In the News (in the 19th Century): Died from the effects of jumping rope

March 28th, 2011

Died from the Effects of Jumping Rope – Maggie Daniels, an interesting daughter of Mr Edward Daniels, about eight years of age, residing in Pine street, died from the effects of jumping rope, on Tuesday last. We learn that she jumped two hundred times in succession, which was followed by sudden illness resulting in death. The practice of rope-jumping to see how many times one can jump without stopping is exceedingly dangerous, and it behooves parents and teachers to caution the children against indulging therein. A little of this exercise will do very well, but if carried out to excess it is sure to produce injurious results.

- Cape Breton Advertiser

This appeared in the Morning Chronicle on March 25, 1874, pg 3.

What I got out of reading this was that moral panics have changed a lot over the years.

In the News (In the 19th Century): An Electors Lament

March 25th, 2011

I try not to get myself too distracted when combing through newspapers, so I mostly try to only read articles that actually talk about my school and what I’m researching. This sometimes leads to me being very confused about what’s going on in the time period I’m writing about – I know there’s some form of argument about winter port issues in Halifax, but I’ve been refusing to read any of the hundreds of articles I’ve skimmed by about it.

Other times the headlines just grab me and I can’t look away.

The Halifax Morning Chronicle used to print a lot of poetry, usually on the front page of every issue. In light of Canada’s upcoming election, this particular poem jumped out at me and I couldn’t resist clipping it and now reproducing it here for your reading enjoyment.

All of this is, of course, [sic].

An Electors Lament

Vote by Ballot ? Vote be bothered! Vote by Ballot ? Vote be blowed !
Never for them blessed Liberals wouldn’t ha’ voted if I’d know’d.
Call it Liberal ? I say shabby, not to pay a poor man’s vote.
Wot’s that worth now when among ‘em all there ain’t a f’pun note?

Melancholy alteration – ain’t it? – from the good old times,
When they used at every ‘lection ringin’ for to set the chimes.
Then it was the tradesman’s ‘arvest, witch the poor man reaped so well.
Every free and independent ‘lector ‘ad a vote to sell.

O the day witch I remember, never more sitch times as they,
Druv to poll in a phaneton, ever sitch a little watch,
Open ‘ouse at each committee – drink and wittles gratis, free;
Ar the times as we ‘ave scen, and now to think of them we see!

Treatin’ now is made corruption, and the lawr is so severe,
There ain’t nothink nowhere goin’ no, not even a pint o’ beer.
Wot a change for to come over this here former ‘appy land!
Call it standin’ for a member when a drop he mustn’t stand?

‘Ere’s a state o’ things we’ve come to witch before was never known.
Now a voter’s vote and interest he can’t call no more his own.
Wot’s a Briton’s ancient birthright, witch I am forbid to use ?
Wy not for a mess of porridge let me sell it if I choose?

Now my vote I can’t dispose of, ‘taint no good no more to me.
Who the man is for my money there ain’t one as I can see.
And for takin’ useless trouble I don’t feel I got not call,
Witch, if so, would be a reason wy I shouldn’t vote at all

But for me between the parties though to choose there’s scarce a pin,
They’ve a trifle in their favor change as always went agin.
There’s some hopes, however little, if so be they gain the day,
So the Tories I shall poll for, though I flings by vote away.

- Punch

This appeared in the Morning Chronicle March 31, 1874, on page 1.

Disability Studies Conference

August 19th, 2010

I really want to go to this. I wonder if I can convince the University that my going is a REALLY GOOD IDEA and they should pay for me to do so?

Disability in an Intersectional Lens: A Conference of Emerging Scholars in Disability Studies

The Beyond Compliance Coordinating Committee, the SU Center on Human Policy, Law and Disability Studies and the SU Disability Cultural Center Initiative are jointly seeking proposals for our second Disability Studies Conference to be held at Syracuse University on October 9, 2010.

I don’t know, though. I think my tendency to get distracted means I’ll end up going “Ooh, shiny conference!” and focusing on that rather than doing the research that I’m supposed to be doing.

(But ooooh! Shiny Conference!)


August 18th, 2010

I had a very effective meeting with my thesis adviser yesterday, and an equally effective meeting with the graduate coordinator the day before. I’m pretty lucky with the two of them: My adviser, Dr. T., is excellent at the driving forward goal, while the graduate coordinator, Dr. B., is very good at hand holding and assuring one that everyone in grad school thinks they don’t belong there, and that it’s okay to be struggling.

Sadly, my meeting with Dr. T basically ended with “And this is why you need to take apart your entire outline and put it back together entirely differently.” Which isn’t a bad thing – I think the new approach will actually do what I want it to, and this sort of guidance is exactly what Dr. T is there for – to prevent me making huge mistakes before it’s too late to really change them. And I do think re-organizing things so there’s more of a thematic-chapter structure than a chronological one makes a lot more sense for what I want to do. But oh, my beautiful outline. It had stick figures so I would remember who I was talking about when.

Meanwhile, Dr. B and I had a chat about Theory, about PhD apps, and just generally about what I’m researching. I do think Dr. T cares about these things, but our meetings are very rushed because there’s just so much, and last year she was very very busy, and my partner was quite ill, so now I think we’re both playing catch-up.

Still. I miss my archives, but right now I’m re-writing my outline and re-working what will eventually be Chapter 1, I think, so I have no time to read about scandalous liaisons and naughty blind girls.

Article Review: “The Outlook of The Problem and The Problem with the Outlook

August 17th, 2010

Kudlick, Catherine J. “The Outlook of The Problem and The Problem with the Outlook: Two Advoacy Journals Reinvent Blind Poeple in Turn-of-the-Century America”, The New Disability History: American Perspectives. ed. Longmore, Paul K and Lauri Umansky, pp. 187-213

Kudlick discusses the representations of blind people in two journals, The Problem, published by and for blind people with the intention of fostering communication across the country, and Outlook for the Blind, which was aimed primarily at sighted professionals and talked about the blind rather than to them. The Problem was published from 1900-1903, while Outlook launched in 1907 and lasted for a generation. [I'm a little unclear on when Outlook stopped publishing, but I suspect this is because I read this article fairly quickly, and not because of any fault on the part of the author.]

Kudlick compares the two publications primarily on whose voices are highlighted in them – Outlook almost exclusively published works by sighted professionals, while Problem primarily published the words and letters of blind people – and the intended audiences. She argues that Outlook presented blind people for sighted people. Outlook was a very visual magazine, complete with photographs. As well, the language used in Outlook made it clear that sighted professionals were needed for the aid of blind people, and that blind people were best served by these professionals, rather than each other.

Kudlick draws the distinction between the two journals most strongly by their discussions of gender, primarily their discussions of women’s roles in society. While The Problem presented happily married blind women going about their days as women who happened to be blind (with children!), Outlook was very clearly setting blind women up to be de-sexualised, their skills in domestic science aimed to help out around other people’s homes, not to start their own. She also describes the difference in how blind men and masculinity were discussed in each journal. The Problem published regular biographical sketches of blind men in jobs such as bank managers or farmers. Such sketches did not appear in Outlook.

Kudlick describes two series that Outlook published: the debate over the foundation of a blind college, along the lines of the college for the Deaf, Gallaudet, and the regular publication of letters from Helen Keller. I must admit that until she brought it up, I had never considered questioning the lack of a college for blind students, nor why such a college had not been founded during the US Progressive Era. (I suspect there are different, although complementary, reasons for this in Canada.) The debate apparently raged on for several issues. Kudlick highlights that this debate did include the voices of blind men, often proffesional men who had been educated at various high education institutes across the US, which makes it clear that some blind people, at least, were reading Outlook. However, she also makes it clear that the words of these men were published last, after all the sighted experts had had their say.

As for Keller’s letters, Kudlick expresses some disdain towards Keller’s role as a “spokeswoman” for blind people, and questions how free she could be with her opinions in light of her dependence on others for her support. She also questions how much of Keller’s expressed opinions were actually her own, rather than those of the non-disabled people around her. I don’t buy into this argument as much, but I admit I have not read Hermann’s Helen Keller: A Life or Lash’s Helen and Teacher, so this is more of a knee-jerk defense reaction to my respect for Keller and less some carefully nuanced opinion having taken in all the facts. Certainly I understand Kudlick’s presentation of Keller as being fairly safe and non-confrontational for the readers of Outlook, and am equally aware of her probelmatic status amongst blind people as presenting both an unattainable image of success, and as a very desexualised (or “virgin”, as Kudlick puts it), presentation of blindness.

One of the things I found most interesting was how many of the same discussions we have in disability and gender-related discussions now, in 2010, are the same ones they were having in 1910. Kudlick describes the idylic blind woman presented in The Problem in a very domestic setting, her sighted husband reading the newspaper as their 18 month old child plays at their feet. As Kudlick says, this image doesn’t strike a blow for women’s rights in the Progressive Era, but it does present a very radical image of disability: that of a “normal” family, of a blind woman being obviously sexual in some way. It reminds me of the discussions and debates in online feminism about the presentation of women with disabilities in beauty pagents or advertising, comparing them with presentations of non-disabled women.

My only frustration with Kudlick’s work is it leaves race and class unmentioned. There’s some implication of class discussion in who is actually published in either of the journals, but race is left entirely unmentioned. Having recently finished Burch’s Signs of Resistance, which discusses race issues in Deaf education in the same time period Kudlick is writing about, I would have appreciated some explicit mention of race. Its absence is, of course, an indication of the publications in question being by and for white people.

Overall, I found this article very useful to my own research, as it gave me things I need to question about the people I’m writing about. While C.F. Fraser is a blind man – he was blinded in a childhood accident, attended a blind school, and identified himself as a blind person when applying to be a teacher at the School for the Blind, the primary expected audience of the Annual Reports of the school is obviously sighted. I need to question why that is, and discuss how that intended audience affected what Fraser wrote about. I also need to spend more time looking at how Fraser himself was presented to the public. One could be forgive for not realising Fraser was blind, since it was hardly ever mentioned or referred to at all after his hiring, and pictures of him only show him with glasses. Is he being presented that way in order to be more re-assuring to the sighted public, especially parents? And how is he presented – if he’s presented at all – in publications that are aimed at blind people?

Selling The Blind to the Sighted

August 16th, 2010

Note to self: leaving many posts in drafts does not actually do much in terms of generating content.

One of the things I keep forgetting that I “just know” stuff because this is what I do and research, while friends of mine get all starry-eyed and excited because they’ve never heard of any of the thing I’m casually talking about.

For example, the other day I was chatting with a friend online (I mean, working very hard on my thesis and taking a very short break….) about sheltered workshops for blind people in North America, and how these developed, or didn’t, depending on the area. In Halifax, sheltered workshops didn’t really start up until the beginning of World War I. Before that, the school had little-to-no interest in creating a sheltered workshop. Instead, the Annual Reports focused on how 80% of graduates from the school were successfully supporting themselves, either in whole or in part, while the other 20% were “indispensable at home”.

That said, I think I led my friend a bit astray. I do know there were sheltered workshops in the US and the UK – Klages discusses the US ones a bit in Woeful Afflictions, while the Annual Reports from the Halifax School get quite huffy about the UK schools for continuing to have sheltered workshops. So it’s clear there’s a lengthy history there, but it wasn’t a forgone conclusion.

What gets interesting to me and my research is when Halifax starts looking at sheltered workshops: Right around 1917, which people familiar with the history of Halifax will know is when The Explosion happened. (The Halifax Explosion happened December 6, 1917, after two boats, one carrying munitions, collided and started on fire. It leveled half the city. There’s a lovely cottage industry of books about it that take up several shelves in every library and bookstore in the city. My TBR pile includes Shattered City, because as a Comes From Away Canadian, I still don’t quite know all of what happened beyond “explosion, blizzard, and Halifax gives a huge Christmas Tree to Boston every year”.) The Explosion ended several projects the School was attempting in order to, I think, bring in more money/prestige, as there was difficulty in raising funds and attention during War Time. So, in 1916 the school started a program for blinded veterans, which ended up being shelved post-Explosion, not that it ever really took off in the first place. Fundraising attempts were politely but firmly criticized as taking away funds from the war effort (this is especially clear in newspaper reports about fundraising events in Newfoundland).

Blind people may have had greater opportunities to work in factories with so many able-bodied men going off to war, but I don’t see much sign of that in what the School and the Maritime Association for the Blind were writing about. I suspect the growing change in manufacturing – tireless machines in the place of fallible, disabled men – had a heavy impact as well. In one of the mid-war Annual Reports, Fraser suggests the necessity of a sheltered workshop where blind men (and only men) would create goods that would be sold, and the government – municipal and provincial – would pay the difference between what they were bringing in financially, and what they needed to live on.

This obviously isn’t terribly deep analysis, but it’s a bit beyond my period of interest as well. (I do like to say “And then things ended, the end, no I don’t need to know anything after 1908 why are you asking?”, which is not the way one should do history, so don’t use me as your example.) What’s really fascinating to me and my research is the language change, the differing presentation of blind people. Whereas before, the Annual Reports tended to emphasis that blind people could be self-sufficient! They could do awesome things! Just send them to the school, and give them the chance to work, and they’ll totally blow you away!, the later stuff has much more emphasis on blind people’s need for sighted people’s aid, assistance, charity, and even pity. It’s all a selling technique, after all.

[Halifax Weather Update: The worst of the heat seems to have passed, as it seems to have throughout most of North America. Soon, I'm sure, I'll be complaining about the snow.]


August 4th, 2010

I have a bunch of posts I should pull out of draft and do something with, but until then, I just want to demonstrate that my dislike of Halifax weather has historic president:

Thursday, May 2, 1868
The consequence of last Thursday, April 30th being very wet and unfortunate the meeting to take place on the proposed site did not take place till this day when all the Committee were present except Mr R—-

I am typing this on another such miserable day, but it’s Halifax, and one expects these things.

I’m currently grinding through the hand written minutes of the Board of Directors of the school. I find this a bit painful – my eyes aren’t as sharp as perhaps is necessary for trying to sort out what has been written.

However, what I’m finding out is pretty interesting. They debated if they should have paying ‘patients’ at the school, comparing them to paying patients at the local Lunatic Asylum. They suggested that, since the bulk of donations came from the Halifax area that applicants from other counties in Nova Scotia should be charged more to defray costs. As I predicted when I was speaking with my partner-in-time, there was hue & cry raised about the location of the school within the Halifax South Commons, but the Mayor (who was on the Committee for the School) basically told everyone to suck it up and the school was put where they wanted it.

Of course, the problem with the Minute Books, especially (I think) from this period is everything that’s not recorded and merely alluded to. For example:

Monday 6th May, 1872….

The meeting took up a complaint made my Miss Reynolds [the "Lady Superintendent" they'd hired a year before]. After some conversation on the matter, Mr Neal consented to communicate to Miss Reynolds the opinion of the Board, and request her resign.

Two months before there was a meeting where the Steward of the school had a complaint about Miss Reynolds and “visitors”, and it was reminded to everyone when official visiting hours were, and then specific times Miss Reynolds was allowed to leave the premises were mandated.

I can read some stuff between the lines here, but mostly, I want to know what the actual complaints were. Especially since the following month had:

It was moved… that Miss Reynolds resignation be accepted and also that the Committee do not consider it advisable for the benefit of the Institution to make any further investigation.

Then they all agree to give her a good reference if asked in the future. Which is obviously because they don’t want any drama later. (Not that I blame them.)

Anyway, a good day of note taking today, a meeting with my adviser (who is apparently having a fabulous vacation tomorrow), and the conundrum of whether I want to pay a minimum of $50 per hour to access the archives at the Archdioceses on the off chance they have some of the documents I’m missing here. Much to contemplate.

Halifax Weather Update: Hard to judge. The archives are bloody freezing.

Moving On

July 28th, 2010

Well. I can now in good conscience put aside the Annual Reports (I got up to 1919) and start looking at other documents.

This section does, however, end on such a down note. The School was labouring under increasing financial difficulties as the cost of living increased drastically with war-time. Then there was the Halifax Explosion in 1917, which damaged the School to the tune of $25,000 and put an end to programs for Blind soldiers. Many of the students from outside Halifax didn’t return after the explosion, as their parents kept them at home both out of fear, I’m sure, and because labour shortages meant they were needed to keep farms running. As the school couldn’t afford to pay their teachers competitive wages, many long-term and very qualified ones left for jobs either in other schools that could pay them, or took up jobs with the newly formed Canadian National Institute for the Blind. The last report ends discussing the five years of increasing deficits, the loss of many good teachers, and how difficult it is to continue to function with fewer students, and thus less money.

I know it all turns out okay in the end – Fraser continues at the school for many more years, I think until his death. A current incarnation of the school still exists in Halifax, although I’m not sure if they’d consider themselves such. The school continues its work. But it’s very sad to read the Annual Reports going from “We would like money to buy things like swing sets and increase our library!” to “We need money to keep the heat on.”

All that said: I cannot wait to get in on these newspaper clippings.

Deaf-Blind Education in Halifax

July 24th, 2010

Long day in the archives today, but I’m almost done notes on the 1900-1909 book of Annual Reports.

The 1909 Report (which is the 39th from the School) talks about the second Deaf-Blind boy the school educated. (The first had been, if I recall, 20 years earlier, and I should dig up those notes to share because it’s an interesting compare/contrast.) I remember there being a Blind-Deaf girl at the Halifax Institution for the Deaf, and there’s a Deaf-Blind boy whose education is passed back and forth between the institutions. While each of these children is given at least one Annual Report to focus on them, the only one who seemed to reach any degree of “fame” was the Blind-Deaf girl, who was featured in various newspaper reports during her education at the School for the Deaf. (They all talked about how incredibly sweet and kind and pretty she was.)

I’m rather intrigued by the gendered way Deaf-Blindness is presented. It’s not for nothing that the most famous Deaf-Blind person in North America was an attractive, intelligent, well-behaved girl rather than any of the many boys who would also have fit the bill. Even Laura Bridgman, bless her cotton socks, was famous in her day for most of the same reasons, although her fame is obvious eclipsed by that of Helen Keller.

Anyway, this Annual Report talks about Albion Nickerson at some length, beginning with his birth in Tidville 1, Digby County, Nova Scotia and then describing his childhood illness that caused his disability.

He entered this institution in April 1907, at which time his mind was almost a blank, his temper uncontrollable, his habits undesirable and his physique weak and puny. I realized that the intellectual training of a boy in such a condition was practically impossible, and that efforts should first be made to train him in habits of cleanliness and to give him regular outdoor exercise. He was next placed in the Kindergarten class and a beginning was made in teaching him the ordinary kindergarten occupations. For many months there appeared to be but little improvement in the boys’ mental condition but as he grew more robust and his interest became awakened he ceased to give way to fits of temper and began to take an eager interest in everything that he could recognize by touch.

This basically mirrors the more-familiar story of Helen Keller. Laura Bridgman’s story isn’t quite the same, likely because Bridgman had intellectual stimulation as a child from a man who lived near her household. It sounds to my inexpert ear like both Keller and Nickerson had nothing of the sort.

The teachers started assigning him simple tasks of cleaning up the school room “and the lessons of order and neatness” were “inculcated”. Soon after that was working well he was taught both finger spelling 2 and braille, and quickly sorted out words as indicating objects around him.

Albion displays an eager interest in his work and no pupil in the school appreciates his studies more than does this deaf-blind boy. He enjoys playing with his school mates and enters with zest into all the games in which he can participate. Leap-frog is one of his favorite amusements and no one who had known the puny lad of two years ago would believe him to be the same boy as th sturdy, bright faced, energetic Albion of today. Of course this boy’s education is only just begun but enough has been accomplished to prove that he posses mental faculties of no mean order and that with patience and perseverance upon the part of himself and his devoted teacher he is in a fair way to have opened to him a knowledge of the world in which he lives.

This takes place after Helen Keller had become famous, and after her first visits to Halifax, and seems to be following much the same path as her education did. What’s really interesting is how different it was from the way the earlier boy was taught. I must dig up my notes for the details, but there was a lot of focus on using a reed to teach the boy sounds, and less focus on teaching him how to read raised letters.

Since the person in charge of his education is the same person – C. F. Fraser stayed Superintendent of the School for decades – I’m curious about his change in teaching method and focus, especially since part of what made Keller so famous was her ability to speak.

And now they are kicking me out of the archives. Woe.

(Today’s weather update: hot & muggy, but less of both than in times past. The archives are actually cold.)

  1. I’m not sure if it’s spelled wrong or if the name shifted over time. It’s Tiddville, which is in an area of Nova Scotia I’ve never been to and didn’t quite know existed. Seriously: doing history when you don’t know the geography of a region is very difficult and really foolish.
  2. and in this I’m a little unsure – were Deaf-Blind children taught the one-handed alphabet that most Hearing people are familiar with, or were they taught the alphabet of ‘touch’ – that is, the spot a person’s hand was touched on indicated the letter, rather than forming the letter itself? From looking at photos, I suspect the latter. Does knowing that change your ideas of the Hand In The Water scene from Keller’s life?

Of Museums and Braille

July 22nd, 2010

Interesting Tidbit For the Day:

At present when writing, a blind student proceeds from right to left, and the points are embossed downwards; the paper is then reversed, and the student reads from left to right. He thus practically has to learn two alphabets, and moreover he cannot examine and correct his work until the paper is removed from the frame.

This is mentioned because a new Braille machine had been invented in Paris to allow students to write left to right, with points being made from the bottom. Huh. I had never considered how Braille would have been written before, and just assumed it was as it is today.

I’ve been mostly just recording stuff today, but a few gems stood out. I’m especially fond of this:

The equipment of our Literary or School Department will not be complete until we have a small museum. To those who are blind touch is sight, and feeling is believing. We require a fair selection of stuffed birds and animals, samples of minerals and products of all kinds. Models of common objects such a ships, boats, houses, etc would also be most valuable.

It’s not that I disagree – I imagine all of those would be incredibly useful in teaching blind students in 1904. It’s just the idea that of course their department won’t be complete until they have a museum. Last year it wouldn’t be complete until they had a new braille press, and a few years before it was a knitting machine, and before that it was something else. Obviously nothing changes, but it’s just the earnestness with which all these completing (this time we mean it!) projects are proposed that amuses me.

I will soon be at 1908, which will be an informative year for my research: It’s the year the League for the Protection of the Feeble Minded formed, with the full-fledged support of the Superintendent of the School for the Blind. (Protect Befriend Respect goes into this a bit.) I can already see the seeds being planted – Fraser set up a program for students who “would be unable to complete a graded program” in 1904, and there’s been a few other hints here and there that he’s been asked to take on students who are “feeble-minded”. I’m unsurprised that he threw his support whole-heartedly behind the Local Council of Women and their plans.

I should note, in my ongoing quest to ensure that everyone knows my thoughts on the weather, that it is awful today. Rainy and windy. It’s wrong to have to pull out my heavy coat in July, especially since I know for certain that my flat will still be overheated when I get home, despite all (two) windows being open and the fan going full-blast in an effort to suck in some of the cooler air. My life: so hard.