"Making Useful Men": Occupational Education for Blind Men in Argentina, 1890-1930

Friday, January 3, 2014: 3:10 PM
Harding Room (Marriott Wardman Park)
Rebecca Ann Ellis, University of New Mexico
This paper examines the relationship between gender and occupational education for blind males in Argentina in the first decades of the twentieth century. In early twentieth-century Argentina directors and educators at public institutions, like the National School for the Blind, and private ones, such as the Roman Rosell Institution and Asylum for the Blind, expressed considerable anxiety about their ability to convert male students from boys into “useful” men. Notably, many of these students were adults, but for institutional authorities “manhood” was predicated on some level of independence from familial or state structures.  Institutional directors and educators assumed that blindness created dependency and therefore, blind men were not, in fact, men. However, despite their stated desire to make individuals “useful men,” workshop directors and school administrators rarely pursued educational programs that would provide blind men skills in fields that yielded enough income for blind men to maintain dependents.  In fact, workshop programs often instructed blind men in skills such as sewing, weaving, and basketry, usually considered women’s work in European and U.S. schools for the blind as well as in broader Argentine society These jobs were often piecework and for many paid no more than a few pesos a month.  As this paper will argue, institutional authorities found this level of training acceptable because they did not expect nor want their blind male subjects to marry or raise families.  Educators viewed piecework such as basketry as a means to offset what they believed to be the inevitable dependency of blind males.  Occupational education was not meant to provide skills to allow blind males to act as independent providers in familial structures.
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