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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.
The Victorian era, encompassing the latter six decades of the nineteenth century, was a period by which significant areas of the British Isles had become industrialised and urbanised. Both processes exacerbated the extent of impairing conditions, ranging from industrial injury through the prevalence of debilitating physiological illnesses. Disability and the Victorians: attitudes, interventions, legacies brings together the work of eleven scholars and focuses on the history of disability and, while showcasing the work of a diverse gathering of historians, also gives a flavour of how disability history engages the work of scholars from other disciplines and how they, in turn, enhance historical thought and understanding. Equally, while the focus is on the Victorian era, a time during which society changed significantly, both at the bottom and from the top, it was also a time in which patterns developed that were to have an enduring influence. Therefore, a taste of that enduring influence is presented in chapters that suggest the resilience of Victorian thought and practices in the modern era. Consequently, an underlying aim is to encourage readers to take a broad view, both of ‘disability’ and of Victorian influences and values.
‘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.