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My dissertation examines the links between disability, intellectuality, labor and gender in Argentina between 1887 and 1939. It demonstrates how intellectual capacity and education created distinctions between the blind and other disabled populations. Those distinctions helped organizations for the blind acquire private and public resources for projects designed to make the blind independent through occupational training. However, the same arguments that aided organizations drove debates over the definition of independence for the blind. Sighted activists believed education would diminish the dependency of the blind on their families and social services through the sale of small crafts. Blind leaders believed that education would create self-sufficiency through access to well-paid and dignified labor. Debates about education were contemporary with the rise of international medical theories about heredity that informed political debates on social policy. These theories labeled the intellectually and mentally disabled as particularly dangerous to national health. Blind activists hoped that by securing the idea that the blind were intellectually normal, they could secure blind men dignified employment. What constituted dignified labor was, however, contested. Conservative activists argued that any work that allowed blind men to provide for their family was dignified. Activists with connections to the left argued that only jobs in which the blind competed with the sighted, and were accepted as equals, represented dignified employment. The conflict between these two viewpoints drove the expansion of institutes for the blind but also divided relatively scarce resources. Once sparked, debate about the direction and purpose of programs for the blind continued until the creation of a comprehensive institute in 1939.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Bieber, Judy

Second Committee Member

Jefferson, Robert

Third Committee Member

Ablard, Jonathan



Project Sponsors

Fulbright International Research Fellowship, Latin American and Iberian Dissertation Fellowship, Russell J. and Dorothy S. Bilinski Dissertation Fellowship

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