“Employ the Handicapped” week poster, 1951
The President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities has had several names since President Truman organized it in 1947. This drawing of a man with a split-hook hand working on a hydraulic gauge has the title “America Needs All of Us.”
President’s Committee on National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week
“Employ the Handicapped” poster, 1951
Comic-strip artist Milton Caniff designed this poster of a painter who resembles his Steve Canyon character, in overalls, with a paint can and crutches, and the title “Able Worker.”
President’s Committee on Employment of the Physically Handicapped
Political campaign poster, New York, early 1900s
Amos Evans distributed this advertisement with a photo of himself as a double amputee in a wheelchair when he ran for Bath Town Collector.
Political campaign poster, Pennsylvania
Dapper Jerry Miller, candidate for Mill Hall county commissioner, used this card with an image of himself seated on a stool, the nude stumps of his amputated legs visible.
Farmer in paddock with horses
This man in hat and suspenders feeds a colt. He has a homemade prosthesis over the pants of his left leg.
Peddler carrying goods, circa 1900
Itinerant selling was a common kind of work from the colonial era until well into the 20th century. The satchels and cases hanging over this man’s shoulders free his arms for crutches.
Work solicitation, postcard, 1960s
The need to counter pity while acknowledging disability can be difficult to balence. This businessman portrays himself on the phone in his office, seated in a wheelchair, with the caption, “I’m offering a service, not my handicap.”
Cotton sellers, North Carolina, postcard, 1907
Farm work sustained families but was also hazardous. This man rides a bull hitched to a wagon full of cotton bales with a woman seated on top. He wears a homemade well-padded prosthesis at the stump of his left leg.
Man selling papers, 1930s
Low and uncertain wages provided a precarious living for many people. This newspaper seller wheeled around on a board, papers on his lap.
“Blind stenographer using dictaphone,” 1911
This woman found secretarial work. She typed on a large heavy typewriter while listening to a recorded voice dictating a document.
Courtesy of Library of Congress
Woman typing with feet, early 1900s
Accommodations in this workplace included a typewriter on the floor and a desk at foot height. A woman in a long skirt and lacy blouse sits on a stool and types a document with her feet because she does not have arms.
One-armed band, New York, postcard, about 1910
Music paid the bills for W. C. Williams, shown in his uniform with guitar, banjo, triangle, drum, bells, and more at his feet.
C. H. Barnes, carte-de-visite, 1860s
Although unclear what he is working on with the tray on his lap, Mr. Barnes adapted his wheelchair to support his work.
Worker, Cleveland, Ohio, 1973
Many people worked on assembly lines because of the repetition and simplicity. This man assembled optical goods.
Craft show winner, 1970s
Mattie Vaughn, in gloves, flowered dress, and matching hat, holds her citation for “Educational Work for the Blind.”
Public service ad, 1980s
In this magazine ad “You don’t have to walk to type,” a young woman in a wheelchair types at an office desk.
President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped
Arts and Crafts Dept., Rockaway, New York, postcard, 1920s
In schools and institutions, students learned basic skills, such as these boys and girls sewing dolls at the Convalescent Home for Hebrew Children.
General Tom Thumb’s stage hat, 1860s
Charles Stratton worked for P.T. Barnum under the name Tom Thumb. He wore this black top hat.
Circus performer, cabinet card, 1880s
This pale woman wears a low-cut dress with ankle and calf exposed. Her teased white hair appears as a foamy mass.
Tall man, postcard, 1960s
Side show and circus performer, 8'1'' Buck Nolan stands between a cowboy and cowgirl of typical height. Nolan wears a band uniform and drum major’s hat, making him appear even taller.
This orchestra of little people includes lute and ukulele players and a violinist of typical height.
Circus performer, cabinet card, 1891
Che-Mah, his hair in a queue and dressed in Asian clothing, worked for Barnum and Bailey’s circus as a “Chinese dwarf.”
Sister act, postcard, 1930s
Mary and Margaret Gibb sang and played the piano. They exhibited themselves as “American Siamese Twins.”
Charles Decker, carte-de-visite, 1874
Charles Decker exhibited himself in dime museums and made a living from his short stature.
“Little Men and Women,” Coney Island Midget City, postcard
In the early 20th century, “midget villages” were popular attractions at amusement parks such as Coney Island, and at world’s fairs. These half-scale towns were real communities for the people brought from all over the world to work there.
Midget Village News, Chicago, 1933
In this photo spread from a newspaper sold to promote tourism at a Midget Village attraction, people of short stature perform Gulliver’s Travels and go about their daily lives.