Historical roots of occupational therapy: Introduction to a series

edit: For those looking for the full series of posts on this topic, please click on the 'History' button on the 'Labels' or use this link.

I have been sitting on some historical source material for quite some time.  I have been studying the material extensively, trying to decide the best way to share the information, and at times just putting it all aside out of frustration.

When students learn about the founding of the occupational therapy profession they tend to read simple information in textbooks and it is somewhat devoid of context.  History without context provides opportunity for misinterpretation, and this is something that I believe is important to try to avoid. 

I am not a historian and I am not a biographer and I think this is why I have struggled with how to best present the information.  My motivation was to share this before AOTA's Centennial.  We are well in advance of 2017 and so I hope that beginning to share this information now will help others who are interested in historical reflections as we approach the 100th birthday of the occupational therapy profession.

I have decided to simply share this all in blog format and to do it serially over time. 

This information will tell a story, and I will try to keep my own opinions to a minimum and allow the players to tell their own tales.  When I insert my own opinion I will try to make it very obvious, as opposed to simply editorializing or presenting interpretation as fact.

An interesting place to start examining the historical roots of the profession is in a surprising place - but I will start at that point in time that occupational therapy was celebrating the occupational therapy profession's 50th birthday.  It all started with a blind shot in the dark, a letter written by Dr. Sidney Licht, who was the President of the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine and the Editor of Physical Medicine Library.

Before he edited Physical Medicine Library Dr. Licht co-wrote Occupational Therapy, Principles and Practice (1950) with Dr. William Rush Dunton, who was one of the profession's founders.  It is interesting that although he co-wrote this book and was such a notable leader in the profession for many years, it seems evident that a little bit of our history may have been lost or at least not easy to access.  Here is a picture of the envelope written by Dr. Licht as he was reaching out for some information about the founding of the profession:

Envelope of letter written by Dr. Sidney Licht.

As an interesting aside, you will note that there is no ZIP code - the ZIP code system did not start until the early 1960s and many people resisted using the system.  It wasn't until the 1970s that most people felt comfortable using the ZIP code system!

So the year was 1967 and it was occupational therapy's 50th anniversary and Dr. Licht was scheduled to deliver a speech in Boston for the annual conference in October.  He had knowledge that there was a "Consolation House" but was looking for more information.  Here is a copy of the letter he wrote to the mayor of Clifton Springs:

Letter written from Dr. Sidney Licht to Mayor of Clifton Springs, NY

This letter is amazing to me, mostly because in context of 2013 we are in such a different place with regard to being able to access information.  Here we have a strong supporter of occupational therapy who has written books and articles and was even associated with a Founder of the profession, but he did not have the information that he needed for his talk and so he wrote an absolutely blind letter in the hopes of connecting with someone who could provide the information that he needed.  This can be contrasted to how we operate today and how accessible information is.  However, ease of access does not equate to accuracy of information - and I think there is something to be said about dealing with source materials like Dr. Licht did in this letter.

Here is the reply that he received from Dr. Glenn Copeland, who was the Mayor of Clifton Springs where Consolation House is located:

You will have to click on this letter to see it full size and proper resolution.

Dr. Licht reached out and found a great source - and that is where we will pick up the next installment.  So this is the beginning of this historical series.  We are at a time approaching the centennial celebration of occupational therapy, and this installment starts us off with a peek into ANOTHER time that we celebrated a huge milestone and were attempting to 'discover' and 'uncover' and perhaps 'remember' our historical roots.

What will follow is a re-tracing of our footsteps for that 50th year celebration and a re-examination of the role of Consolation House and George Barton related to the founding of the occupational therapy profession.


Unknown said…
Christopher, This is definitely a thought-provoking cliff hanger! Leaves much more to investigate. Thank you for sharing your posts. Can we look forward to more?
There will be more. I have them scheduled to release periodically for the next several months. For some of the entries I am still polishing things and information is still trickling in. It has been a fun project. All of the Barton Project posts are under the 'history' label - I am glad you enjoyed this one!

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