Main Conent


Questions about where people belong and who decides have created tension throughout American history. 

street car color photograph disability history america

In the Early Republic, the new American government organized ways to address differences among the population. Regulations on commerce, property, and other affairs were revised to support a rapidly expanding economy. Some Americans also concluded that those who were different, vulnerable, or less powerful should not have certain legal protections.

Hospitals had set aside wards for people with mental illness since the mid-18th century. The infamous removal of Cherokee, Seminole, and other Indians in the Southeast in the early 1800s further demonstrated cultural agreement on how to deal with differences. Removal of people with disabilities from their original communities started then as well. One of the first institutions was the Connecticut Asylum for the Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons in 1817. Ambitious construction of asylums, hospitals, and specialized schools continued throughout the century.