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Historical roots of occupational therapy: Introduction to a series

Posted Jul 21 2013 4:00pm
I have been sitting on some historical source material for quite some time.  I have been studying the material extensively, trying to decide the best way to share the information, and at times just putting it all aside out of frustration.

When students learn about the founding of the occupational therapy profession they tend to read simple information in textbooks and it is somewhat devoid of context.  History without context provides opportunity for misinterpretation, and this is something that I believe is important to try to avoid. 

I am not a historian and I am not a biographer and I think this is why I have struggled with how to best present the information.  My motivation was to share this before AOTA's Centennial.  We are well in advance of 2017 and so I hope that beginning to share this information now will help others who are interested in historical reflections as we approach the 100th birthday of the occupational therapy profession.

I have decided to simply share this all in blog format and to do it serially over time. 

This information will tell a story, and I will try to keep my own opinions to a minimum and allow the players to tell their own tales.  When I insert my own opinion I will try to make it very obvious, as opposed to simply editorializing or presenting interpretation as fact.

An interesting place to start examining the historical roots of the profession is in a surprising place - but I will start at that point in time that occupational therapy was celebrating the occupational therapy profession's 50th birthday.  It all started with a blind shot in the dark, a letter written by Dr. Sidney Licht, who was the President of the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine and the Editor of Physical Medicine Library.

Before he edited Physical Medicine Library Dr. Licht co-wrote Occupational Therapy, Principles and Practice (1950) with Dr. William Rush Dunton, who was one of the profession's founders.  It is interesting that although he co-wrote this book and was such a notable leader in the profession for many years, it seems evident that a little bit of our history may have been lost or at least not easy to access.  Here is a picture of the envelope written by Dr. Licht as he was reaching out for some information about the founding of the profession

Envelope of letter written by Dr. Sidney Licht.

As an interesting aside, you will note that there is no ZIP code - the ZIP code system did not start until the early 1960s and many people resisted using the system.  It wasn't until the 1970s that most people felt comfortable using the ZIP code system!

So the year was 1967 and it was occupational therapy's 50th anniversary and Dr. Licht was scheduled to deliver a speech in Boston for the annual conference in October.  He had knowledge that there was a "Consolation House" but was looking for more information.  Here is a copy of the letter he wrote to the mayor of Clifton Springs

Letter written from Dr. Sidney Licht to Mayor of Clifton Springs, NY

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