9th Conference European Sociological Association

RS01 Sociology and Disability

2009-09-04 13:30:00 2009-09-04 15:00:00 Friday, 4 September 13:30 - 15:00 Disability, Support/Assistance/Surveillance Building II, C3.01

Invisible Women: the lives of blind women in the Asylums and outdoor Missions in Edinburgh and Glasgow

This paper will present data on the Edinburgh and Glasgow Blind Asylums established in 1793 and 1828 respectively. These institutions sought to render blind people, useful members of society. Much of the emphasis was placed on making blind people contributors and socially useful and much effort was placed on employment. Whilst most of the inmates were men, women also came under the institution's control. The director's intentions towards female inmates were quite different from that applied to men. , The women were seen as being in need of protection both from the rigours of everyday life but also, importantly, from themselves And a great deal of emphasis was placed on the provision of pastoral care. Blindness, class and morality were closely connected. For women from poorer classes in particular, sight loss was often directly attributed to immoral behaviour.

Pastoral care emphasised that although female inmates or outworkers were from the poorer classes, they were of good moral stature, thereby retaining their status as "deserving objects of charity". The Missions had a strong belief in the reformatory effects of religion upon wayward, wanton blind women and it was within this discourse that the women had to live their lives.

This paper explores the religious and moral undertones that influenced the enforcement of strict rules, regulations and regimes, supposedly to protect the women's moral stature. The constant surveillance and monitoring to which female inmates were subjected to, acted to oppress, control and restrict the women's lives and choices. They were for example denied the right to form relationships. The threat of dismissal encouraged conformity, however, a few female inmates did clearly engage in resistance.