In an era when the response to disability was shame, blame and institutionalization, Camphill’s principles were that disabled children could enrich communities and that doctors should abandon the search for cures. Camphill soon expanded into a global movement of more than 100 eco-villages for people with disabilities. Yet the movement originated in the era of eugenics and as Douglas Baynton has noted, eugenicist concerns about disability were inseparable from concerns about race. In fact, German racial thinking structured the founders’ thinking about ability and disability.
I use writings by the founders, oral history interviews with older community members, genealogical research, and expulsion and immigration records to reconstruct the movement’s origins and the network that helped it spread. I raise questions about how progressive the community’s approach to disability was (and is), which sheds light on current historiographic discussions about the roots of the disability rights movement, the origins of the counterculture, and the intersections between the two movements.
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