Disability Social History Project

Exhibits & Collections

The Robert Bogdan Disability Collection

(January 2018) Yale University’s Medical Historical Library is pleased to announce the acquisition of an important collection of ephemera, photographs, and rare books related to disability, the Robert Bogdan Disability Collection.

"Freak Shows" in the United States (1840-1940)

How'd You Like to be a Giant?

For one hundred years (1840 - 1940) the freak show was one of America's most popular forms of entertainment. Today the same shows would be considered unacceptable and cruel, or as one disability rights activist put it, "the pornography of disability." In the mid 19th century, however, Americans were beginning to move from the farms and a family-based society to one which relied more on organizations, including institutionalized entertainment. It was at this time that P.T. Barnum brought the freak show to prominence through the American Museum in New York City.
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Disability Campaigns in the United States: 1930s - 1960s

Buttons, stamps, postcards, and "first-day" envelopes were often used in campaigns to promote awareness and raise money for various causes for the "handicapped." Some campaigns were for prevention, some for treatment, and some for social programs (i.e., employment). Often the material was intended to invoke pity (for example, a picture of a child using crutches with the caption "Remember Me"), and there was a heavy emphasis on cure.
Infantile Paralysis
Developmental Disabilities

Disability Militancy in the 1930s

The 1930's were a time of great social unrest and increasing militancy among what one historian has termed "the impatient armies of the poor" (Folsom, 1991). On March 6, 1930 hundreds of thousands of the unemployed marched through the streets America's largest cities. The Unemployment Councils, a largely decentralized movement, came into existence in the summer of 1930. (more)

Nazis, Eugenics, and the T-4 Program (1920-1950)

Hitler's extermination policies began with the widespread killing of institutionalized disabled people in Germany in the 1940s. The eugenics theories that were the basis for Hitler's policies originated in the United States in the 1920s.
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Resources on the Web

Disabled Women at the 4th World Conference on Women - 1995

The First International Symposium on Issues of Women with Disabilities was held on August 29, 1995 in conjunction with the United Nation's Fourth World Conference on the Status of Women from September 5 - 15, 1995 in Beijing, China.
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Bibliography on Women and Disability
VIDEO: Disabled Women: Visions and Voices