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Recent Australian inquiries have highlighted the ongoing problem of abuse within institutions for people with disabilities. Historical attention to this issue, however, is relatively scant. This article begins addressing this gap by exploring the ways in which attitudes towards gender, class and disability intersected in the late nineteenth century to increase the vulnerability of girls and young women with disabilities to abuse. It does so through the exploration of the transcripts and report from an 1890s inquiry into abuse and mismanagement within an Australian institution for blind girls and women. It uncovers the attempts of the accused perpetrator—a male teacher who was also blind—to present himself as a fatherly protector to women who, due to their gender, class and disability, were susceptible to malicious outside influences. His attempts, the article finds, were ultimately unsuccessful as a result of the women’s responses, his own strange behaviour and the institution’s incompatibility with the political priorities of the time. More generally, the article highlights how socially advantaged men have been able to exploit ideas about gender, class and disability in order to hide the abuse of women in disability institutions.


School of Arts

Document Type

Journal Article

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