The OAH Magazine of History

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Disability History

from the editor

Disability History, by Carl R. Weinberg

I always knew when he was coming down the stairs. I never had to look. The sound was unmistakable: "Clump-CLUMP-clump-CLUMP-clump-CLUMP." When he was six years old, in the summer of 1927, my dad had contracted polio. Doctors told his parents that he might never walk again. He might be paralyzed for life, if he survived at all. But due to his father’s daily leg massages, a stint at the Jesse Spalding School for Crippled Children in Chicago, and a little bit of luck, he not only survived--he lived a “normal” childhood. Like the other children of Italian, Irish, and Jewish immigrants on Chicago’s west side, he roamed the streets, started smoking cigarettes at the ripe old age of eight, skitched on the back of cars on snowy days, and played stickball with his buddies (he could hit, catch and throw, but needed a pinch runner). And he grew to adulthood with a left leg that was slightly skinnier, shorter and softer on the stairs, than his right. Read more >


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Teaching Disability History,
by Daniel J. Wilson
Read online >


Making Disability an Essential Part of American History,
by Paul K. Longmore
Read online >

“Nothing About Us Without Us”: Disability Rights in America,
by Richard K. Scotch
Read online >

Creating Group Identity: Disabled Veterans and American Government,
by David Gerber
Read online >

(Extraordinary) Bodies of Knowledge: Recent Scholarship in American Disability History,
by Susan Burch
Read online >
Full Bibliography

teaching resources

“No Defectives Need Apply”: Disability and Immigration,
by Daniel J. Wilson
Read online >

Using Biography to Teach Disability History,
by Kim E. Nielsen
Read online >

web resources

Disability History Online,
by Penny L. Richards
Read online > (free to public)
Read online > (Oxford)

on the cover

Baker and Johnston Photo Studios, Amputation of Right Thigh (1886). (Courtesy of Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine, Washington, D.C.)

Corporal Edward Scott served with K Company of the Tenth U.S. Cavalry, one of the famed “Buffalo Soldier” units of the U.S. Army. In the spring of 1886, his unit pursued Apache leader Geronimo, who led American soldiers on a chase through the Sonoran Desert in Mexico. On May 3, Scott was wounded by an Apache rifleman in a firefight near the Sierra Pinito. Five days later, an army doctor amputated most of Scott’s right leg. Having served for over eight years in both the Tenth and Ninth Cavalries, thirty-year-old Scott soon moved into the Soldiers’ Home, a federally funded institution for disabled veterans. Scott himself selected this photo for official Army records. It conveys the sense of dignity that people with disabilities have fought to maintain.