Constructing the Disabled Child in England, 1800–1860
journal contributionposted on 22.09.2015, 09:34 by Steven A. King
At the core of much of the historiography of disability in so far as it relates to nineteenth century England is a belief that the support offered to those with physical and mental impairments was threadbare and that such people could be and were pushed to the social margins of their communities. The current article uses poor law records, letters, newspapers and coronial inquests to suggest that officials in fact had a sophisticated sense of degrees of mental and physical impairment and relief/support systems were tailored accordingly. Like many of the pauper families who wrote to them about children with impairments I argue that officials tended to construct hierarchies of ability rather than disability and that doing so took them deeply into areas like labour market subsidy and the avoidance of institutional confinement. On the subject of children with mental and physical impairments, officials and pauper shared a common rhetorical register and strategic approach to classification and treatment.