Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Blue Blood of George Barton: An Introduction

My next several posts will cover the issue of social class and Gilded Age Society.  I am hopeful that these posts will provide a rich background to help in more fully understanding George Barton's interests and interactions regarding occupational therapy. 

Introducing the concept in short form is intended to set the stage for the next several posts.

I previously wrote about the early life experience of George Barton and how his father was a banker and that he was raised among the social elites in Boston.  We know that he traveled to England and was trained under William Morris - certainly not an experience that was available to most people.  Social standing is a significant point of analysis that has not been previously documented about George Barton.

Quiroga was unsure of how to assess Barton's nature (p. 124).  It may very well be accurate to state that he was truly eccentric - but the larger context of social class can not be ignored in this analysis because this may provide some needed context about his interactions.

As historical background for the upcoming analysis, the Gilded Age covers the approximate date range of 1870 through the turn of the century.  Industrialization was fundamentally transforming people's work, the United States was experiencing unprecedented population growth, electricity and telecommunications were being introduced into cities, railroads were built that connected the country and all of these events represented the dramatic change and progress in society.

Technological changes were not the only changes.  A new wave of European immigration was occurring, bringing with it a steady supply of labor.  The American melting pot was becoming more ingrained in the country's collective self-identity.

There was unfettered accumulation of wealth in the early stages of industrialization, but there was also a very deep level of poverty that was concerning.   Medicine was crude and unsophisticated in its methods - and chronic illness presented major social problems.

Everything was changing radically, and all at the same time.

Coming from wealth, George Barton had access to education and apprenticeship.  He was an architect, but he was also a man of means and privilege.   He was in the social class of the elite aristocracy.  The following entries will document some of his relationships within the aristocracy and the activities that he engaged in.  This will all set the stage to better analyze his illness experience because we will see how tuberculosis, amputation, and stroke do not know boundaries of social class.

I am hopeful that all of this will provide some previously undisclosed context so that we can understand his 'eccentricities' in a different light.

Reference:

Quiroga, Virginia A.M. (1995). Occupational therapy: The first 30 years 1900-1930.  Bethesda: AOTA Press.




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