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Sarah Wise | The Undesirables

One World

Sarah Wise | The Undesirables





352 pages

Through the early twentieth century, ‘liberal’ Britain locked away thousands of innocent people.

By 1950, an estimated 50,000 people had been deemed ‘defective’ by the government and detained for life under the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act. Their ‘crimes’ were various: women with children born outside of wedlock; rebellious teenagers caught shoplifting; those with learning disorders, speech impediments and chronic illnesses who had struggled in school; and, of course, those who were simply ‘different’. Forcibly removed from their families and confined to a shadow world of specialist facilities in the countryside, they were hidden away and forgotten about – out of sight, out of mind. 

Through painstaking archival research, award-winning historian Sarah Wise pieces together the lives irrevocably changed by this devastating legislation and provides a compelling study of how early twentieth-century attitudes to class, gender and disability resulted in a nationwide scandal. Horrifyingly, she reveals how these archaic practices and assumptions continue to shape social policy and have led to the unnecessary detention of countless young people with autism and learning disabilities in the present day.

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