Nineteenth-Century Disability:  Cultures & Contexts

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Invalidism may seem to limit mobility, confining one to the four walls of the sickroom. But, for those who were well enough and wealthy enough, the Victorians actually made an industry of travelling for the sake of one’s health. Thus, far from…

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Hydropathy, or “the water cure” was a common treatment for ailments ranging from depression to gastro-intestinal disorders in the nineteenth-century, as well as a form of recreation. It was especially popular in the mid-nineteenth century.…

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“Under Chloroform,” an unsigned article on amputation written by surgeon Henry Thompson, was published in the first volume of the popular literary magazine, The Cornhill. At the time, Thompson, a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of…

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One of Charlotte M. Yonge’s last great family sagas, The Pillars of the House (1873) prominently features disability. Several of the thirteen orphaned Underwood siblings experience disability or chronic illness: Felix, the eldest, struggles against…

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UK patent #7033, dated 17 March 1836, is the earliest British patent for a hearing aid device, granted to the aurist (19th century term for ear specialist) Alphonso William Webster, for his “curious” invention, the Otaphone (sometimes spelled…

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In this advertisement for a variety of what we would now call “wheelchairs” or “lounge chairs,” J. Alderman offers “comfort for invalids” in his newly patented “Imperceptibly Graduating, Mechanical, and…

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The second poem in Amy Levy’s second published collection attests to her longstanding interest in mental illness. As a fin-de-siècle poet, essayist, and novelist, Levy (1861-1889) was one of the most prominent female voices for the significance of…

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This article, which appeared in Charles Dickens's publication All The Year Round in 1864, describes a journalist's visit to the Earlswood Asylum, the first institution for the care of the cognitively disabled in England. It was founded by J Langdon…

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“Blind Guy Fawkes” is noteworthy for how it both participates in and diverges from a representational pattern.  The introduction into Britain of raised-print books in the first decades of the nineteenth century and the proliferation of finger…

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Millie (left) and Christine (right) McKoy were born into slavery in Columbus County, North Carolina, in 1851. These conjoined twin sisters were sometimes called Millie-Christine McKoy. Each sister had two arms and two legs, but they were connected at…
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