Friday, April 20, 2006, 3:30–5:00 p.m.
Creating the Disabled: Mechanization, Industrial Efficiency, and Ideal Workers, 1880-1930
Sarah Rose, University of Illinois at Chicago
This paper explores how, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, disabled people became defined as inefficient, undesirable employees. Historically, people with permanent injuries—what we now call “disabilities”—had remained integrated into their communities and routinely continued to work, albeit often at lower-skilled jobs and reduced wages. Influenced by the interconnected developments of scientific management, mechanization, piecework, and the efficiency movement, however, employers gradually became less welcoming towards disabled workers. Especially in mechanized workplaces, employers increasingly defined workers as interchangeable cogs who needed fully functional, “ideal” bodies. At the Ford Motor Company, however, Henry Ford and key subordinates adopted a different view of mechanization, one that relied heavily on the potential for subdividing labor. Ford argued that disabled people could be just as efficient as their able-bodied counterparts, if properly placed. Accordingly, during the 1910s and to a lesser degree in later decades, the Ford Motor Company provided well-paid jobs to hundreds, if not thousands, of people with disabilities at a time when such jobs were becoming increasingly scarce.
All papers are pre-circulated electronically to those who plan to attend the seminar in person. For a copy of the paper, e-mail Jenny Fink at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 312-255-3524. Please do not request the paper unless you plan to attend the seminar.
The Newberry Library Seminar on Technology, Politics, and Culture
Co-sponsored by the University of Illinois at Chicago, Roosevelt University, the Illinois Institute of Technology, and Northwestern University's School of Communications
The Newberry Library
Dr. William M. Scholl Center for
Family and Community History
60 W. Walton St.
Chicago, Illinois 60610
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