The Historical Society of Pennsylvania devoted the most recent edition of their Legacies magazine to disability history. As with so many minority groups, people with disabilities have been largely left out of history. An introduction by editor Rachel Moloshok sums this up eloquently:
“Still, as my wheelchair-using historian husband and I are reminded when our failed attempts to enter shops, apartments, public transportation systems, and, yes, even historical libraries are shrugged away with explanations such as “oh, this structure is x years old,” disability is often thought of as being somehow without history. Although Americans of all eras have encountered or experienced disability in some form, disability is rarely depicted in historic monuments, paintings, or reenactments, rarely mentioned in history books, and rarely considered as a category of historical analysis in the way that race, gender, and class now are.”
Pennsylvanians have been at the heart of some of the most important disability advocacy. One article (“Threshold of Liberation: The Little-Known History of Deinstitutionalization of Americans with Developmental Disabilities in the Late 20th Century”) traces the very beginnings of the national movement of deinstitutionalization to actions by Pennsylvanians in the 1960s.
Even earlier, Western Pennsylvanian Mildred Scott fought for disability rights in the 1940s and 1950s. Her life of activism began when she learned during high school that she was barred from teaching because of disabilities brought on by polio. Read her story in “Mildred Scott: A Pennsylvania Woman at the Heart of the Early Disability Rights Movement.”
Other articles offer well-researched, illustrated studies of eugenics, blindness, and much more.
The magazine is available online for viewing or download until the end of 2017.More information on Legacies magazine, including the table of contents, how to buy a hard copy, and how to subscribe, can be found on the Historical Society’s website.