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SPRING 2009 CATALOG

Acts of Conscience
World War II, Mental Institutions, and Religious Objectors

 
Steven J. Taylor

Cloth $45.00    |    978-0-8156-0915-5    |    2009

In the mid- to late 1940s, a group of young men rattled the psychiatric establishment by beaming a public spotlight on the squalid conditions and brutality in our nation’s mental hospitals and training schools for people with psychiatric and intellectual disabilities.

The Washington Post, Conscientious Objectors of WWII by Steven J. Taylor

Reviews


"In this important, assiduously researched book, Taylor tells the story of a courageous group of WW II conscientious objectors who worked in state mental institutions and turned to the media to expose the abuses and atrocities they witnessed. The author digs deep into the archives (the book is generously illustrated) and uses interviews with more than a dozen survivors and family members of those institutionalized to illuminate a forgotten and heroic chapter in the history not only of disability issues but also of civil rights. He pursues the politics of deinstitutionalization through the 1960s, including in the discussion the landmark work of Burton Blatt, who exposed the horrors of Willowbrook State School. In a valuable conclusion, Taylor relates history to the present scholarly study of disability studies. Every library should have this extraordinary, vivid history on its shelves."
Choice

"Set your moral compass by this book. Taylor’s curiosity and his outrage have yielded a lucid, compelling, and eminently readable historical narrative."
—Simi Linton, author of Claiming Disability: Knowledge and Identity

Description
In the mid- to late 1940s, a group of young men rattled the psychiatric establishment by beaming a public spotlight on the squalid conditions and brutality in our nation’s mental hospitals and training schools for people with psychiatric and intellectual disabilities. Bringing the abuses to the attention of newspapers and magazines across the country, they led a reform effort to change public attitudes and to improve the training and status of institutional staff. Prominent Americans, including Eleanor Roosevelt, ACLU founder Roger Baldwin, author Pearl S. Buck, actress Helen Hayes, and African-American activist Mary McLeod Bethune, supported the efforts of the young men.

These young men were among the 12,000 World War II conscientious objectors who chose to perform civilian public service as an alternative to fighting in what is widely regarded as America’s "good war." Three thousand of these men volunteered to work at state institutions, where they found conditions appalling. Acting on conscience a second time, they challenged America’s treatment of its citizens with severe disabilities. Acts of Conscience brings to light the extraordinary efforts of these courageous men, drawing upon extensive archival research, interviews, and personal correspondence.

The World War II conscientious objectors were not the first to expose public institutions, and they would not be the last. What distinguishes them from reformers of other eras is that their activities have faded from professional and popular memory. Steven J. Taylor’s moving account is an indispensable contribution to the historical record.

View other series books on Critical Perspectives on Disability

Author
Steven J. Taylor is Centennial Professor of Disability Studies in the School of Education and codirector of the Center on Human Policy, Law, and Disability Studies at Syracuse University. He is the coauthor of In Search of the Promised Land and The Social Meaning of Mental Retardation: Two Life Stories, among other books. His articles have appeared in numerous journals, including Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, and Qualitative Sociology.

7 x 10, 504 pages, 50 black-and-white illustrations, notes, bibliography, index


Acts of Conscience

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