Glasgow’s children’s hospital, Scottish convalescent homes ‘in the country’ and East Park Home for Infirm Children
Iain Hutchison

The boundary between definitions of ill health and disability becomes apparent in this chapter on children’s experiences in Glasgow in the Victorian period. Early efforts to establish a children’s hospital were resisted on purely financial grounds, as they were seen as a threat to the established institutions by taking away vital income. After Glasgow’s Hospital for Sick Children finally opened, it soon became apparent that many children who had been treated needed a longer time to recover but too-early discharge to poor housing conditions and diet could result in their recovery being arrested and reversed. As a result, a number of convalescent homes in the countryside were established to assist with children’s recovery and formal agreements were reached between the Royal Hospital for Sick Children and homes such as Ravenscraig and the East Park Home. This chapter traces continuity of the Victorian ethos when the children’s hospital and charity-run convalescent homes evolved in the aftermath of the Great War.

in Disability and the Victorians
Case studies of George Eliot and Harriet Martineau
Deborah M. Fratz

This chapter explores representations of impairment and disability in the ‘Literary Realism’ writings of George Eliot and Harriet Martineau and investigates a different medium of popular perceptions and representations of disability, that of popular fiction. Criticism addressing the use of disabled characters in Victorian fiction frequently acknowledges how such characters function by invoking feelings of sympathy, both within the narrative and in readers. However, Deerbrook’s Maria Young and Philip Wakem in The Mill on the Floss reverse our expectations: rather than being the subjects of observation and sympathy, they operate as model observers of the world around them. In this, they differ from the stereotypical role assigned to disabled characters in other Victorian novels and seek to follow one of the guiding principles of Literary Realism, the accurate portrayal of daily life, rather than some romanticised notion.

in Disability and the Victorians
Joanne Woiak

The debates surrounding what constitutes ‘disability’ and what are considered appropriate reactions to disabling conditions are highlighted in this examination of the historical background to psychiatric, eugenic and wider societal responses to inebriation. The author explains how alcohol addiction became seen as what she terms a ‘borderland’ disability, a condition that should be recognised as both a cause and a symptom of disability, rather than an illness or a life-style choice. Furthermore, inebriation needs to be evaluated through the longer-term consequences of constitutional weakness or feeble-mindedness that might be detected in the offspring of inebriants. Discourses and policies that connected the concepts of alcoholism and degeneration were prominent sites at which disability was constructed in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The chapter emphasises the roles that gender and social class played in eliciting responses that demonstrated either compassion or prejudice towards the debilitating effects of alcohol addiction.

in Disability and the Victorians
Consuming ability in the antebellum artificial limb market
Caroline Lieffers

‘Passing’ was an objective of the prosthetic limb developed by Benjamin Franklin Palmer. Palmer produced the first patented leg in New Hampshire and he gradually developed a worldwide following for a device that became a must-have accessory for those who wished to blend back into society following the loss of a limb. Palmer aligned his invention with medical progress, but he was also adept at marketing the benefits of his prosthetics in both practical and aesthetic terms. The prosthesis was able to merge with the body, making the wearer ‘whole’ again, physically and mentally, and it could facilitate masculine ideals of sociability, labour and business success. International marketing of his invention created a following for a device that was ‘conspicuously inconspicuous’ and demonstrated that Victorian values and ideals were not limited to Britain and its empire.

in Disability and the Victorians
Abstract only
Confronting the legacies of empire, disability and the Victorians
Esme Cleall

The British Empire reached the peak of its power and influence during the Victorian era, presenting opportunities to a wide spectrum of entrepreneurs, missionaries, government administrators and adventurers. This chapter examines how disabled white Britons fitted into the imperial matrix by exploring the life histories of three deaf educators and social reformers, John Kitto, George Tait and Jane Groom. As the lives of these three individuals intersected with the workings of the British Empire, this provides an opportunity to consider the intersection between disability and colonialism. As Cleall demonstrates, scholars of disability have often used the language of colonialism to evoke the exclusion, discrimination and subjugation of disabled people by society, following a similar pattern to that used in issues of race.

in Disability and the Victorians
Abstract only
Iain Hutchison, Martin Atherton and Jaipreet Virdi

‘Disability’ is a wide and multifaceted concept and Victorian elites drew heavily on a whole range of ways of classifying not only sections within society but also behaviours that they considered to be socially and morally deviant. Notably, through the application of Poor Laws in the United Kingdom and beyond, what Victorians were guided by their perceptions, on the one hand, of able-bodiedness and the ability to perform productive and self-supporting work and, on the other hand, of people who were disabled from working through a range of physical, sensory and mental impairments. They increasingly tried to differentiate between those whom they considered to be worthy of aid and those they deemed to be unworthy of assistance and support, through being unable or unwilling to find employment. The chapters presented in this collection represent some of the ways in which support was offered or withheld and how those deemed to be worthy of such support were identified.

in Disability and the Victorians
The Royal Ear Hospital, 1816–1900
Jaipreet Virdi

It was during the nineteenth century that specialist hospitals emerged, but medical specialisation was often ridiculed by general clinicians who took pride in having training and expertise that they felt equipped them to direct their skills at any kind of medical challenge. This chapter outlines the arguments put forward by those opposed to specialisation, tracing the evolution of the Royal Ear Hospital in London. It is a journey during which the scientific knowledge of the ear, and how to restore or improve its utility, made significant strides, but the hospital’s early battles evolved around establishing the medical credibility of its aural specialists. The chapter shows how specialist hospitals came to define the parameters of deafness as a disability or defect requiring a cure, how this perception has influenced wider societal views on the necessity of medical interventions ever since and how this is in stark contrast to counter views of deafness as a distinct cultural or linguistic identity.

in Disability and the Victorians
Abstract only
Towards an intimate history of special schools for the blind
Fred Reid

In this chapter the author narrates his direct and personal insights into the continuity of Victorian values and practices relating to the welfare and education of blind people that were maintained well into the twentieth century. Using his novella, The Panopticon, which is based on his lived experiences of growing up in a residential blind school in the 1950s, the author argues that residential institutions for disabled people acted similarly to prisons in some aspects of their treatment of those in their care, particularly in relation to how personal relationships between pupils were regulated and the ways in which transgressions of the strict moral code of the institution were punished. He also illustrates how these places of education failed to prepare their pupils for the sexual challenges of adolescence and adult life, while acknowledging the benefits that communal living with contemporaries could provide.

in Disability and the Victorians
Victorian middle-class attitudes towards the healthcare of the working poor
Amy W. Farnbach Pearson

Focusing on Glasgow Royal Infirmary (GRI) and the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (RIE), this chapter shows how voluntary hospitals were influential locations in developing and disseminating the medical advances of the Victorian era. At the same time, middle-class ideals to restore the able-bodied from temporary illness or impairment to productive industry led voluntary hospitals in Scotland to reject those who were perceived as incurable or disabled from working and therefore unable to support themselves and their families. This perspective of worthiness enacted at GRI and RIE reflected hardening societal attitudes towards the working classes that emerged during the nineteenth century among the middle classes of both England and Scotland. Ultimately, the disillusionment of early and mid-Victorian reformers with their failed efforts to restore individuals with impairments ultimately saw the reclassification of many working-class invalids as refractory, unfit for the charity of voluntary hospitals, and incapable of restoration to industry and usefulness, constructing impairment as discrediting for generations to come.

in Disability and the Victorians
Paula Hellal and Marjorie Lorch

This chapter shows how the Victorian era can be credited with ushering in reforms in childhood developmental disorders, including but not limited to problems with language acquisition. These early steps in recognising age as a factor of clinical importance were responsible, in large part, for eventual legislation in Great Britain, Europe and the United States that provided equitable treatment of children and adults alike. The authors explore Victorian attitudes to childhood disability by focusing on how physicians attempted to describe and explain these newly identified developmental disorders of language. Focusing primarily on childhood aphasia, they highlight the haphazard ways in which the medical profession made breakthroughs to give greater understanding of the condition. This required abandonment of early ideas, which had often been without empirical foundation, in order to embrace fresh perspectives and understanding, notably about the long-held and dubious linkage made between deafness and ‘dumbness’.

in Disability and the Victorians