Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Hidden Genius: New Women Reformers in the Field of Special Education and Their Pioneering Influence on Special Education Programs and Practices
by Razon-Fernandez, Carolyn Marie Gesker, Ph.D., Notre Dame of Maryland University, 2019, 226; 13901974
Abstract (Summary)

The special education system in the United States has not always been at the forefront of progress and advancement for generations within the education community. In fact for years, there was no education provided for students with special needs. Many cite the passage of Public Law 94-142, more commonly known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, as the benchmark for the establishment of Special Education in the United States. Credit is rightly given to the work of civil rights advocates and activists in successfully fighting for the passage of The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which had its early beginnings in education with the 1954 landmark ruling of Brown v Board of Education which ruled segregation of public schools unconstitutional. However, this neglects to recognize the contributions made by civil rights advocates of an earlier generation. The education of students with disabilities has a deep and long history in both the United States and Europe. There has been extensive research completed regarding systems put into place to service the blind, deaf, and more recently those with cognitive disabilities. In this limited fashion, research was focused on individuals, primarily men, and on another transformative occurrence in the history of the United States, the waves of immigration. While efforts were made to highlight the progressive undertakings of those who established schools for students with disabilities, the scholarship has thus far failed to acknowledge the impact of the female dynamic on the expansion of special education services. There has begun initial scholarship into the evident influence of women on many of the progressive policies which were initiated as a result. The women successful in breaking down these social, political, and economic barriers came to be known as The New Women of the Fin-de-Siècle. This study explores the work of four extraordinary New Women, Margaret Bancroft (1854–1912), Anne Sullivan (1866–1936), Lillian Wald (1867–1940), and Elizabeth Farrell (1870–1932), and how their hidden genius continues to impact the present system of special education. These women were relentless advocates for those who could not themselves be advocates, students with disabilities. A deeper analysis of the work of these women has revealed a new layer in the study of special education systems. As agents of change, these women did not merely follow the prescribed methodologies of those that came before, but expanded upon and in some cases created new pedagogical practices and advanced the emerging field of Special Education. Examples of this ingenuity include the instruction of students with multiple disabilities, incorporation of principles of psychology, early intervention practices, the founding of the Council for Exceptional Children, the establishment of schools for students with cognitive disabilities, and the use of brain analysis to better serve the needs of students. Unlike many of their male contemporaries, who aimed to educate in order to institute a common morality system, these women focused on improving the lives of the students with whom they worked and supporting them in realizing their fullest potential. The foundation of special education in the United States was indeed built upon the work of the hidden genius of these women.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Spratt, Evelyn K.
Commitee: Rabin, Carol E., Steinhagen, Margaret
School: Notre Dame of Maryland University
Department: Department of Education
School Location: United States -- Maryland
Source: DAI-A 81/2(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Special education, Educational leadership, Education history
Keywords: Sullivan, Anne, Farrell, Elizabeth, Wald, Lillian, Bancroft, Margaret, New Woman, Special education
Publication Number: 13901974
ISBN: 9781085647250
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