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The Duty Of The Employer In The Reconstruction Of The Crippled Soldier

Creator: Douglas C. McMurtrie (author)
Date: March 1918
Publication: Journal of Psycho-Asthenics
Source: Available at selected libraries


In many ways, American efforts to rehabilitate—or retrain—disabled veterans of World War I were spearheaded by Douglas Crawford McMurtrie, a wealthy publisher and bibliographer. Between 1910 and 1920, McMurtrie was the most visible American advocate for efforts to educate and reintegrate disabled children and adults into mainstream society. He focused on integrating people with disabilities into the mainstream labor market rather than relying on ill-paid labor in sheltered workshops. McMurtrie published literally hundreds of articles on rehabilitation methods in the U.S. and abroad, focusing on the needs people with physical impairments—those deemed “cripples.” He also raised funds to aid the rehabilitation of cripples and edited the American Journal of Care for Cripples.

As soon as the United States joined the war, McMurtrie began advocating on behalf of disabled veterans. He drafted many articles giving advice to employers, families, and soldiers themselves on how to enable disabled veterans to regain their independence and become upstanding, useful citizens. He also founded and directed the Red Cross Institutes for Crippled and Disabled Men and for the Blind.

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We must count on the return from the front of thousands of crippled soldiers. We must plan to give them on their return the best possible chance for the future.


Dependence cannot be placed on monetary compensation in the form of a pension, for in the past the pension system has proved a distinct failure in so far as constructive ends are involved. The pension has never been enough to support in decency the average disabled soldier, but it has been just large enough to act as an incentive to idleness and semi-dependence on relatives or friends.


The only compensation of real value for physical disability is rehabilitation for self-support. Make a man again capable of earning his own living and the chief burden of his handicap drops away. Occupation is, further, the only means for making him happy and contented.


With the humanitarian aim of restoring crippled men to the greatest possible degree and the economic aim of sparing the community the burden of unproductivity on the part of thousands of its best citizens, the European countries began soon after the outbreak of hostilities the establishment of vocational training schools for the rehabilitation of disabled soldiers. The movement had its inception with Mayor Edouard Herriot of the city of Lyons, France, who found it difficult to reconcile the number of men who had lost an arm or legs, but were otherwise strong and well, sunning themselves in the public squares, with the desperate need for labor in the factories and munition works of the city, so he induced the municipal council to open an industrial school for war cripples, christened Ecole Joffre. This institution opened to receive its first pupils in December, 1914. It has proved the example and inspiration for hundreds of similar schools since founded throughout France, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, and Canada.


The disability of some crippled soldiers is no bar to returning to their former trade, but the injuries of many disqualify them from pursuing again their past occupation. The schools of re-education prepare these men for some work in which their disability will not materially prejudice their production.


The education of the adult is made up largely of his working experience. The groundwork of training in his past occupation must under no circumstances be abandoned. The new trade must be related to the former one or be, perhaps, an extension or specialization of it. For example, a man who had done manual work in the building trades may by instruction in architectural drafting and the interpretation of plans be fitted for a foreman's job, in which the lack of an arm would not prove of serious handicap. A trainman who had lost a leg might wisely be prepared as a telegrapher, so that he could go back to railroad work, with the practice of which he is already familiar.


Whatever training is given must be thorough, for an adult cannot be sent out to employment on the same basis as a boy apprentice. He must be adequately prepared for the work he is to undertake.


One of the great modern advantages to the one-armed soldier are the working appliances which are supplanting the artificial limb designed largely for appearances. The new appliances are designed with a practical aim only in view; they vary according to the trade in which the individual is to engage. For example, the appliance for a farmer would be quite different from that which a glassblower would be provided. Some appliances have attached to the stump a chuck in which various tools or hooks can interchangeably be held. The wearer uses these devices only while at work; for evenings and holidays he is provided with a "dress arm," which is made in imitation of the lost natural member.


An important factor in the success of re-educational work is an early start, so that the disabled man shall have no chance to go out unemployed into the community. In even a short period of exposure to the sentimental sympathy of family and friends, his "will to work" is so broken down that it becomes difficult again to restore him to a stand of independence and ambition. For this reason, therefore, the plan for his future is made at as early a date as physical condition admits, and training is actually under way before the patient is out of the hospital.


In the readjustment of the crippled soldier to civilian life, his placement in employment is a matter of the greatest moment. In this field the employer has a very definite responsibility.


But the employer's duty is not entirely obvious. It is, on the contrary, almost diametrically opposite to what one might superficially infer it to be. The duty is not to "take care of," from patriotic motives, a given number of disabled men, finding for them any odd jobs which are available, and putting the ex-soldiers in them without much regard to whether they can earn the wages paid or not.


Yet this method is all to common. A local committee of employers will deliberate about as follows: "Here are a dozen crippled soldiers for whom we must find jobs. Jones, you have a large factory; you should be able to take care of six of them. Brown, can you not find places for four of them in your warehouse? And Smith, you ought to place at least a couple in your store."

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