"Crippled": A History of Childhood Disability in America, 1860-1980, will be the first book-length historical study of physically disabled children in the United States to expand beyond the story of polio. The purpose of this project is to explore the power of term "crippled" as it was applied to children in the United States from the mid-nineteenth century through the 1970s, when the term fell into disuse and the concept gave way to the more broadly conceived "disabled child." While historians have scrutinized other types of disabilities and groups of disabled people, the subject of children with orthopedic disabilities has been neglected apart from research on polio as a medical, cultural, and social phenomenon. Concern for the "crippled child," however, was already well established when polio emerged as a major threat (1910s), and the crippled child was still present in society after the polio vaccine became available (1955). This social and cultural history will explore the ways in which surgeons and other physicians, rehabilitation professionals, charity workers, and advocates shaped the medical definitions and cultural meanings of the crippled child and the ways in which they responded to the needs of children defined as crippled, while keeping the lived experiences of the children central to the narrative. The project begins with the 1863 founding of the first hospital in the US primarily serving crippled children (the New York Hospital for the Ruptured and Crippled) and concludes in 1980, by which time virtually all charitable and advocacy organizations and hospitals had removed the word "crippled" from their names. The project will use both oral history and standard historical research methodologies, i.e., the analysis of primary sources from a wide variety of archival collections, placed in the context of existing historiography.
Crippled: A History of Childhood Disability in America, 1860-1980, explores the ways in which surgeons and other physicians, rehabilitation professionals, charity workers, and advocates shaped the medical definitions and cultural meanings of the crippled child and the ways in which they responded to the needs of children defined as crippled. By the early twentieth century, crippling conditions in children had been identified as a public health problem and lay and professional advocates alike were lobbying state governments to respond to the problem. In 1935, Congress established the Crippled Children's Program, a public health response to the problem of crippling conditions in children (although not bureaucratically situated in the Public Health Service).