A Historical Overview of Disability and Employment in the United States, 1600 to 1950

Main Article Content

Stephanie Patterson


Disability, labor, US history


Through a preliminary review of existing literature and archival source materials, this brief overview begins the task of compiling existing data about the history of disability and employment in the United States. A chronological framework is used that includes employment–related phenomena. The major topics covered are pre-industrial rural life, post-industrial work opportunities and the government’s response to the employment needs of disabled veterans. In addition, due to relevance to the topic, there is a brief mention of freak shows and the dawning disability rights movement after WWI.

Abstract 1957 | PDF Downloads 775 Word Downloads 142 Text Downloads 194


Abilities, Inc. (2006). About Abilities, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.abilitiesinc.org/index.aspx

Adams, G. W. (2004, April). Caring for the men: The history of Civil War medicine. Shotgun's Home of the American Civil War [Self published website]. Retrieved from http://www.civilwarhome.com/medicinehistory.htm

Albrecht, G., Seelman, K., & Barry, M. (2001). Handbook of Disability Studies. London: Sage.

Aponte-González, M., & Miller, J. (2006). Interview with Jennifer Miller [Online video]. Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics Digital Video Library. Retrieved from http://hidvl.nyu.edu/video/000512377.html

Baltimore deaf church documents its history. (2004, May 6). United Methodist News Service [Archives]. Retrieved from http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?ptid=6&mid=4860

Barnartt, S., & Scott, R. (2001). Disability protests: Contentious politics 1970-1999. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

A brief history of legislation. (n.d.). Resources for Disabled Students. Retrieved from Colorado State University website http://rds.colostate.edu/history-of-legislation.aspx

Brobeck, S. (1976). Revolutionary change in colonial Philadelphia: The brief life of the proprietary gentry. William & Mary Quarterly. 33(3), 410-434. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1921541

Brooks, E., Mann, H., & Phillips, S. C. (1833). Address of the trustees of the New England institution for the education of the blind to the public. Perkins School for the Blind. Retrieved from Disability History Museum website http://www.disabilitymuseum.org/lib/docs/1926.htm

Brown, S. E. (2000). The league of the physically handicapped and independent living in 1935. Disability World, 5. [Excerpt from Freedom of Movement: Independent Living History and Philosophy, ILRU, August 1999.] Retrieved from http://www.disabilityworld.org/10-12_00/il/league.htm

Chauchetière, C. S. J. (2007). The Life of the Good Catherine Tekakwitha, said now Saint Catherine Tekakwitha. Retrieved from http://www.thelifeofkateritekakwitha.net/en/cc/chapter4.html (Original work published 1695)
Closing the distance: Native Americans and epilepsy. (2010). Epilepsy USA [Online magazine]. Retrieved from http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/epilepsyusa/magazine/Issue2-2010/closingthedistance.cfm?renderforprint=1&

Cottrell, D. M. (2010). Green, Edward Howlinson Robinson (1868–1936). The handbook of Texas online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved from http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/GG/fgr33.html

Downs, Jim. (2008). The continuation of slavery: The experience of disabled slaves during emancipation. Disability Studies Quarterly, 28(3). Retrieved from http://www.dsq-sds.org/article/view/112/112

Economics and people with disabilities. (2010). Disability Issues Information for Journalists [Website]. Center for an Accessible Society. Retrieved from http://www.accessiblesociety.org/topics/economics-employment/

Elliott, T. R., & Leung, P. (2005). Vocational rehabilitation: History and practice. In W. B. Walsh & M. Savickas (Eds.), Handbook of vocational psychology: Theory, research and practice. 3rd ed. (pp. 319-323). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Fay, E. A. (Ed.). (1893). A brief history of the American asylum, at Hartford, for the education and instruction of the deaf and dumb. Histories of American Schools for the Deaf, 1817-1893, Vol I. Washington DC: The Volta Bureau. Retrieved from http://www.disabilitymuseum.org/lib/docs/1371.htm.

Fleischer, D. Z., & Zames, F. (2002). The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation. The Woman’s Connection [Self-published website]. Retrieved from http://www.womans-connection.com/al_disability_rights_movement.htm

Freaks of nature. (2000). The Missing Link [Website]. Retrieved from http://www.classichorror.free-online.co.uk/freaksnattxt.htm

Gatto, J. T. (2003, September). Against school: How public education cripples our kids, and why. [Self published document.] John Taylor Gatto [Self-published website]. Retrieved from http://www.spinninglobe.net/againstschool.htm

Grizzard, W. R. (2004). Impact of disability history, identity and community - yesterday, today and tomorrow. Retrieved from the Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor website http://www.dol.gov/odep/archives/media/speeches/youth.htm

Gross, J. (2005). Civil war pensions. Encyclopedia of the American Civil War [Self published website]. Retrieved from http://www.civilwarhome.com/pensions.htm.

Hand talk: Preserving a language legacy. (2010). Mother Nature Network [Self published website]. Retrieved from http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/videos/hand-talk-preserving-a-language-legacy

Hanes, R. (2004). From charitable relief to social control: The criminalization of people with disabilities in nineteenth century Canada. The Review of Disability Studies, 1(2), 88.

Hickman, K. (2010). American Civil War: General John Bell Hood. New York Times Company About.com. Retrieved from http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/americancivilwar/p/jbhood.htm

The Holy Bible. (1952). New York: American Bible Society.

Jennings, A. (2007). “The greatest numbers… will be wage earners”: Organized labor and disability activism 1945 to 1953. Labor, 4(4), 55-82. doi:10.1215/15476715-2007-034

Kiernan, J. (2004, April 24). A tribute to Henry Viscardi, a pioneer for disabled. Long Island Business News. Retrieved from http://www.allbusiness.com/north-america/united-states-new-york/920556-1.html.

Longmore, P. K., & Goldberger, D. (2000). The league of the physically handicapped and the great depression: A case study in the new disability history. The Journal of American History, 87(3), 888-922. doi:10.2307/2675276

Magner, L. N. (2000). The establishment of schools for the disabled. Science and Its Times, 5, 288-291.

Malhotra, R. (2001, July). The politics of the disability rights movement. Znet. Retrieved from http://www.zcommunications.org/the-politics-of-the-disability-rights-movement-by-ravi-malhotra

Mallery, G. (1881). Sign language among North American Indians compared with that among other peoples and deaf-mutes. (First Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.) Project Gutenberg [EBook #17451]. 2006). Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/17451

Mill, J. S. (1885). The principles of political economy. Project Gutenberg [EBook # 30107]. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/30107/30107-h/30107-h.html

Murray, N. (2003). Historical overview of disability policy. Paper presented at the University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, Pittsburgh, PA. Retrieved from http://www.wheelchairnet.org/WCN_Living/Docs/Historicaloverview.html

Nelson, T. C. (n.d.). Disability myths. Bipolar World [Self published website]. Retrieved from http://www.bipolarworld.net/Disability/Disability/disability_myths.htm

Pompano, J. R. (2006). The path to opportunity: A study of disability rights in postwar America. Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute [Curriculum unit 06.03.07]. Retrieved from http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/2006/3/06.03.07.x.html

Russell, M. (2000). The political economy of disablement. Dollars and Sense, 231, 13.

Scharrer, G. (2010, January 7). Groups call for textbook input. Houston Chronicle. Retrieved from http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/6804513.html

Scholar uncovers hidden history of people with disabilities. (1991). Stanford University News Service. Retrieved from http://www.stanford.edu/dept/news/pr/91/910515Arc1373.html.

Stanton, J. (1997) Coney Island – freaks [Self-published website]. Retrieved from http://www.westland.net/coneyisland/articles/freaks.htm

Thompson, M. (1994). An examination of the evolution and role of persons with disabilities within American society. [Self published document]. Retrieved from http://www.empowermentzone.com/evolve.txt

Thomson, R. G. (1997). Extraordinary bodies: Figuring physical disability in American culture and literature. New York: Columbia University Press.

Trattner, W. I. (1994). From poor law to welfare state: A history of social welfare in America (6th ed.). New York: The Free Press.

Trent, J. W. (1994). Inventing the feeble mind: A history of mental retardation in the United States. Berkeley: University of California Press

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). VA History in Brief. Retrieved from http://www.va.gov/opa/publications/archives/docs/history_in_brief.pdf

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2010, March.) VA History. Retrieved from http://www4.va.gov/about_va/vahistory.asp.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2011, April). The Civil War: The origins of veterans' health care. Retrieved from http://www.va.gov/health/NewsFeatures/20110413a.asp

Welch, P., & Palames, C. (1995). A brief history of disability rights legislation in the United States [Excerpt]. Universal Design Education. Retrieved from http://www.udeducation.org/resources/61.html

Weld, T. D. (1839). American slavery as it is: Testimony of a thousand witnesses. New York: American Anti-Slavery Office. Retrieved from http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/weld/weld.html

Wolf, B. (2005, November 1). The secretly normal lives of sideshow stars. ABC News. Retrieved from http://www.buckwolf.org/www.abcnews.go.com/entertainment/wolffiles/storyff87.html?id=1289945.

Similar Articles

1 2 3 4 5 6 > >> 

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.