‘It has impacted our lives in great measure’: families, patients, and health care during Manitoba’s polio era, 1928 – 1953

Thumbnail Image
Morton, Leah
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
This dissertation examines the broad social impacts of the multiple polio epidemics that occurred in Manitoba between 1928 and 1953, a period I refer to as the epidemic era. It argues that examining the six major polio epidemics as an era, and the disabilities it engendered are useful windows into twentieth-century social history, particularly in terms of the capacities and limits of the state to control and manage disease, illness, and health, and the myriad ways the family negotiated discourses about disability and the intersections of disability and gender. It also examines the changes to nurses’ labour during the epidemic era, particularly in terms of the introduction of two new technologies of care – respirators and the Kenny method – both of which led to nursing shortages in the later epidemic, exposing the lingering gendered conceptions about women and voluntary nursing. This project also considers the post-war development of rehabilitation programs, and argues that they worked to discursively transform people with an illness into people with disabilities, in need of reformation in order to become useful, contributing citizens. Finally, this dissertation examines the impact of polio-related disabilities on the lived experiences of a number of Manitobans, and argues that while polio and ideologies about disability worked to shape their lives in many ways, these were not the only forces to impact people’s lives and that people with polio-related disabilities negotiated the quotidian aspects of life much like anyone else. Polio tested, but did not break, the bonds of family. This dissertation draws on a variety of sources, including oral histories, the records of social welfare organizations, hospital records and annual reports, newspapers, and other public records. By exploring the broad social impact of polio, this dissertation adds to a number of literatures and works to bring the history of disability and people with disabilities out of the margins and into the mainstream of Canadian social history.
History, Canada, Manitoba, Social, Polio, Disability, gender, family, children, rehabilitation, nursing