Sunday, November 15, 2015

Christine la Barraque (c1878-1961), and more new disability content on Wikipedia

Hey! A new post at DSTU. 

As I've mentioned, in recent years I've been putting some energy into Wikipedia. I like writing new entries there, because it feels like that's going to reach a much bigger audience than a journal article or a paywalled reference. And, as part of WikiProject Disability, some of my entries are about disability topics (of course). Since last BADD in May, I've started new entries for baseball coach Mary Dobkin, businessman Dwight D. Guilfoil Jr., South African activist Maria Rantho, wheelchair manufacturers Everest & Jennings, blind biochemist Dilworth Wayne Woolley, playground builders Shane's Inspiration, and blind singer/lawyer Christine la Barraque. I also built out an existing stub entry on educator Elizabeth E. Farrell, during the "Justin Dart Jr. Virtual Edit-a-thon 2015" in August.

None of these are exhaustive entries; they're a good solid start, I think, but if anyone reading this blogpost has more to add, with reliable sources to back up any new information, please jump in! Christine la Barraque has me especially curious right now (because I just wrote about her on Friday). She seems, pretty definitely, to have been the first blind woman to pass the bar in California; but was she the first in any state (as some sources suggest)? Was she the first blind woman to graduate from the University of California, in 1896 (when she was about 18 years old, by the way)? Anytime "the first" is on the table, there are questions and complications: who counts as blind? or graduating? or a woman? La Barraque was said to have been born in France, but exactly where is sketchy and mentions contradict each other. If she was, her parents came to America with a blind child, through immigration screens intended to prevent that scenario. So I would love to know more about them, too. (I think they lived in Tres Pinos or Paicines, California--when she was living in Boston at the time of the San Francisco earthquake, she sent a telegram to the governor of California asking after "my people in Tres Pinos.")

La Barraque wasn't an obscure singer or advocate; she performed for Helen Keller and Mark Twain, she was a founder and president of the San Francisco Workers for the Blind, she testified before the Massachusetts Legislature, she toured blind schools in Italy, she performed all over the US and apparently also in Canada. I've seen mentions of her working with disabled veterans after both World Wars, but not enough to include in the entry (yet).