Showing posts with label history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label history. Show all posts

Saturday, June 03, 2017

OT History in Clifton Springs!

A group of people made OT History today - pulling off an amazing day of celebration in Clifton Springs that was enjoyed by so many attendees.

Eighteen months ago I started corresponding with Steve Egidi, an occupational therapist and Vice President of the Clifton Springs Chamber of Commerce.  He invited me to join a working group that was forming to help make plans for  the 100th OT Anniversary Celebration in Clifton Springs.  Steve was a steady organizing force for the group and it was a real pleasure getting to work with him.

Also from the Chamber was Jeff Criblear, President of the Clifton Springs Chamber of Commerce.  Jeff did amazing work with restoring the 50th anniversary plaque and also helping to coordinate so many of the Centennial celebration activities with the Clifton Springs community.

The glue behind the entire project was undoubtedly Jamie Noga, Coordinator from the Clifton Springs Chamber of Commerce.  Jamie did it all - she kept us all organized and on track, managing all of the details behind the scenes.  Jamie was fantastic!

Jim Conners, Clifton Springs Village Historian was also a pleasure to work with - and his work in creating the occupational therapy exhibits at the museum with the staff there was fantastic.

Les Moore, from the Clifton Springs Historical Society, also made many valuable contributions to the group - most memorable to me was delivering the graveside memorial service that we held with the Barton family the morning of the event.  It was such a moving service and it was a memory that I will cherish.

Corky Glantz, also an occupational therapist and former AOTA Board member, joined our group and was very helpful in communicating with AOTA.  We have Corky to thank for helping to initiate contacts and coordinate those efforts.

Linda Shriber, occupational therapy program director from Nazareth College, also provided invaluable guidance and support for the entire project.

Rochelle Marx-Asher, occupational therapy fieldwork coordinator at Bryant and Stratton College was critical in helping to organize student volunteers for floats and also for helping to coordinate entertainment for the event (by volunteering her husband!)  The music was fantastic!

My own part was small, but I got lopsided media face time for the project since I was the one who did the presentation during our ceremony today and did a few interviews with local media outlets.


There are so many others - the Keuka College students who 'ran security' in front of Consolation House, the Nazareth and Bryant and Stratton students who ran the 'kids tent,' the Utica College students who marched in the parade, the Orange Community College program that made a float, the SUNY at Buffalo students who made a float, representative from NYSOTA that marched in the parade, and representatives from AOTA who served as Grand Marshals and who also gifted the community with a 100th anniversary plaque, donated the 'Flat' Founders and banner, and also gifted the community with a new seal (that is another story!).


Thanks also to the OT community who came and celebrated, and especially to the Barton family who came and shared stories and fellowship.  I also want to thank Karen and Patrick Boland who were so gracious in allowing us to visit their home (former Consolation House).


I hope I have not forgotten anyone.  I will certainly edit this if I have made any accidental oversight.  We made OT History today!  Thanks to all!

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Barton Project: AOTA 2017 Conference Handouts

Hi and thank you for stopping here to look at the poster handouts that are being distributed at the 2017 AOTA conference!

If you were unable to get a copy of the handout of the poster presentation, the files below are hi-res JPG scans that you can download and view in a larger format.

This version of the timeline is one small step of a multi-year project attempting to document George Barton's life.  I was always struck by the fact that his life story was documented in such a limited way as compared to other occupational therapy founders.  The lack of previously published information on Barton motivated my effort.

Having personal geographic proximity to Clifton Springs made the project interesting from that perspective as well.

This effort started by happenstance and with a meeting my wife Caroline had with George Barton Jr.'s wife Barbara.  She was kind enough to supply materials to us that started this inquiry.  A visit to Consolation House also yielded results with the owners (at that time) looking to have the occupational therapy community have possession of some additional ephemera.

We accepted these materials with the promise to use them for study and for advancing the biography of George Barton which has previously not been fully highlighted.

Over the last several years I have combined those materials with other biographical research and  began constructing blog posts that are now catalogued under the site.

Over the last year it has been my pleasure to find new friends in Clifton Springs who were planning a 100th anniversary celebration of the occupational therapy founding that occurred in their community.  I am especially indebted to the kind folk associated with the Clifton Springs Chamber of Commerce, the Clifton Springs Historical Society, various community members who are participating on their planning committee, and also some local educators who represent regional occupational therapy programs.  Some of the information obtained through this ongoing project will also be presented on June 3rd, 2017 during the Sulphur Springs Festival that will feature an occupational therapy centennial celebration.

I hope occupational therapists enjoy looking at these pictures and also enjoy looking through the blog and learning more about the history of their profession.  Use the address to navigate to the site, and use the 'Barton' and 'History' links on the blog to find more information.  Many more detailed references can be found at the end of each blog post.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

You can't keep a good event down...

...but you might delay things just a little while because of winter weather!

Today a gathering was scheduled in Clifton Springs for a celebration of the occupational therapy founding.  The mayor was also scheduled to issue a proclamation but the celebration had to be postponed due to inclement weather.   

The event will be rescheduled.


The March 8. 1917 Clifton Springs Press had an announcement about the upcoming First Consolation House Conference, but it also had an interesting article about George Barton.  The subheadlines and text of the article are notable because they provide direct evidence of exactly how the Clifton Springs community felt about his efforts and also how influential he was.

The article quotes an unnamed folk source as saying, "You can't keep a good man down, especially when he runs an elevator for a living."  The newspaper editor goes on to state "and in no instance has the editor found opportunity to apply this witicism, where it was found more appropriate than in the introduction of George Edward Barton, A.I.A., a resident of this village, who is known by many, and who but few, really know."

Barton's disability is described in detail, as is his effort to overcome those difficulties and help other people. 

We all look forward to the rescheduled celebration of George Barton and his efforts in Clifton Springs that founded the occupational therapy profession.

 "You can't keep a good event down!" 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Lenten message of Emmanuel practitioners that influenced the occupational therapy profession

I have previously documented (in presentation and in blog) the role of the Emmanuel Movement with regard to its overall impact on 'treatment' of mental health conditions at the turn of the century in general and its impact on George Barton in particular.  I have also documented some lingering impact of concerns with spirituality and how the topic has been reflected in some occupational therapy documents over time.  As we are on the eve of the Lenten season, and as we are properly situated in history to reflect on the crucible of values that contributed to the founding of the occupational therapy profession, this little sideways journey seems timely and appropriate.

Many occupational therapists enjoy using the term 'holistic' to describe their orientation and interest but few are adroitly capable of putting such diversity that includes spirituality into actual practice.  This has always been the case - even when turn of the 20th century 'providers' made the attempt.

Emmanuel methods centered around a merger between medicine and spirituality: a medical clinic with free weekly examinations, a weekly health class with multidisciplinary lectures on medical, psychological and spiritual health, and private psychotherapy/counseling sessions.  Reverend Elwood Worcester, founder of this movement, specifically recruited well known Boston physicians (Putnam, Cabot, Pratt, and Coriat) to lend medical credibility to his ministerial efforts (Caplan, 1998).

From the start, Elwood Worcester had difficulty distancing his methods from the controversial Christian Science movement and the work of Mary Baker Eddy.  The methods were not at all similar; in fact Eddy spoke out against what some termed the 'mind cure movement' and specifically stated her opposition to people like Worcester.  These differences were outlined extensively in Willa Cather's series that appeared in McClure magazine from January 1907-June 1908 (nom de plume Georgine Milmine).

Clarence Farrar was a prominent psychiatrist who leveled blistering attacks on the Emmanuelists (1909), stating that their "faddist faith cure movement" arose from Boston, "the land of witchcraft and transcendentalism."  This kind of criticism from prominent medical leaders led to the waning of support from the Boston doctors that Worcester recruited.  As explained by Caplan (1998), these criticisms may have been primarily motivated by a desire for 'control' over the growing psychological movement.  Worcester and his colleague Samuel McComb attempted to respond (1909) but at that point the opinions of most medical practitioners were settled: psychotherapeutics was to be the domain of doctors and not of the clergy. 

The criticism was so powerful and effective that concerns were echoed many years later by occupational therapy leaders.  In the Fifth Annual Meeting of the American Occupational Therapy Association there was discussion about the need to develop a research base to help doctors understand the role of the new profession.  Herbert Hall (1922) stated, "We must be careful not to go about making claims for occupational therapy as the Christian Scientists do for their methods."  The Emmanuel practitioners were never able to fully shake the incorrect association of their approach with the Eddyists, and it is clear that physicians like Hall were sensitive to the negative association.

One of the final formal defenses of the Emmanuel method was published as an article in Good Housekeeping entitled Lent: A friend to the nervous (McComb, 1910).  Given the current season I choose to highlight this article in particular.

The article is interesting not only for its chronology in the medicine vs. religion debate, but also for its clarity in describing the universality of a 'Lenten' experience.  McComb wrote
Now I would like to contradict this idea [Lent as an ecclesiastical custom] and to assert very emphatically that while Lent may and ought to be used for ends that are strictly religious, it is pre-eminently a human institution, with a vital bearing on our earthly life and happiness.  We all need, at times, a complete break with our accustomed habits, with our ordinary ways of thinking, with our usual food and drink and recreations; and we all need this because we are all accustomed to get into ruts and grooves, until we become, as it were, mental and physical automatons instead of living, progressing, moral beings.

McComb further argued that Wordsworth (notably, a Transcendentalist) was sadly correct:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;-
Little we see in Nature that is ours

McComb believed that the Lenten season, applied across religious or non-religious convictions, could serve as a model for taking a pause in the busy-ness of life that was so culturally and socially unsettled at the time.  This is the precise message that was given to George Barton by Worcester - a directive to let go of his own suffering and to make sacrifices for 'the other fellow.'

The Lenten season, from religious definition, is all about hope and an Easter beginning.  The Lenten 'experience,' from a secular perspective, is an application of spiritual hope on a backdrop of confused and complicated modern living.

As a Christian man, Barton interpreted the Emmanuel Church message in directly Biblical terms, specifically related to Isaiah 61:3 when he used the term 'Beauty for Ashes' on his Consolation House logo (see picture above).    However, the Emmanuel Movement's message was more broad than simple and direct religious application, as summarized by McComb:
Lent is a reminder that two worlds are ours: the lower, with its miseries, its cares, its distractions, its worries; and the higher world within to which we can make our escape, with its faith and hope and love and peace.  As we lay hold of this higher, the lower world loses its grip upon us, ceases to paralyze us; and while we may not claim any mere stagnation or brute freedom from toil and care and responsibility, we may, nevertheless, have a secret that makes music in the heart and nerves us to rise triumphant over the strains and stresses of experience.

That was McComb's Lenten message, and it was the basis for an occupational therapy message that Barton put into action at his Consolation House project.


embedded links, and...

Archives of Occupational Therapy (1922).  The Fifth Annual Meeting of the American Occupational Therapy Association, Meeting of the Board and Members of the House of Delegates.

Caplan, Eric (1998). Mind Games: American Culture and the Birth of Psychotherapy. Berkeley, Calif:  University of California Press. Chapter 6: Embracing psychotherapy: The Emmanuel Movement and the American Medical Profession.  Available online at

Farrar, C.B. (1909). Psychotherapy and the Church, Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases, 36, 11-24

McComb, S. (1910). Lent: A friend to the nervous. Good Housekeeping, 50(3), 327-329.

Worcester, E. & McComb, S. (1909). Christian Religion as a Healing Power. New York: Moffat, Yard.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

An unusual connection between American opera and George Edward Barton

There is a God whose laws unchanging
No one may hope to disobey.
Man's own desires forced upon the ordained way.
He for a moment triumphs,
He has his will,
He pays the penalty.
    (Barton, 1905)

The Pipe of Desire is a one act play published in 1905 by George Edward Barton, and set to operatic score by Frederick Converse.  It might be just a curious fact that architect George Barton attempted the role of librettist except for the historic implications of this effort.

We know that as a young man Barton was raised in a family "steeped in the arts and letters" (de Lancey, 1958).  From the same source we also know that he had a bicycle encounter in the English countryside with King Edward VII where they were both "whistling operatic arias."

So although Barton may have had early exposure to and enjoyed the operatic form there is not much known about the specifics of how the historic collaboration with Converse actually came about.  Coburn (1909) wrote, "Yet refreshing and spontaneous qualities of romanticism are distinguishing marks of Converse's output.  A brief analysis of the subject matter of "The Pipe of Desire" the words of which were written by Converse's personal friend, George Edward Barton, a Boston architect, will perhaps reveal the kind of work in which this composer delights."

Their collaboration may have been a simple function of an apparent friendship between Converse and Barton.

This was a daring collaboration because of longstanding controversy regarding the appropriateness of opera sung in English.  Coburn continues, "Popularization of American operatic music, such as Mr. Converse's, is peculiarly notable.  Serious opera has rarely emanated from an Anglo-Saxon source.  It is, indeed, something of a shock to listen to an opera that is not phrased in Italian, German, or French."

The world premier of The Pipe of Desire was on January 31, 1906 at Jordan Hall in Boston, and some reviews were unkind. Hale (1906) wrote,
"Mr. Barton, an architect in Boston, is a man of wide and curious reading.  Where did he find this legend?... Even if the symbolism were suggested consistently throughout the libretto, the book would not be well suited to operatic purposes, for it lacks both action and human interest."  Regarding Converse: "He has given dramatic interest to a libretto that is undramatic... All in all this opera music must be reckoned among the very first and few compositions of true importance that have as yet been produced in this country; it is music that would excite respect and admiration in any land."

Again, the theme of skepticism of American opera is notable, although the critic is more kind to Converse than Barton.

The Pipe of Desire was nonetheless accepted for performance at the Metropolitan Opera House on September 10, 1908 as reported in the Boston Evening Transcript despite the ongoing debates about validity of singing opera in English (Garofalo, 1994, p.37). 

After substantial preparation the work was finally presented on March 18, 1910, making the effort the first opera composed by an American and the first opera performed in English by the Metropolitan Opera.  A reviewer from The Sun (Henderson, 1910) wrote,

"Of course the symbolism is easy enough to read. But as a stage subject the story is not at all potent. The book certainly furnishes opportunity for picturesque groupings of nymphs and gnomes, for beautiful effects of light and shadow, for an exquisite woodland scene, admirably provided at the Metropolitan, and for moods not unsuited to the language of music. But there is nothing in the employment of details to clamor for musical utterance. In fact the text is seldom poetic in thought or melodious in technic. Many of the lines are hostile to lyric song and many are awkward in themselves even when considered merely as pieces of English... Mr. Converse was not inspired by it or, if he was, the gods did not make him operatic. His music is of a kind which suggests the respectable atmosphere of the oratorio concert. It lacks throughout the distinctness of theatrical utterance. The declamation in the recitatives is angular and void of spontaneity. The arioso passages are labored, and their attempts at expression are but moderately successful."

Perhaps, more simply, in the words of Isabel Barton, "The opera flopped." (de Lancey, 1958).  As she did not know George Barton at the time, the only basis of her report would have likely been what he shared with her.

And so it remains an unusual historic footnote that the first opera to be performed at the Met with score and libretto written by Americans and performed in English was a product of architect and occupational therapy founder George Edward Barton and his friend, Frederick Converse.

Score from The Pipe of Desire, signed by Frederick Converse to George Barton

Portrait of Frederick Converse, given to George Barton

Libretto from The Pipe of Desire, signed by George Edward Barton

Louise Homer, famous American contralto, as Naoia (reclined) in Pipe of Desire, performance at the Metropolitan Opera in 1910


Barton, George E. (1905). The Pipe of Desire and Other Plays. Boston: D.B.Updike, The Merrymount Press.

Coburn, Frederick W. (1909, January). Frederick S. Converse, Composer of Grand Opera.  The World To-Day. 16(1), 30-34.

de Lancey, B. (1958, May 9). George Edward Barton: Undaunted cripple's courage aided others. The Geneva Times, p. 2.

Garofalo, Robert J. (1994). Frederick Shepherd Converse (1871-1940): His Life and Music.  Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press.

Hale, P. (1906, March). Music in Boston. The New Music Review and Church Music Review, 52(5), 773-774.

Henderson,  W.J. (1910, March 18). The Pipe of Desire Well Received.  The Sun.  Downloaded from

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Occupational therapy history: A lopsided tale told by the 'designated survivors'

Some overtly prejudicial information has been published about George Barton.  In an officially sanctioned history of the occupational therapy profession, Quiroga (1995) wrote that "Barton was undoubtedly an unusual if not eccentric character, who had difficulty knowing his own identity."  She also stated that "some of Barton's writings may have created more foes than allies to the cause" and that "George Edward Barton was an occupational therapy zealot" with a "near-crusade mentality" who "was undoubtedly a difficult person with whom to work in the organizational phase of the national association" who "did not possess the interpersonal skills that he needed" and "simply did not fit the profile of what his contemporaries considered to be a professional leader."

There is very little evidence to support this level of prejudice.  Quiroga misinterprets Barton's claim to being a 'sociologist' - forgetting to consider his training under William Morris.  She fails to understand and correctly interpret Barton's metaphorical style in his paper, "Inoculation of the bacillus of work."  There is no evidence at all that suggests Barton alienated the broad medical profession.  In fact, his minimal involvement in NSPOT following his resignation makes it nearly impossible to have had some negative impact on the developing profession.

As I have been documenting for the last several years, it is probably very fair to state that Barton was eccentric - but the extreme negativity is unwarranted.  Based on a study of correspondence between the Founders it is more accurate to state that the negative feelings towards Barton resulted from his withdrawal of his participation as an officer, the reluctance of and social mores preventing others to assume leadership roles at the time, and slow revisionism and selective 'remembering.'

Within 15 years of the founding meeting in Clifton Springs, five extremely influential individuals passed away: Barton, Herbert Hall, Susan Tracy, Susan Cox Johnson, and Thomas Kidner.  The truth is that Barton was not even alive long after the founding and could not have had much if any negative impact.  This series of deaths essentially left Slagle and Dunton to tell the occupational therapy story, and even though an attempt was made in 1967-8 at the 50th anniversary to obtain a more accurate picture of what happened around the founding, the effort clearly fell short.

Negative attributions of Barton were reinforced over  time.  In her farewell address to the profession, Slagle simultaneously respected and jabbed at George Barton's legacy:

 "In the words of the first President of this Association, Mr. George Barton, who retained the office six months and resigned because we were in debt $150 (lawyer's fee for legal services and organization papers) and because we saw no immediate way of raising the salary of a Secretary.  "I relinquish the honour of being your officer, proud to have been of any assistance to a cause so noble, and I lay down the office content in the knowledge that it can be more ably filled."

In fact, Barton did not relinquish his office because of the debt itself, but only because as President and Secretary he and Isabel could not take on the burden of fronting these fees by themselves.  Barton resigned his office in a letter to Dunton dated July 23, 1917 where he wrote

After very careful consideration, I have decided not to accept the possible renomination as President of the Society, but to withdraw in your favor.  This seems to me to be the eminently proper thing to do, and it will probably redound to the benefit of the Society.  I am not, of course, withdrawing my interest, and hope to be allowed still some word in its councils. 

In response on July 27, 1917 Dunton wrote to Barton, stating

I am extremely sorry that you should have reached the conclusion that you have, but I hope that you will reconsider it.  I am also sorry that you will not be presenting at the New York meeting.  I hope that you can make arrangements to be present as it seems to me that it would create a bad impression if you are not.  However, you are the best judge of your own conduct as I am not familiar with these circumstances which have brought about your decision.  I naturally feel like calling you and Miss Newton slackers, quitters, etc, but my natural politeness restrains me."

On the same day (July 27, 1917) Dunton also wrote to Slagle stating

I presume you have received Mr. Barton's notice.  I do not know what is the trouble, but am inclined to think that he has grown somewhat piqued.  I had written to him on Wednesday asking him to reconsider his decision of which he had written me, but evidently he had already made up his mind and my letter reached him too late to influence him.  He suggested that I be made President.  I do not want the job but at the same time I think it is very essential that our society be continued.

Barton responded to Dunton on August 8, 1917

I am sorry for the tone of your letter of August 6, and feel that your attitude is most unjust.  Also it seems a little strange to me that you are unable to understand that it is impossible for me to pay the salary of the Secretary of the Society.  When I undertook at your request to get things started and get together, I neither undertook to give up all my life to the Society nor to pay its expenses.

There is no record of the "August 6" letter in the AOTF archives that I could locate.  It may be a date error or there may have been an additional letter from Dunton that is not available.  Either way, Barton was quite clear on why he had to relinquish his office.  It is also quite clear that Dunton was irritated by the action and did not understand Barton's concern.

Slagle and Dunton carried their negative perceptions of Barton forward.  Barton's role in the founding was minimized and sometimes even left out of the history altogether.  Dr. Sidney Licht, a student of Dunton, wrote the following in 1948 even though he had no direct knowledge of Barton at all

This brief history comes to an end with the coining of the phrase Occupational Therapy.  Many non-medical persons have made considerable contributions to the field of medicine and it was left to a layman to coin this term.  George E. Barton, an architect by training, was greatly impressed by the type of work accomplished by Grohman and Hall and helped to organize at Clifton Springs, New York, an institution where by means of occupation, people could be retrained or readjusted to gainful living... Mr. Barton was an extremist and although he contributed much in the way of enthusiasm, he retarded the acceptance of occupational therapy by physicians as a result of his unbounded claims concerning the therapeutic value of work... It would be well to forget all but two of George Barton's words - occupational therapy.

Dr. Licht's comments are all the more curious in consideration of his admitted lack of information on Barton and the founding of NSPOT/AOTA.

George Barton published more early literature on occupational therapy than any of the other founders and was instrumental in coordinating and organizing the Consolation House meeting.  He understood the problem of disability from multiple perspectives, had knowledge of how to start and organize groups, and was motivated by his own spiritual and physical reformation.  Perhaps he was zealous and he was probably eccentric, but neither of those characteristics warrant the negative perceptions that have been published.

The evidence is clear and indicates that he is guilty of a simple thing: he could not afford to front the money by himself to support a fledgling Society.

I understand that some narrative approaches include a degree of sanitizing facts related to personal interactions of historical figures.  However, since so much prejudicial information has already been published about Barton it seems reasonable to delve into source documents and letters between the founders to correct the historical record.

The centennial anniversary of the occupational therapy profession offers a good opportunity to reappropriate Barton's contributions and cast them with a more even-handed perspective.

Since there is ample access to source historical documents, it is not correct to have the narrative dictated by the prejudices of the 'designated survivors.'


Correspondence retrieved from Wilma West library, AOTA Archives, and...

Barton, G.E. (1917). Inoculation of the bacillus of work. The Modern Hospital, 8(6), 399-403.

Licht, S. (1948). Occupational therapy source book. Williams & Wilkins: Baltimore.

Slagle, E.C. (1937). Editorial: From the heart. Occupational Therapy and Rehabilitation, 16, 343-345.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Why occupational therapists need to stop romanticizing about Hull House

The settlement house movement originated in England in the late 1800s and was a mechanism for supporting poor people through social and cultural integration.  The model was translated to the United States by the efforts of social reformers like Jane Addams who founded Hull House in Chicago (later supported by the efforts of future occupational therapist Eleanor Clarke Slagle) and Robert Woods who pioneered the South End House Movement in Boston (supported by the design efforts of future occupational therapist George Barton). 

These efforts were notable for their philanthropic origins; that is, they were primarily funded by the private and charitable efforts of socially-minded people who genuinely wanted to improve the living conditions and outcomes for poor people.  As turn of the century immigration grew the ability of private philanthropists to address urgent needs was strained.  Hull House is a good example of an institution that started off being funded through charity and then later became a focal point for advocacy to the government and eventually a recipient of money spent by the government on social welfare efforts.  Unfortunately, Hull House also became a model for the problems associated with replacing private charity with unreliable and strained government funding.  Hull House 'ran out of other people's money' in 2012.

Occupational therapists have been proud of their historical association with Hull House in particular (and perhaps unaware of even earlier association with the settlement movement in Boston).  On the recent Rose Bowl parade float that was largely sponsored by occupational therapists, Hull House was featured prominently on the design of the float.

Romanticizing refers to a mindset of describing something in an unrealistically inflated manner.  The efforts of the settlement house movement are something to be celebrated, but more importantly they are something to be critically appraised because in some ways our society in the United States again has issues to contend with regarding poverty, immigration, and assimilation - all of which were issues that the settlement house movement were designed to alleviate.

There is a hue and cry from many modern day people who share the spirit of Jane Addams - people are currently concerned about the official stance of the United States related to immigration policy.  However, outside of political theater related to safety and security, there is also the reality of funding - who will pay if the United States continues a trend toward open immigration?

People like Jane Addams and Louise deKoven Bowen poured their family fortunes into their philanthropic efforts - before they turned toward lobbying the government (and other people).  This is a significant disconnect in the argument of current open-immigration supporters.  It 'feels good' to support the ideas of open immigration but there is not a lot of evidence of personal investment other than social media rantings - now popularly referred to as 'hashtag advocacy' or 'elitist slacktivism.'

The issues are very real in some communities - Buffalo's Lafayette High School has been turned into a modern day settlement house community - except that there is a disconnect on philosophy and funding to sustain the effort.  A balanced perspective will identify the good intentions and solid efforts of local folk who are trying to make things work, but critical analysis also indicates the severe strain that is created by elites who would locate these new 'settlement houses' in places where they are not living themselves - burdening the already strained communities that can ill afford the attempt.

What happens to the existing population that was strained at the start of the new settlement house movement?  Occupational therapists should care deeply about this problem.  As an example, children who were already socioeconomically disadvantaged were living in those areas, with corresponding higher rates of learning difficulties and need for educational supports.  Getting services for that population was already difficult - and is now exponentially complicated by introducing a population of distressed refugees.  This is a recipe for social disaster.

Here is a street level perspective of the problem: in a 30 mile radius of my private practice I have wealthy families in suburban districts who seek out occupational therapy services for children who have (relatively) minor incoordination or attention problems - and they are accustomed to their school districts being responsive to their (relatively) minor concerns.  Also in this 30 mile radius are schools that can't cope with the problems associated with immigration efforts. There is very little hope that anyone can receive help in these schools.

There is nothing romantic about a historical connection to a settlement house movement particularly when the modern day incarnation of these efforts is the source of so much human suffering and societal strain.

It is easy to make a float and it is easy for suburban districts that are 90%+ white and middle to upper class say 'We support ALL people.  OUR schools are welcoming to EVERYONE.'  That is the definition of hashtag advocacy and elitist slacktivism.

If the occupational therapy profession wants to celebrate settlement houses and if they want to support open immigration policies then its members should come to Buffalo NY or work in similarly distressed communities.  What is the current reality?  Non profit human service agencies struggle to find people who are even willing to enter these neighborhoods.

That is not a demonstration of values consistent with Hull House.

Please read embedded links - all containing very important context.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Isabel Gladwin Barton: Wife, Helpmeet, and Collaborator

According to publicly available records and genealogy databases, Isabel Gladwin Newton was born on July 21, 1891, in Geneva, New York, to Mary Risley Gladwin, age 24, and Frank Ellsworth Newton, age 28.

Isabel Gladwin Newton met George Barton when she was twenty five years old and working as a bookeeper in a preserving and canning plant.  She responded to his contact and offer for work; she reported being particularly motivated by the salary of $15 per week, which was more than her $11 weekly salary at the plant. She began working for him on August 1, 1916. (Barton, 1968).

She reported being "drawn to him from the very first" and immediately began acting as his secretary and helping him with the publication of several articles and books.  She also provided significant material support to Barton in helping to manage his correspondence and organize materials for the First Consolation House Conference and founding of the National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy in March 1917.

Prior to this she did not have experience with occupational therapy.  At the presentation before the Western New York Occupational Therapy Association at the Clifton Springs Sanitarium on May 16, 1947, she stated

To go back to the calling of the conference at Consolation House prior to the formation of the National Society, Mr. Barton had contacted four leaders in their various fields, and so it was that these five zealous workers in the subject, with a very young, most inexperienced though intensely interested sixth, the young secretary, came together at Consolation House in March 1917.

She served aptly as the first secretary of the National Society of the Promotion of Occupational Therapy.  Review of the correspondence between Barton and Dunton at the time indicates that Isabel Newton was able to effectively coordinate the development of mailing and membership lists, dues collection, and many other tasks that were critical for the new profession.  In fact, following her resignation, it is clear that the record keeping associated with the group was a significant challenge for her successors.

Isabel Newton married George Barton on May 6, 1918.  She continued serving as secretary to George Barton and Consolation House.  In Barton's book, Teaching the Sick: A Manual of Occupational Therapy and Re-Education, he dedicates the book to Isabel and writes:

To Isabel Gladwin Barton
My Wife, Helpmeet, and Collaborator

All of this evidence indicates that Isabel Gladwin Barton, although young and inexperienced and certainly not a luminary in any field such as nursing or medicine or social work or teaching or architecture, was still a critical point of support for George Barton.  George had ongoing challenges with disability and there is no doubt that his wife Isabel helped him to achieve the goals that he set out for himself.

The November 2013 AOTF Research Resources has a column entitled Occupational Therapy: History in Focus.  That article includes an inaccurate description of Isabel Barton.  The article states

Every dutiful occupational therapy student is led through the profession's "catechism" of history; typically memorizing the names of the OT founders pictured in the famous photo shown here. Of course, serious students know that some of the key players responsible for occupational therapy's emergence are not even pictured; and one who was pictured (Isabel Newton, secretary and paramour to Mr. Barton) was largely incidental. 

I believe that use of the term 'paramour' trivializes the important work that Isabel did for the National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy in general and for George Barton in particular.  Following her husband's death she withdrew from active participation in occupational therapy, focusing on raising their young child.  She regularly followed the developments in the occupational therapy field and as noted above was called upon to present the history of the occupational therapy founding at several important events (30th anniversary, 50th anniversary).

Isabel was not just a secretary, as her husband George noted in his book dedication.  She was a dedicated parent, an accomplished seamstress, a faithful correspondent, and she loved her parents and other family members.  She was also fiercely independent and took care of Consolation House on her own for many years.  At the end of a long day after her son was asleep she would read books deep into the night and she would also indulge in going to the movies, which she loved.   She also remained deeply in love with George, and celebrated their wedding anniversaries long after his death.  These details were all made available to me as I have had the privilege of reading five years of her personal diaries.

Isabel Gladwin Barton was recently named to the AOTA 'Influential Persons List.'  Her support for George Barton and the skill that she brought to her role as Secretary of NSPOT was certainly not incidental.  Her appearance on this list is an honor that is deserved.


American Occupational Therapy Foundation (2013, November). OT: History in Focus. Downloaded from

Barton, G.E. (1919). Teaching the sick: A manual of occupational therapy and re-education. Philadelphia: WB Saunders, Co.

Barton, I.G. (1968). Consolation House, Fifty Years Ago.  American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 22(4), 340-345.

Newton, I. (1917). Consolation House. The Trained Nurse and Hospital Review, 59, 321-326.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

The Case of Lena, Part III: George Barton's promise to help others who were in pain

The original book "The Counterpane Fairy" was written and illustrated by Katharine Pyle in 1898.  It is a fanciful story of a fairy who visits children in their beds as long as they do not cry.  The fairy brings some comfort to these children and has the ability to magically transport them away from their circumstances if they focus on one of the squares of their counterpanes (bedspreads).

Occupational therapists may not be aware of how this story is relevant to the profession's history.  This post will conclude the exploration of 'The Case of Lena' and explain how Pyle's story influenced George Barton.

Barton did not write much about children but as previously noted he was struck by the 'Case of Lena' and that prompted him to write to his newspaper's editor in January of 1920.  It is hazardous to guess a person's motivation from such a distal historical vantage point, but we do know that Barton referred to Lena as "a very real and dear little girl" whose situation required attention.  We also know that Barton despised confinement  in the sanitarium and that he also was previously in deep despair over his life circumstances.  As described by Elwood Worcester (1932) "When I first saw George he was in the spiritual condition of a mad dog.  He blasphemed God for bringing such misfortunes on him, and cursed me roundly for daring to think I could help him."

Clearly, Barton knew pain.

It is important to consider the time frame when 'The Case of Lena' appeared in his newspaper.  The NSPOT meeting occurred several years prior in March of 1917 and he passed the reigns of the society's presidency to Dr. Dunton in the Fall of that same year.  His work at Consolation House continued, and at the same time that 'The Case of Lena' was published in the local papers George Barton was likely thinking about children of his own.  George Barton married his secretary, Isabel Newton, on May 6, 1918.    His son, George Gladwin Barton, was born on October 16, 1920.

He had already experienced how his own tuberculosis contributed to his previous wife and child leaving him (Worcester, 1932) and he read the story about Lena's father who also had tuberculosis and now how Lena might need to be removed from the home and how a newborn child might also be at risk.  Barton knew how tuberculosis shattered families - from personal experience and from reading the stories of others.

For George Barton, tuberculosis caused pain.  And tragedy.  For adults and children.

In 1920, in context of all of these events, George Barton wrote another article for The Trained Nurse and Hospital Review.  The article was called "The Counter-Pain Fairy.  I have not seen any mention of it in any previous summaries of Barton's writing or regarding occupational therapy history.  Exploring the relevance of Barton's fairy tale is necessary.

I attempted to find some connection between George Barton and Katharine Pyle but at this point an uncertain if they knew each other.  They used the same publisher (Houghton, Mifflin, and Co.) and certainly they may have been in similar social circles.  Katharine Pyle lived in New York for four years in the 1890s but at this point I do not know if she could have offered any 'blessing' upon Barton's use of her work but will update this space if I can locate any information.

Barton, as he was wont to do, engaged in word play with 'counterpane' by re-naming the story "The Counter-Pain Fairy."  Unlike Pyle's story, Barton's fairy achieved her magical powers and ability to help others through self-sacrifice.  Barton's fairy (first just a princess) was overcome with sadness at the sight of a little girl who had lost her legs and so arranged to have her own legs removed so that she might gain magical powers and be able to help other children who were sick or in pain.

"Then the princess understood that, if she was to help Biddy, she must lose her own beautiful legs and it just seemed as if she couldn't do it; but when she thought of all the other little boys and girls who had cried out to her, then she thought she might; and all the time she could not forget the radiant face of the lovely lady, so sweet and full of love; and 'way down in her heart she knew she would.  And she cried and cried, but still she told the Wizard that she cared enough --yes, even to give up her own two legs-- to help Biddy and all the other children...

First the Wizard (because she had loved other sick children enough to give up her own legs for them) changed the princess into a fairy.  That's how she got the name of the Counter-pain Fairy-- because she never comes to anybody but children who are sick enough to be in  bed and covered up all snug and warm with a counterpane-- (yes, it's spelled differently but its all the same thing)...

Again, it is hazardous to guess motivations but understanding context and considering other known sources there is justification for some conjecture on why Barton might write such a story and submit it for publication in the journals.  It is known that Worcester's "ministry of redemption" intervention (1932) with Barton was multi-faceted, and included admonitions about Barton's responsibility for other people.  Worcester wrote:

"He was perfectly able to return to his architecture, but by this time he had discovered a new form of architecture which he greatly preferred to the old-- building up again the broken lives of men and women who were suffering as he had suffered, under the eye of Doctor Mumford and the physicians of Clifton Springs.  With the help of a few rich friends he built his "Consolation House" and equipped it with splendid workshops, where, through the sweetness of his new personality, and his knowledge of crafts and arts, he did a wonderful work for years... More than once he has told me that his sickness marked a turning point of his life for good and that he would not have missed one incident of it.  How often this happens!  How frequently the sorrows and misfortunes of life turn out to  be God's messengers to us which close the old doors and seem to end the past, in order that we may find our way to the future, to the new life God has held in reserve for us."

Quiroga (1995) identifies Barton as a zealot but it is important to consider his motivation in context.  Rothman (1994) documents the spiritual context of tuberculosis sufferers:

"Evangelicalism had a particular appeal for invalids, and its influence in their life histories is marked.  Weighed down by the burdens of disease and deeply apprehensive that their present afflictions were punishment for past sins, many of them participated actively in the revivals.  The experience not only provided personal comfort but enabled some of them to turn a vagabond life and voyage for health into a spiritual Odyssey."

Isabel Newton, Barton's wife and Consolation House partner, wrote (1917) "The Rev. Elwood Worcester, of Emmanuel Church, Boston, convinced him that perhaps living was not worth the effort for himself, it would be worth while to get well for the sake of the "other fellow."  With this idea he started out to discover what could be done for that "other fellow," the other sick man.

Barton's fairy-tale "The Counter-Pain Fairy" has not previously been mentioned in the occupational therapy literature.  In context of Barton's loss and recovery and the pending birth of his own child it provides an interesting perspective on his reactions that were published in response to the sad story of a little girl from his area who would be forced to enter a sanitarium for treatment.  To him, Lena indeed was "real" and the problems associated with her disease required attention.  Helping others was as important as a promise to him, and he took it very seriously:

"And that's the story of how the princess was turned into the Counter-pain fairy, and why she will come to see you if you really want and need her.  Only you mustn't forget the conjuration, as the Wizard calls it; and, of course, you really mustn't cry; and you mustn't forget to promise twice because that makes it a real promise."



Embedded links, and...

Barton, G.E. (1920). The Counter-Pain Fairy.  The Trained Nurse and Hospital Review, 65, 493-497.

Newton, I. (1917). Consolation House. The Trained Nurse and Hospital Review, 59, 321-326.

Quiroga, V. (1995). Occupational therapy: The first 30 years.  Bethesda, MD: AOTA Press.

Rothman, S. (1994). Shadow of Death: Tuberculosis and the Social Experience of Illness in American History. New York: Basic Books.

Worcester, E. (1932). Life's Adventure: The Story of a Varied Career.  New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

Correcting the record: The relationship between Barton and Dunton

The 1992 article "Point of Departure: A Play About Founding the Profession" written by Robert Bing, has some notable inaccuracies that require correction.  The article has incorrect dates, incorrect attributions, and factual errors.  The article was written in a somewhat whimsical fashion in the form of a play.  However, it is important for such a telling to correctly reflect the historical record.  It is possible that poetic license, used in context of history, does a disservice to our proper understanding of events as they actually occurred.

Contrary to what commonly occurs, I believe that it is important for us to make sure that legends do not become facts.

In an article relating to historical documentary methods, Dunne, Pettigrew, and Robinson (2016) state that researchers must be cautious about facts and that simple linear accounting may be helpful to establish basic narratives.  Bing's article does not meet this criteria in that some reported events in his 'play' do not always match the archived records of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

One initial characterization that requires clarity is Bing's statement that Dunton had the following belief about Barton: "Because he had some physical problems himself, he was mainly interested in the hospital as a 're-education institution.'"  There is no doubt that Barton had ailments, and it is certainly likely that this fact contributed to his interest in the occupational therapy topic, but it is probably incorrect to explain his interest in such a constricted way.  In fact, one of Barton's initial letters to Dunton dated November 10, 1914 states specifically, "I am not a doctor and have no particular interest in medicine, but I may perhaps lay some slight claim to being a socialist however insignificant, and my great aim is to use the hospital as a re-educational institution."  As such it is clear that Bing's characterization of Barton's motive is incomplete and not fully accurate in accordance with the actual correspondence.  As documented previously in this blog, Barton was influenced by Ruskin and Morris, both of whom were 'socialists' and interested in applying their design ideas for the betterment of society.  Barton (1917) later published an entire book focused around social criticism of existing systems and his desire to influence broad social policy.  He was not simply motivated by his own ailments.

Another point of curiosity is Bing's characterization of Barton's antipathy toward Dr. Herbert Hall.  It is true that deep-seated antipathy was present.  However, there are some rather complex issues regarding the relationship between Dunton, Barton, and Hall that I am still exploring.  There were notable philosophical differences about occupation that might not be fairly reduced the way they were in Bing's article.  In fact those relationships and the differences of opinion about the primary function of 'occupation work' might make for someone's entire doctoral thesis someday.  I hope to write more about that at some point in time.

Bing's article continues and he makes an unusual and inaccurate assertion.  He states (in Dunton's voice) "In that same letter, dated December 9, 1916, George (by this time we were on a first name basis, even though we had yet to meet), took me to task about my use of the term occupation worker."  There are several concerns.  First, there is no evidence in the correspondence that Dunton and Barton regularly used each other's first names.  In fact, almost all of the correspondence uses "Mr. Barton" and "Dr. Dunton" with several instances where Barton simply addresses his colleague as "Dunton."

Second, it is difficult to know if Dunton's correspondence used "George" because there is so little of it and what is available is very difficult to read.  The archives at the Wilma West Library that have this correspondence are almost all unidirectional with many more letters from Barton than were written by Dunton.  Many of the letters written by Dunton are only available as a carbon copy and presumably are those that were kept in the files of Dr. Dunton.  The reason for this is that Dunton was much more fastidious in preserving records, and he kept the original letters written by Barton and copies of his own letters, although most of them are very challenging to read because of fading, age, being carbon-copied, etc.  In fact Dunton was sensitive that he only had unidirectional records of the founding because he wrote to Isabel Newton after George Barton's death asking her if she had records of his original correspondence.  On March 18, 1926 Newton wrote, "Forgive my delay in answering your request for your letters to my husband, relating to the formation of the National Association, but I have had to delay until I could go over the files in the attic.  I fail to find any of the correspondence during the years you mention and I am sure they must have been destroyed a year or so ago when I cleared out some of the files.  I am sorry if this means serious inconvenience to you."

Third. the letter that Bing states that was written on December 9, 1916 was actually written on December 20, 1916.  Barton's statement in that letter was, "One thing I cannot and will not stand for is the use of "occupation workers."  It means nothing, --does not even suggest the hospital to the casual reader, and it is bad English.  We cannot, I think, lose a single opportunity to rub in the word "therapeutics."  I shall insist always that this be the matter of prime importance, both from my interest in development of a new line of medicine, and from my horrid vision as a sociologist of what may occur if therapeutics is forgotten."

Fourth, there was not a separate letter ten days later suggesting "National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy."  That suggestion was made in the same letter actually dated December 20, 1916.  Bing asserts that this was a change from Barton's suggestion 13 months earlier of "Occupation for Re-Education."  I could not find any such reference.  The only previous suggestion was made in a letter dated November 11, 1915, where Barton adds a post script to Dunton that reads, "What do you think of 'The Society For the Promotion of Occupational Re-education' as a title."

Another confusing inaccuracy is Bing's characterization of Slagle's alleged fear of confrontation with Barton.  Bing writes (in Dunton's voice), "Meanwhile, I had been keeping Eleanor Slagle informed about all that was going on.  I did not let Barton know this; after all, you don't have to tell everything you know.  Mrs. Slagle wrote me that she was bringing a pair of boxing gloves to the meeting, since she was certain she and George would get into some kind of combat."  This accounting is factually inaccurate. On March 10, 1917 Barton wrote the following to Dunton: "I dislike at this early day to feel that I am a tale-bearer or a gossip, but I feel it will be my duty to warn you that Mrs. Slagle announces her intention of bringing boxing gloves in anticipation of some bout with you.  I look forward to the event with interest."

Bing characterized Barton's assumption of the Presidency of NSPOT in an unusual way.  He writes (in Dunton's voice), "Barton was elected President, a position he nominated himself for some weeks prior to the meeting."  This is only partially accurate.  In a letter dated November 11, 1915 Barton wrote to Dunton discussing a 'call' to find other occupation workers.  He wrote, "As to the position which I should assume in the society, that is a matter of comparatively slight importance.  I am willing to do whatever seems advisable.  Your assurance of assistance is in itself a great help and I thank you most heartily, both for myself and in the name of the many whom I trust may be benefited by our collaboration."  In continuing correspondence Barton acknowledges the role that Dunton played when he stated in a letter dated January 24, 1917, "Now that you have succeeded in getting me started, I am anxious to force things along."  Dunton was a facilitator and in fact he did not want to be the leader.  Barton wrote in a subsequent letter dated February 13, 1917 "Now in order that we may be in accord, I wish to give you my idea of how our work can best be divided.  Had it not been for the suggestions that I should take the lead in this organization, I have, I think and hope, sufficient natural modesty to make me hesitate to assume that leadership.  However, as I consider the work which I know the other members of the Big 5 are doing I cannot but believe, not that I could do it better, but that I am so situated as to be able to do it with far less trouble than any of the rest... I should be glad, therefore, if the Committee so desires, to assume the Presidency."

Furthermore, when Barton announced his resignation from the Presidency he asked Dunton to take over.  In a letter dated July 27, 1917 Barton wrote to Dunton and stated, "I have accomplished what you asked me to do, --namely, to get the people together and get the thing started, but little has yet been done; and I feel that it will be greatly to the benefit of the society, and to the ease with which the president's duties may be performed, if your hand takes the helm at what, to all intents and purposes, is the beginning of the society... I regret very much relinquishing this office, but I am confident that it will be in more worthy hands; and, I pledge you my continued earnest support and hearty cooperation."

In a letter also dated July 27, 1917 Dunton writes to Slagle and states, "He [Barton] had suggested that I be made President. I do not want the  job but at the same time I think it is very essential that our society be continued."  In a return letter dated August 3, 1917 Slagle encourages Dunton to take the lead and stated, "I am particularly pleased at the prospect of your being selected to the Presidency of the Society.  It is of the greatest importance that a person of vision and broad understanding of and with the problems be made President.  What do you think has happened to pique Mr. Barton?"


In sum, Bing's descriptions of Barton's correspondence include dating errors, negatively slanted attributions, incorrect attributions, and plain factual inaccuracies.  These errors go beyond mere poetic license in constructing a whimsical 'play' about the founding of the profession.  It is possible that these characterizations influenced subsequent historical accounting.  There is ample evidence that Barton was eccentric, and perhaps even frequently misunderstood, but some of Bing's characterizations fall outside the ranges of an accurate telling.  Barton was a complex character who was more socially connected and savvy than any of the other Founders.  He was highly competent, yet also prone to metaphorical and allegorical flourish that could be misunderstood.  He was also struggling with the constant threat of relapse of his 'consumption,' a reality that impacted every single one of his actions and decisions.  He was a strong personality, perhaps even fairly characterized as dominant, but he was also genteel and self-deprecating all at the same time.  These layers of complexity need to be acknowledged if we are to understand the actual Founding efforts and the true relationships between the Founders.

For all of the quotations from letters that are referenced above, I have copies of the original correspondence that I made at the Wilma West Library as part of my ongoing research into this topic.  I am happy to share the source materials if anyone would like to see the documents that I am citing.  Please submit all requests in email.


Letters referenced above

Embedded links above

Barton, George E. (1917). Re-education: An analysis of the institutional system of the United States. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Bing, R.K. (1992). A Point of Departure (A Play About Founding the Profession). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 46, 27-32.

Dunne, B., Pettigrew, J., and Robinson, K. (2016). Using historical documentary methods to explore the history of occupational therapy.  British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 79, 376-384


Monday, September 19, 2016

The Case of Lena, Part II: Barton's response to 'A Common Man'

Continued from Part I - Read here.

This exploration of some of Barton's writing outside of professional journals is offered for additional context to assist readers in understanding his concerns and passions that related to the occupational therapy profession.


The story of Lena got one reader of the Geneva Daily Times "all choked up."  This reader called himself "A Common Man" and wrote a letter to the editor on January 19, 1920 asking more about Lena's story:

Now what I don't understand is this.  It was too bad that Lena couldn't take that elegant job in the 5&10 and I guess the manager was sorry too because they say it's hard to get good girls like Lena and her father would be glad of her help I'll say so.

Well what I want to know is this.  Why couldn't Lena learn something at Oak Mount so that when she got well again she could get a better job... that would help her father more and the extra pay she's get would sort of make up for the time she spent at Oak Mount when she didn't have the 5&10 job.

Maybe I'm just crazy but do you see what I mean?

That letter to the editor motivated Barton to write his own letter to the editor on January 24, 1920, calling it his 'duty and pleasure' to respond.

First, it is interesting to note Barton's compassion for the little girl - indicating that the subject "is not 'just a story' but a very real and dear little girl."   He went on to state that 'A Common Man' "has expressed the very essence of one of the greatest of the problems which now face the United States in this period of reconstruction, of which so much is being said, and so little actually done.  That children and "grown ups" also can be taught much of value to themselves and to society during the long period of convalescence is an assured fact."

Barton had no shortage of criticism for the health care system or existing power structures, a theme which is repeated in his letters to Dr. Dunton.  Representative criticism is in his letter to Dunton dated May 19, 1917 where he states, "So far I have failed to find any one in Washington who seems to know where anything is or should be, though I hope for inside information shortly."  The criticism of health care and government was repeated throughout his book and was just as evident in his Letter to the Editor:

I shall be glad personally to champion these ideas of "Just a Common Man" anywhere, their only weakness lying in the fact that they are in advance of the times.

When enough like him dare to protest against the present hospital method of treating the sick, then the hospitals will change their method because they need his money for their support.  The teachers will study and qualify: and "chasing the cure" will cease to be the awful, dreary, discouraging process it is made to be at present; and Lena will be sent home with resistance to her disease increased, knowing more than she knew before (able to take a better job), and an active home missionary to fight intelligently against tuberculosis.

Until then all that Lena will learn is the discouraging if not disgusting stories of the lives of the other victims with whom she is confined.

What is notable about this Letter to the Editor is that it demonstrates Barton's ongoing passion and commitment to the occupational therapy cause after he stopped participating as formally in the National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy.  Quiroga's characterization of the 'momentary brilliance' of Barton's career needs to be reconsidered.  Barton's journal submissions and book writing ended mostly by 1918 but his work at Consolation House continued in earnest.  Barton did not 'suddenly burn out' but instead just focused his efforts in different directions.

Barton's passion about occupational therapy extended to children, notably evident in his writing about the 'Case of Lena' - and would very soon play out in his life in ways that he might have only been imagining at the time he was writing letters to his local newspaper editor. 

To be continued...


embedded links, Fulton History (newspaper archives), and...

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

Thursday, September 01, 2016

The Case of Lena

History provides context for understanding.  We are so far removed from the daily life struggles of 100 years ago and our own experiences are so very different that it is difficult for us to develop a clear understanding of  why events unfolded the way that they did.

Occupational therapy is a health related profession that was born from the crucible of American society and culture at the turn of the 20th century.  As such, events from those times greatly influenced the thinking of our primary founders.

George Edward Barton lived in Clifton Springs in Ontario County on the street behind the Clifton Springs Sanitarium (private) which had a capacity of 400 patients.  The Ontario County Sanitorium for Consumptives (Oak Mount) was the public facility, previously known as the County 'Poor House' in nearby East Bloomfield and had a capacity of around 40 patients.

Barton was motivated by realities of the public health crisis of tuberculosis.  He was motivated because of living in the shadow of the Clifton Springs Sanitarium, and by the stories that he read in his local paper (below), and by the reality that he was also afflicted with this terrible disease.

Understanding Barton's motivations yields important information about his values and beliefs and the 'cure' that he believed could be achieved through occupation.  This reprinted article is an exemplar of daily struggles that people had at the time, and subsequent blog entries will outline his specific response to this newspaper article.

Reprinted from the Geneva Daily Times, Friday January 16, 1920.

That morning the Teacher had sent Lena home from school.  Coming in from the cold air, the child's cough had been worse than ever, and the Teacher had said: "You better go home.  And don't come back till your cold is better.  It is not safe for the others."

All the rest of the morning and while she ate her hasty boarding house dinner, the Teacher had been haunted by the look in Lena's blue eyes.  There had been something she had wanted to say and couldn't.  So much at least was clear; and the teacher determined to take the long walk down to Lena's street after school and see her mother.  She remembered that the child had had a cold ever since the chilly autumn day when she had come to school with wet feet and had a chill.

Lena herself opened the door.  The same frightened look came to her eyes.  She said her mother was out working but would be back about five.  Yes, the Teacher could come in and wait.  After some hesitation she led the way to a back room.  "Pa's in here.  You can come in.  We've got a boarder in the parlor."

The room was small and clean.  It served, one could see for living room, kitchen, and dining room.  A hot fire burned in the stove and near it is a rocking chair sat the shadow of a man, who coughed, much as Lena coughed.

The Teacher sat down and the father told her how he had to give up work, and how his wife had to go out now.  He asked if the Visiting nurse had sent her there.  She replied that she was Lena's teacher.  At that he seemed relieved.  He said the Nurse had wanted him to go away to Oak Mount, but he loved his family and did not want to leave home.  He like ma's cooking better than any other too.

"But we get's on fine and dandy," chimed in Lena.  "We rent the parlor to Mr. Kominsky and two ladies that works at the factory rooms in the back room.  We could of got fifty cents more a week for the front room but we couldn't get both the beds and the crib in the back one."

Just then the back door opened and Lena's mother came in.  She was as neat as Teutonic as her little daughter, than whom no more loyal American ever saluted the flag.

Awkwardly she returned the Teacher's greeting.  The same frightened look came into her eyes when she was told that Lena must stay away from school until her cough was better.

"I'm sorry" the Teacher began, when Lena's mother rose and went into the front hall.  She beckoned to the Teacher and then shut the door.  "Did you come here from the Board of Health?" she asked.


"You can see how pa is," she returned.  "But he does want to stay home with me."

"But aren't you all sleeping in the same room?"

"Honest, lady, it's the only way we can get along.  You ain't going to report it, are you?  Oscar's well of his cold now."

"Who is Oscar?"

"He's my baby.  He's two.  Mrs. Schmitt, she take care of him when I'm away.  He's awful cute."

"May I see your room?"

"Sure.  But you won't report him?"

"Not now," and the Teacher followed up the stairs.

It was too terribly true.  One room.  One window.  Two beds under the sloping roof.  Oscar's crib between.  All neat and clean.

"Your husband is so ill.  It is not safe to have Lena here.  Will you let me send her to the hospital?" asked the Teacher.

"Hospital?"  She might as well have said "Prison."  The look of terror, dispelled for a moment by pride in her beautiful white beds, returned.

"I know the people there.  They will take care of Lena if there is room and I think there is.  And they will be so kind to her.  She will have good food and can stay there until a better place for children can be provided."

"Mein Gott.  I don't want Lena go away.  She's just a little keed."  Tears were rolling down the weary face.

"But it isn't right to expose her."

"I don't want her to get sick.  But honest, lady, I keep pa very clean."

"I know you do."

"But you won't tell about my baby?"

"Not now if you will promise Lena can go to the hospital."

"Lena did want to keep on learnin.  She's most fourteen.  She could get an elegant place at the five and ten."

"If you let her go and get well, she can go back to school next year."

So Lena is with the other children at the hospital in the contagious building.

But what about Oscar?

And what about all the other children in Ontario County who should be removed from infection, or who already have the dreadful disease, and who can be cured if you "do it now?"

Friday, May 27, 2016

The demise of authentic makerspaces: From Dad's workbench to Angie's List

Makerspaces or hackerspaces are terms used to describe environments where people build or create with materials, to learn how to share resources and work together to make things.  In their current iterations they are often found in libraries, schools, or even community centers and people are invited to come into the environment to work on individual or shared projects.  Here is a picture of a modern makerspace:

Occupational therapists are becoming more interested in makerspaces, perhaps based on a seemingly genetic interest in the concept of a constructed milieu where people can come together to develop skills.  This is what early occupational therapy makerspaces looked like:

This is a picture of occupational therapy at the Trudeau Sanitarium in the Adirondack region of New York State.  Patients would come to this area of the country to 'chase the cure' for their tuberculosis.  Attracted by the cold and crisp and clear air of the region, when people were not sitting in their Adirondack chairs breathing in the fresh air they were often found in these makerspaces.  This particular occupational therapy clinic developed into the Saranac Lake Study and Craft Guild, which I encourage readers to learn more about by clicking here.  The Guild became a patient-driven and patient-controlled community.  Modern day lingo might attempt to apply the term 'client centered' but actually that descriptor would fall short of describing the actual community that existed.

The Saranac Lake Study and Craft Guild represents the type of project that Consolation House might have turned into - except that George Barton died while still in the early years of his occupational therapy experiment.  I have some additional materials about Barton's use of makerspace culture that I will be posting in the upcoming months.

At the turn of the century, occupational therapy makerspaces were created to meet an exigent need of convalescing tuberculosis patients. What drives the makerspace movement today?  Are these makerspaces properly located in libraries or schools or even in some DIY classes at Home Depot on Saturday mornings?  Here I want to wax nostalgic in a personal direction, because I think I have a cultural yearning for something that is dying. 

I am wondering if my yearning is related to the fact that I don't perceive authenticity in our modern makerspaces and that the modern makerspace contexts seem unusual to me.

In my personal experience, the only makerspaces that I knew about while growing up were in my Dad's workshop.  We didn't have these resources in schools or anywhere else.  Maybe not as many Dads have those spaces any longer?  Or maybe modern Dads are just relying on YouTube videos when they need to replace the broken float in a toilet so those cluttered workbenches with parts and projects all over the place don't exist?  Or maybe families are just working so much that there is less time for those activities?

I purposely use the descriptor 'Dad's workshop' because in fact that is the best way to describe what existed.  Maybe Dad's workshop is not as common because of evolving social and gender roles that impact division of labor responsibilities between modern parents.  Or maybe it has something to do with the high divorce rate and too many children only seeing a non-custodial parent on a constricted schedule?  Or maybe it has something to do with a modern notion that 'good' parenting means taxiing your children to endless organized recreational experiences and not on a child watching or helping as Dad works away on some project.

My own Dad didn't write a lot, but he shared some of his writing with me before he died, and it is so on point to this topic I thought I would share it here.  What I love best about this story that he wrote is his use of the word 'occupation' which he did independent of my influence.  He called this "My Hovel"

I can’t remember when I went to live in the cellar. In those days the seven of us shared 3 bedrooms. My brother and I had the bedroom off the kitchen and the girls and my younger brother shared the back bedroom adjoining my parent’s bedroom. I had occasion to recall the furnace room where I lived recently in a conversation with my son. There was a coal box beside the boiler and although the boiler had been converted to oil before I moved in, still the coal box remained. And because the area of the furnace room where I lived had been a coal bin, I think for many years after I moved in, still the coal dust remained. No matter how I swept or washed, the coal permeated the walls and floor for years after the coal bin was removed. That may explain why I was able to commander this darkened end of the furnace room without much opposition from any other family member. I just can’t remember the early years in the furnace room, like every occupation, I must of started off small and gradually expanded to fill the area of the old coal bin next to the boiler. There over the remaining coal box I placed an overhanging desktop and glass writing area. Later I built book shelves for the books I purchased from second hand stores in the city. I built a two by six plank workbench adjoining the coal desk along the back wall of the room and stored scrap wood for building under the workbench. I collected large dry cells from friendly telephone workers and made projects of simple electrical circuits. Years later it developed into a radio hobby, building power supplies and oscillators and studying code. Through grammar school I would do homework, work at the workbench and do carpentry work all through the evening hours. Every evening of the week was spent in my work area. The early years of photography developed in this area and I remember constructing an enormous lateral enlarger from a large bellows camera. While everyone lived upstairs, I lived in the cellar. And, I remember most how peaceful and quiet the furnace room was compared to the sometimes pandemonium upstairs.

My Dad created this makerspace and he carried that value and that mindset into his adulthood.  Of course I never knew about this space that he created as a child, but I remember his adult workspace quite vividly.  I remember spending hours sitting with him and helping on all kinds of projects.  We would do carpentry jobs, fix broken appliances, made our own ham radio equipment.  We would scour flea markets for 'treasures' and bring them back to the workspace where they would be put to use or saved for some future project.  That was the norm of my own experience.   It was a very typical childhood experience, I believe, but I am not sure if it is so typical any longer.

Here is another narrative that he wrote explaining his motivation and process for re-finishing the attic into a bedroom for my brother and I.  He called this "The attic bedroom"

You can’t imagine how dirty and dark the attic on Orchard Street was when we bought the house. A winter clothes storage room had been built in the south wing of the attic below the high window and the oversize beams supporting the slate roof were dirty and rough. A single light bulb hung in the middle illuminated the room and the upper half of the windows were colored glass which permitted little light to enter the room on even the sunniest day.
Yet, the staircase was well constructed and the balloon construction lifted the perimeter walls sixteen inches off the floor in such a way that the sloped roof attic walls never seemed constraining as attics often do. The center of the main section of the attic roof reached fourteen feet off the floor so that an eight foot ceiling could be constructed through the large section of the room. The new "Miami" windows were installed from the inside of the room because the height of the house could not afford safe installation by ladder from the exterior of the house. The electrical cable runs were over 250 feet of lighting and outlets and I used 1800 square feet of sheet rock over the insulation I installed. I think I taped the sheet rock for weeks. Before the floor was installed, my son wanted to move in, I think he was only five. I bought the large office desks from a moving company for fifty dollars each including the swivel chairs. I piped the sink and waste to provide some relief for the busy bathroom on the second floor which the six of us shared. Later I built the bookcases which we promptly filled with large library of collected books we loved. I remember how we loved to read the Readers Digest "Wonders of the World"

It became my favorite room, probably because I remember how dark, expansive and dirty it was and later how airy bright and comfortable it became.

What is interesting in this narrative is that you can see the carryover of his makerspace mindset, but also the repeated theme of taking a dark and unused space and creating something out of it.  In this second narrative, he was able to create something for his children in the attic that he was not really able to create for himself in the basement.  The attic bedroom was not a hovel!

I enjoy sharing this narrative because my Dad was not a writer and he was not purposely constructing allegory.  It is just folk intentionality.  Plain words - his words.  That is what gives authenticity to his story about the use of makerspaces.

I wonder sometimes if the makerspace context of a Dad's workbench is not as common as it used to be.  I have a workbench, full of all my father's tools - and I do in fact use them - but life is so busy sometimes I just use Angie's List and will find someone else to do a job for me.  Dad would never have done that.

Perhaps that is why the new makerspaces are not in our homes and not as commonly located in a Dad's workshop - and that is why we have the DIY Network and Bob Vila on the television telling us how to do a project.  Maybe that is why schools are creating these spaces because Dads are not doing it as much.

I think it is a good thing that the spaces are being created, but I have some nagging thoughts that it might not be the best way to meet those needs.  What meaning is created by going to a sterile hackerspace in a school every other Thursday for your scheduled time?  How does that serve our own narratives about creation and meaning that might fit into our own lives?

Would there have been a hovel and then an attic bedroom if my Dad didn't have his own makerspace?

I think these are important questions.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

From elite social clubs to personal atonement: The history of the formation of Consolation House.

Private and elite clubs were vehicles of socialization and business transaction during the Gilded Age.  Clubs were often restricted in membership and members were highly scrutinized before being offered the opportunity to join. 

The Tavern Club in Boston is one example of an elite social club.  It was established in 1884 and was a gathering place where the members were focused on fine dining, lectures, and the arts.  Notable members included Charles Eliot Norton, William Dean Howells, and Henry Cabot Lodge.  Herndon (1892) described the club as "an organization of good fellows, mostly artists, musicians, and lawyers, who breakfast and dine together with more or less regularity in their snug and artistically fashioned club-house on Boylston Place, just off the busy thoroughfare of Boylston Street by the Commons."  The entrance dues in 1892 was a $50.00 fee.  The approximate 'economic status' of that amount in 2015 terms is $11,100.00, which provides some current-day comparison to understand the social prominence associated with the Tavern Club.

Hornblower (2000) provides additional perspective on the nature and function of Boston social clubs, including the Tavern Club.  He reports in tongue in cheek fashion

"The Tavern (1884) is said to be so exclusive that the man who proposed forming the club, a teacher of Italian descent, was denied admission. Sort of... The club was founded to promote “literature, drama and the arts.” Today it more or less pursues that mission...In the late ’80s, the Tavern was perhaps the most vocal opponent to sexual integration. One production, included a song entitled, “We love the ladies.” Its final refrain: “But we’d rather have the place in embers/ Than see them as regular members.”'

In 1988 the Supreme Court ruled in NEW YORK STATE CLUB ASSOCIATION, INC., v. CITY OF NEW YORK et al. that such private clubs were forbidden to discriminate based on race, creed, sex, and other grounds.  Opinions about the social value of clubs has changed and fewer people place value and importance on membership.  This is very different than how those clubs were viewed during the Gilded Age.

George Edward Barton served on the Elections Committee of this exclusive club from 1901-1903

This fact becomes relevant because it provides useful background information when attempting to understand Barton's methodologies for creating the National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy (NSPOT), which later was renamed the American Occupational Therapy Association.

Many occupational therapists consider the NSPOT meeting in Clifton Springs, NY as the 'founding' of the profession.   It is important to consider that the NSPOT meeting was a function of a larger enterprise that eventually became known as the Consolation House Convalescent Club (CHCC).  The NSPOT meeting occurred during the middle of Barton's occupational therapy work on March 15, 1917.

Consolation House was opened on March 7, 1914 and marked the beginning of Barton's activities that ultimately led to the incorporation of the CHCC on April 1, 1922.  The purpose of the Club was to provide a location where people who were disabled could rehabilitate themselves and develop skills for economic self-sufficiency.  Every article or product made by a disabled person was to be stamped with the image of a phoenix which was the official emblem of Consolation House.  The motto "Beauty for Ashes" was also supposed to be stamped on the product so that anyone making a purchase would know that "this article was made by a sick man who is doing his very best to support himself."

Barton's earlier experience among the most elite members of society served as the basis for his creation of a new kind of club.  The use of a Club as a means of social expression was normative in his perspective.  However, due to his illness, Barton believed that he had lost everything.  He stated to Elwood Worcester (1932), 
"What is the use of talking to me?  My life is utterly ruined, my health, my power of movement, my beautiful profession, my wife and child, my home, my capacity for earning money are taken from me.  All that is left for me is to sit in this chair, a beggar, a pauper and to suffer like hell..."

Barton's choice of the Phoenix represented his belief that something new could be born out of such loss.   His choice of the naming of Consolation House and the motto "Beauty for ashes" also reflects his spiritual conversion at the assistance of Worcester. 

Worcester was not a social elite - he was a preacher in Boston - but many of those club members came to his church.  He provided Barton with the relevant scripture that would send him on his way to recovery and also lead him to his new occupational therapy mission.

Isaiah 61:3 states
To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.

The methodology for mourning in biblical times was to sit among ashes and to rend your clothing.  The message in this passage from Isaiah is that people can be comforted.  And consoled.   And happy again.  Barton existentially depended on such an atonement, reformation, and rebirth.  Barton's actions need to be considered within the context of his personal life story.  When some historians lacked that information, his behaviors were labeled as 'zealous' and 'sometimes irrational' and he was described as a 'difficult person' who lacked 'interpersonal skills' (Quiroga, 1995).

These characterizations of Barton are incorrect.  He was just a man who held a particular station in life and perceived that he had lost everything.  He used the tools he knew best to create a solution for himself, and that solution ended up contributing to the creation of the occupational therapy profession.

As reported in the Clifton Springs Press, one of the founding directors of the Consolation House Convalescent Club was Elwood Worcester, the minister who brought the Emmanuel Method to Barton as he convalesced in Clifton Springs, NY.

When you consider the historical context and motivations of George Barton, it becomes quite evident that Consolation House was aptly named.  He was a man who believed that he had a mission, and fulfilling that mission was an expression of hope for his own recovery as well as the recovery of other people similarly situated.


embedded links, and...

Herndon, R. (1892). Boston of today: A glance at its history and characteristics. Boston: Post Publishing Company.  Retrieved from

Hornblower, S. (2000, April 27). Fifteen minutes: The old boy's clubs.   The Harvard Crimson.  Retrieved from

Quiroga, V. (1995). Occupational therapy: The first 30 years.  Bethesda, MD: AOTA Press.

Worcester, E. (1932). Life's Adventure: The Story of a Varied Career.  New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.