anxieties and the Denial of Pleasure," Women's Studies 34(April-June 2005): 327-344.

Allison Pingree, "America's 'United Siamese Brothers': Chang and Eng and Nineteenth Century Ideologies of Democracy and Domesticity," in J. J. Cohen, ed., Monster Theory, Reading Culture (Minnesota University Press 1996).

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Disability Blog Carnival #14 is up NOW!

In the wake of the second annual Blogging Against Disablism Day, were there enough posts left to make a worthwhile carnival? The answer is a resounding yes, and then some--there's plenty of disability blogging to go around, and Blue at The Gimp Parade whipped up an excellent edition around the subject of "Firsts"--go, click, learn, you won't leave hungry.

Next carnival (#15) is scheduled to post on May 24, at Ryn Tales, where the invited theme for the edition is "Disability & Family." So many possibilities there--write a post, or recommend someone else's. Submit it for consideration through, or leave it in a comment, or email it. The deadline will be Monday, May 21.

New logo at left: A black-and-white image of a forbidding-looking hospital, with the words "Disability Blog Carnival" and "can't shut us up now" superimposed in bright-yellow, scrawly type. The hospital here is the North Wales Hospital in Denbigh, which has a good historical society website--complete with the stories of former patients (read about Martha Ann Pickin [1882-1944], for example, who was institutionalized soon after giving birth to her son), a photo gallery, and a forum for former patients and employees seeking each other. This logo was made in an effort to make a logo that represents mental/cognitive/developmental/emotional disabilities better than some of our past logos. (Blue has also been working on making logos. You can too! Give it a try.)

And again, big thanks to all who participate, either by writing posts, recommending posts, reading and commenting on posts, linking to the carnival, or hosting an edition.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The WPAS Report: A court order is not just a formality

I'm reading the "Investigative Report Regarding the Ashley Treatment," officially released today by Disability Rights Washington (the new name of Washington Protection and Advocacy System, WPAS, as of June 1). It's not long, it's readable, and it's fascinating. The major finding is that Seattle Children's Hospital violated state law by neglecting to get a court order before performing a sterilization on a person deemed incompetent on the basis of cognitive disability.

Why didn't they get a court order? The hospital cites communication failures. Seems to me that the money quote is this one, on p. 2 of the executive summary:
"...and the individual must be zealously represented by a disinterested third party in an adversarial proceeding to determine whether the sterilization is in the individual's best interest." No court order, no disinterested third party representing the child.

But don't the parents represent the child? Not always. Also on p. 2: "Courts have... limited parental authority to consent to other types of medical interventions that are highly invasive and/or irreversible, particularly when the interest of the parent may not be identical to the interest of the patient." So even the non-sterilization aspects of the treatment in question, by their nature, probably should have been subject to outside evaluation. The surgery was also well outside existing American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on the treatment of complications related to menstruation in minor girls (p. 11, fn 37).

The court order in sterilization cases is not just a formality--this is not a case where somebody forgot to sign some paperwork. In pursuit of a court order, the family would have had to demonstrate (among other factors) that the child was likely to engage in sexual activity, that they had tried other less drastic means of preventing conception, and that "the proposed method of sterilization entails the least invasion of the body of the individual."

Children's Hospital has acknowledged that they violated the law in this case, and has promised to establish protective and educational policies to avoid such lapses in the future. They've also agreed to notify Disability Rights Washington (a federally-mandated watchdog organization) whenever requests for similar procedures or growth-limiting drug regimens are under consideration. And, this is a big one: they say they'll include a disability rights advocate on the ethics committee in the future.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

In Search of....the first TAB

No, not that kind of TAB (illustration at left is a can of the softdrink called TaB). I'm on a search for the first use of the term "Temporarily Able-Bodied (TAB)". Love it or hate it (and there are plenty in both camps), it's a term you'll frequently encounter in disability culture these days. I've seen vague references to its emergence from the American disability rights movement, and those seem correct, but I want specifics: who used it first? When? When was it first written down, or recorded? Here are the bread crumbs I've found so far; I'm hoping someone out there in the blogosphere can fill in the century-wide gap between the 1870s and the 1970s.

ABLE-BODIED: The Oxford English Dictionary has cites for the use of the term "able-bodied" back to 1622 in England and North America. In the mid-1800s, it's definitely being used in official contexts, in opposition to disability, in reforms that were meant to separate deserving (disabled) paupers from the "able-bodied" pauper (who doesn't deserve public funds, by this reasoning, because he should instead work for his living).

TAPs? The earliest appearance of the phrase "temporarily able-bodied" that I've been able to find in the academic journal archive JSTOR is a 1979 article in the Stanford Law Review. In footnote #107 in the article "Anti-Institutionalization: The Promise of the Pennhurst Case," authors David Ferleger and Penelope A. Boyd explain:
"TAP is a term disabled people use to refer to so-called 'normal' people as a reminder of the vicissitudes of fate. 'TAP' is an acronym for 'Temporarily Able-bodied Person.'"
Was TAP also in use in the 1970s, or are the authors mishearing TAB? If TAP was a competing term, what tipped the balance to TAB? (Both Ferleger and Boyd are now practicing lawyers specializing in disability and mental health issues, in the Philadelphia area--perhaps my esteemed colleagues at Temple know of them?)

GEORGE WILL?!?! A 1980s appearance is mostly interesting for its source: conservative political columnist George Will spoke approvingly about the term in a 1985 lecture at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. In a 1986 Hastings Center Report article for the based on that lecture, Will says,
"We who are not physically handicapped are the 'temporarily able-bodied.' I like that because it reminds us that affliction and decline are coming to us all; they are incidental to our humanity. To be human is always to be more or less needy; it is to be increasingly needy the longer we live."
Will's version also illustrates one major problem with the term: it can be taken as an invitation to 'there but for the grace of God' thinking, an invitation that leaves unchallenged the construction of disability as a personal condition of decline, neediness, and affliction.

JUDY HEUMANN: In a 1989 article for International Rehabilitation Review, Ann Rae credits Judy Heumann with introducing the term 'temporarily able-bodied' in England. So the implication is that it's an American term, commonplace enough among American activists in the 1980s to be propagated abroad.

So where does this leave me? Still in the vague "sometime in the 1970s" zone. But I suspect somebody knows the answer to this. Or an answer, anyway. Anybody?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Mara and Benoni Buck of Jamestown, Virginia

Who was first to say or do something? It's not as easy a question to answer as you'd think--historians tend to avoid declaring "the first" unless the situation is extremely clearcut. A simple enough question like (for example) "who was Canada's first woman doctor?" can have several possible answers, depending mainly on what you mean by Canadian and doctor. A few months ago, blogger Natalie Bennett pointed to an essay on Comment is Free by David McKie, exploring the hazards journalists face in trumpeting "the first." McKie even used the example of the "first" disabled Member of Parliament, which is a distinction claimed for several men, but without a single best answer. But, Blue has set "Firsts" as the theme for the next edition of the Disability Blog Carnival. So, cautiously, I'll share a first from US disability history. Probably a first. As far as I know....

Mara Buck (1611-c1655?) and Benoni Buck (1616-39) were the first people with presumed developmental/cognitive/learning disabilities to be described in English documents as being born in America. They were two of the children of Richard Buck (1582-1624), a preacher at the Jamestown colony in Virginia (celebrating the 400th anniversary of its founding this month). While still back in England, they say Richard Buck knew William Shakespeare. He was part of an infamous crossing of the Atlantic that was marooned on Bermuda for nine months. He performed the wedding between John Rolfe and Pocahontas. This was no obscure guy. Richard Buck died the same year as his wife, and left a large plantation and minor children, so there were inevitably legal battles within the estate--and it is in those records that we find Benoni described as an "idiot," and Mara as "very dull in taking her lerninge." Benoni Buck lived under the care of guardians, who apparently drew funds from Benoni's inheritance until he died at age 23. Mara Buck eventually married a Mr. Adkins, but her competence to enter into a marriage contract had earlier challenged in court after a suitor attempted to kidnap her from her guardians.

Note that this first record of developmental disability in America isn't a medical record, or an educational record--before cognitive disability was closely explored in those contexts, the legal assessment of incompetence was the most precise and socially consequential. Also note that it often takes a crisis--a crime, a death--to catch any mention of such lives as Benoni Buck's in the net of historical evidence.

Further Reading:
Seth Mallios, "Archaeological Excavations at 44JC568, The Reverend Richard Buck Site" (Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities 1999): online here.

R. Neugebauer, "Exploitation of the Insane in the New World: Benoni Buck, the First Reported Case of Mental Retardation in the American Colonies," Archives of General Psychiatry 44(5)(1987): 481-483. Abstract here.

Irene W. and Frederick Hecht, "Mara and Benomi [sic] Buck: Familial Mental Retardation in Colonial Jamestown," Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 28(2)(April 1973): 171-176.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

In Memory of George Everitt Green (1880-1895)

[A May 1 post in observance of the second annual Blogging against Disablism Day, organized by the Goldfish. Go check Diary of a Goldfish for links to scores of other blogs posting today on the topic of disablism.--PLR]

Last year, my Blogging Against Disablism Day post was about disablism in the American suffrage movement, and the consistent invisibility of disabled women in a current US women's history text. This year, I want to consider another big story in North American history--the great waves of immigration from Europe in the late 19th/early 20th century. Where's the disablism? In sum, exclusionary laws required officials to identify people with various disabilities at various points of arrival, and forbid them entry into the US and Canada, under the assumptions that (a) they would be a drain on the public purse, and/or (b) they would weaken the "national stock" with their faulty constitutions. At Ellis Island today, you can see photographs and artifacts of this inspection process. Note that, discrimination against disabled people wasn't a benign oversight, nor an unforeseen consequence of broader policy--disability discrimination was the policy. As Douglas Baynton has explained,
"One of the fundamental imperatives in the initial formation of American immigration policy at the end of the 19th century was the exclusion of disabled people. Beyond the targeting of disabled people, the concept of disability was instrumental in crafting the image of the undesirable immigrant." (Baynton 2001: 45)
(This statement is made in regards to US immigration history, but would apply to the Canadian case as well.)

But what if you passed through the inspection without being detected? One of the most haunting stories in the history of disability and immigration policy is the tale of George Everitt Green (1880-1895), an English teenager who was transplanted to Canada as part of the "Barnardo scheme" to settle orphaned and destitute boys with Canadian and Australian foster families. (There were parallel schemes for girls.) He was born in London, and left to the care of the local parish at the age of 6. When he was 14, George and his brother Walter went to live at a juvenile home, and in March 1895 the Green boys were on a boat for Canada.

George Green was placed with Helen Findlay, a single woman who had a farm outside Wiarton, Ontario. Her brother had recently died, and she needed help with the farm work; a teenaged boy seemed like a good match. But Green couldn't match Findlay's expectations: he was small for his age, he had "defective vision" and was called "backward." On the evening of 8 November 1895, seven months after his arrival at Findlay's farm, George Green died. An autopsy found signs of malnutrition, frostbite, gangrene, and frequent beatings (neighbors confirmed that Findlay hit Green, often). Findlay was charged with the death, and her trial was front-page news in much of Canada. A hung jury couldn't reach a conclusion on Findlay's guilt. She was never convicted. (A later effort to convict her of child abuse and neglect was also unsuccessful.)

But there were consequences paid in the wake of Green's death. Instead of seeing the Green-Findlay story as a crime against a vulnerable foster child placed in the home of a violent adult, the Canadian press spun Findlay's violence as extreme but understandable, and framed immigrant children as "diseased offscourings of the hotbeds of hellish slumdom" (quoted in Wagner 1982: 150-154). To review:
  • George Green was killed because he was disabled and didn't meet the expectations of his foster mother;
  • Helen Findlay's crimes against him were excused because he was disabled, and
  • his story was made the basis of further discrimination against disabled immigrant children.
On Blogging Against Disablism Day, I'm remembering George Green, whose short sad life was ended not by any underlying medical condition, but by one woman's hatred and intolerance for his disability status, in a world that pretty much agreed with her.

Upper, left: immigrants undergoing medical inspection at Ellis Island, found here.
Lower, right: A photo of some Barnardo boys still in England in 1905, showing some with crutches; this was taken a few months before Thomas Barnardo's death that same year, and is found here.

POSTSCRIPT: Barnardo was famous for photographing every boy he emigrated, before they set sail for their new homes. So there must have been a picture of George Green, taken at age 14. Anyone have any leads? There were probably newspaper images in the Findlay trial coverage, but I haven't found those yet either.

ANOTHER POSTSCRIPT: We posted last Canada Day about two recent cases before the Canadian Supreme Court, in which families immigrating to Canada were initially turned away because their disabled children might impose "excessive demands" on state services. The majority ruled that such broad interpretation of immigration law was not in keeping with the law's intent and purpose. So that's what's been happening lately on the subject. (Caughtya asked.)

Douglas Baynton, "Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History," in Paul K. Longmore and Lauri Umansky, eds., The New Disability History: American Perspectives (New York University Press 2001): 33-57.

Gillian Wagner, Children of the Empire (Wiedenfeld and Nicolson 1982).

June Dwyer, "Disease, Deformity, and Defiance: Writing the Language of Immigration Law and the Eugenics Movement on the Immigrant Body," MELUS 28(1)(Spring 2003): online here.

Michele Langfield, "Voluntarism, Salvation, and Rescue: British Juvenile Migration to Australia and Canada, 1890-1939," Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 32(2)(May 2004): 86-114.

Howard Markel and Alexandra Minna Stern, "The Foreignness of Germs: The Persistent Association of Immigrants and Disease in American Society," Milbank Quarterly 80(4)(2002): 757-788.

Penny L. Richards, "Points of Entry: Disability and the Historical Geography of Immigration," Disability Studies Quarterly 24(3)(Summer 2004).