Thesis ID: CBB655397421

Making Good: World War I, Disability, and the Senses in American Rehabilitation (2020)


Sullivan, Evan P. (Author)
Fogarty, Rick (Advisor)

State University of New York at Albany
Fogarty, Rick
Publication date: 2020
Language: English

Publication Date: 2020
Physical Details: 211

This study looks at how disabled American soldier-patients and the US Army used the senses as tools of rehabilitation after the Great War. Contemporaries argued that, when the hundreds of thousands of American soldiers came home wounded or sick after the Great War, the men needed to make good. The phrase “making good” meant that sacrifice in the war was not enough, and veterans had to become socially and economically independent, and return to heterosexual relationships. In an effort to return to normalcy, the US Army relied on rehabilitation, which aimed to medically and socially re-integrate the men into society. Wounded and sick soldiers entered hospital wards and mess halls, operating rooms and vocational training while using their senses to make sense of their wounds, their disabilities, and their places within a rapidly demobilizing America. What did it mean to be disabled after the war? How did ideas about manhood or morality shape the rehabilitation experience? By looking at rehabilitation through the lens of sensory history, this study argues that the senses were political tools for both the individual and the state. The US Army politicized hearing, for example, when they did not allow deaf and hard-of-hearing veterans to learn American Sign Language, and instead appealed to the more popular lip reading movement, an easier form of communication for aural society more broadly. The sense of taste was a way for soldiers to take control over the healing experience and hold the state to higher standards of care. And the sense of touch had many vocational functions, but also served to re-integrate men into gendered and sexualized relationships. Looking at rehabilitation through sensory experiences also offers important themes in appealing to society’s needs after the war. While most blinded veterans returned with complex physical and neurological wounds, the many stories published about them ignored the complexities, displayed bodily whole and uncomplicated wounds for public consumption, and focused on their success as a way to motivate other disabled veterans. The image of facially wounded veterans was also sanitized for public viewing, as stories often focused on the promises of modern surgery to fix broken faces. Contemporary depictions of sanitized and successfully rehabilitated veterans appealed to the public’s vision of morally positive veterans, but obscured the true costs of war on the human body and mind, and subverted important and necessary conversations about war and trauma. The senses were, therefore, tools for coming to terms with, or averting attention from, the human costs of war in the modern era.

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Authors & Contributors
Biernoff, Suzannah
Linker, Beth
Bickford, Andrew
Byrom, Bradley Allen
Dodd, Dianne E.
Magowska, Anita
Social History of Medicine
Asclepio: Archivo Iberoamericano de Historia de la Medicina
Comparative Studies in Society and History
Icon: Journal of the International Committee for the History of Technology
Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
Canadian Journal of Health History/Revue canadienne d’histoire de la santé
University of Chicago Press
University of Iowa
Cornell University Press
Duke University Press
Manchester University Press
Palgrave Macmillan
World War I
Medicine and the military; medicine in war
Disabilities; disability; accessibility
Public health
Harold Gillies
Time Periods
20th century, early
20th century
20th century, late
19th century
21st century
United States
Great Britain
Canada. Canadian Army. Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps

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