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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
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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
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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
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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
Michael Robinson

This chapter demonstrates Irishmen fighting in the same uniform as their British comrades also experienced similar psychoneurotic afflictions. However, it was how such instances amongst Irish troops were perceived which was unique. This chapter establishes that the British military establishment believed the Irish Tommy was especially susceptible to war neuroses. This discernment was a continuation of long-held anti-Irish perceptions amongst Britons that the Irish were immature, emotionally volatile and susceptible to mental illness. This assessment had helped to legitimise British imperialism in Ireland. Simultaneous to the continuation of such anti-Irish prejudices, however, this chapter also offers a considerate analysis of the Ministry of Pensions’ early rehabilitative attempts in Britain and Ireland between 1914 and 1921. Exclusive in-patient and out-patient treatment was provided in Ministry hospitals throughout the United Kingdom. This infrastructure was far more progressive and innovative than has been previously assumed. Infrastructure in ‘South Ireland’, however, was fatally compromised. The region experienced far higher waiting lists for neurasthenic pensioners awaiting in-patient and out-patient treatment in the United Kingdom. Ministry of Pensions officials in London attributed these inflated figures to the supposition that the Irish were predisposed to mental illness.

in Shell-shocked British Army veterans in Ireland, 1918–39
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Michael Robinson

This introduction outlines the development of shell-shock as a diagnosis and establishes its position in the historiography of the First World War. It demonstrates that no study has addressed the experience of Irish men who suffered from psychoneurotic ailments as a result of war service. The introduction explains the reluctance of previous works to engage with Ireland by highlighting a perceived dearth in archival materials and the distinguishing features of the political and socio-economic circumstances in Ireland. It delineates the reasons for the methodological choices made in writing the book and explains its chapter structure. The book aims to widen the traditional interpretation of shell-shock by challenging the assumption that the experiences of mentally ill veterans in Ireland are unquantifiable and untraceable. The unique socio-political and economic circumstances in Ireland ensures the Irish experience of post-war mental illness and disability does not reflect previous British-centric works. The post-war care and rehabilitation of mentally disabled British Army veterans in inter-war Ireland were heavily influenced by bio-psycho, socio-economic, cultural and political concerns. This thesis will become evident in the book’s five ensuing chapters.

in Shell-shocked British Army veterans in Ireland, 1918–39
Michael Robinson

This chapter demonstrates that qualitative and quantitative evidence differentiating Ireland from UK must be contextualised within larger societal, economic and administrative frameworks. Rather than an Irish biological disposition to mental illness, it was the ongoing Anglo-Irish War, 1919–1921, which explains the high waiting list figures amongst neurasthenic pensioners in ‘South Ireland’. The guerrilla conflict caused much disruption in the rehabilitation of disabled Great War veterans. This chapter also comprehends the psychological impact this traumatising homecoming would have had on returning Great War veterans. The opportunity to work and provide for oneself was a fundamental component in the Ministry’s rehabilitation of disabled pensioners. Further discrimination attached itself to Irish men who had served in a British Army uniform, now viewed by many in increasingly nationalist areas of Ireland as an oppressive and occupying force. The lack of societal appreciation, training and treatment facilities increased the likelihood of unemployment amongst Irish Great War veterans which, in turn, intensified psychoneurotic symptoms and increased the likelihood of veterans turning to the Ministry for relief or applying to the department for medical treatment. The revolutionary period ensured that Ireland was the least suitable area in the United Kingdom for a mentally ill veteran to return to.

in Shell-shocked British Army veterans in Ireland, 1918–39