No Right to Be Idle

The Invention of Disability, 1840s–1930s

By Sarah F. Rose

398 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 17 halftones, 11 graphs, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2489-1
    Published: April 2017
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-2490-7
    Published: February 2017
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4038-7
    Published: February 2017
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3008-3
    Published: April 2017

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Awards & distinctions

2018 Outstanding Book Award, Disability History Association

2018 Philip Taft Labor History Prize

2017 Award for Excellence in Research Using the Holdings of the State Archives, New York State Archives and the Archives Partnership Trust

A CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, 2017

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Americans with all sorts of disabilities came to be labeled as “unproductive citizens.” Before that, disabled people had contributed as they were able in homes, on farms, and in the wage labor market, reflecting the fact that Americans had long viewed productivity as a spectrum that varied by age, gender, and ability. But as Sarah F. Rose explains in No Right to Be Idle, a perfect storm of public policies, shifting family structures, and economic changes effectively barred workers with disabilities from mainstream workplaces and simultaneously cast disabled people as morally questionable dependents in need of permanent rehabilitation to achieve "self-care" and "self-support."

By tracing the experiences of policymakers, employers, reformers, and disabled people caught up in this epochal transition, Rose masterfully integrates disability history and labor history. She shows how people with disabilities lost access to paid work and the status of “worker”--a shift that relegated them and their families to poverty and second-class economic and social citizenship. This has vast consequences for debates about disability, work, poverty, and welfare in the century to come.

About the Author

Sarah F. Rose is associate professor of history and director of the Disability Studies Minor at the University of Texas at Arlington.
For more information about Sarah F. Rose, visit the Author Page.


“Accessible writing and evocative case studies across seven chronologically and thematically arranged chapters reveal the well-intentioned but paternalistic operation of early disability services. Highly recommended.”—Choice

“Integrates disability history and labor history to examine how, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the United States, people with disabilities lost access to paid work and acquired the status of morally questionable dependents in need of permanent rehabilitation.”—Law & Social Inquiry

“Has much to offer historians of labor, disability, poverty, and public policy. By revealing historical construction of disabled people’s exclusion from the paid labor force, Rose encourages scholars to think complexly about the meanings of work, the limits of the status of “worker,” and the connections between market-based labor, social standing, and citizenship in American history.”—LABOR Review

“Rose’s scholarship in this book is exemplary. The clarity and breadth of her arguments are built on a solid foundation of primary-source material and secondary literature. Will stand as an important milestone in the maturation of disability history as a field and will open up promising new areas for further inquiry.”—American Historical Review

“Well worth reading. . . Rose’s prodigious research. . . .[and] her reminder of how people with disabilities were integrated into early-nineteenth-century America can perhaps help families, employers, and American society reimagine disability and productive citizenship for the future.”—Australasian Journal of American History

“An important contribution to the fields of labor history and disability history.”—Journal of American History