In 1941, my six month-old sister contracted meningitis. Her life was saved by a new drug – many had died in previous months – and, for a while, my mother breathed a sigh of relief. However, she knew something was wrong. My sister did not react to sound but no professional believed her. She continued her stance that something was wrong with her baby daughter but not one professional she approached took any notice. In fact, she was labelled a ‘bad mother’, ‘neurotic’ and a person bordering on paranoia.
I know this, because, I have in my possession, letters she wrote to various educations institutions trying to get her child into an educational establishment for deaf children. In 1943, Hertfordshire County Council refused her requests even though she had a Harley Street diagnosis for my sister of profound deafness. The Harley Street specialist told my mother she should get immediate education for her two and a half year old daughter who was, admittedly running wild. Yes, a diagnosis produced in Harley Street and paid for by my grandparents, desperate to get the answers to so many questions that medics refused to address.
But Hertfordshire County Council refused to help!
My mother was dismissed as a neurotic, over-anxious mother. A mother who, they said, was obsessed with her daughter’s difficulties. The medics dismissed her concerns and, after the written diagnosis, the Education Department of Hertfordshire County Council dismissed her requests for help.
I write this as I am consumed with anger at how the health professionals of 1941/1942/1943 treated my mother and my sister. No concrete advice was offered. My mother was deemed a nuisance and, when she went against their advice and sought private education for her daughter, she was placed in the impossible position of trying to get her daughter into a school for the deaf using her own finances. My father was away serving in the Army. Finance was minimal. My grandparents helped – indeed they had paid for the Harley Street diagnosis, and later some school fees – how else were they to find out the cause of my sister’s difficulties?
When the child ran off and would not return when called she was called a ‘difficult child’ – a child with behavioural difficulties. And yes, many deaf children ended up in a mental institution because of the ignorance of those times. No assessment was offered by doctors. My mother was totally alone.
So, why did I sob at the story of the mother who smothered her children who suffered from limited life conditions? I can tell you now. I identified with that mother. She was the mother of my sister who was deemed incompetent by professionals in the 1940s. This impossible situation was only relieved by a retired teacher of the deaf who advised my mother to try to get my sister into a private school in Sussex at the earliest opportunity. Oh yes, the council denied any responsibility and refused to acknowledge the Harley Street report. No educational finance was available.
My sister was three years old when she eventually entered Mill Hall Oral School for the Deaf in Cuckfield, Sussex. There she was treated with love and she learned to read lips and speak. Mary Corbishley possessed a talent not recognised by Herts CC. They refused to finance my sister’s education because Miss Corbishley was not a fully qualified teacher. No, she was not ‘officially’ qualified but she could get deaf children speaking and lipreading!
Hertfordshire County Council should be ashamed if how they treated my mother. She had professionals breathing down her neck reducing her self-esteem to nil and reducing descriptions of her to an obsessed, neurotic person on a mission. How easily she could have been the mother we saw in court today.
Hertfordshire County Council do, in effect, owe my sister some compensation for their dire handling of her situation in 1941, but I doubt anything will result from this blog post.
I sobbed tonight at the news that a mother who smothered her twins and four year old now must spend time in a prison hospital until she is deemed cured of her deep depression. This could have been my mother. She could have so easily fallen into such an abyss. If it had not been for my grandparents who were so supportive and coughed up any money needed for my sister’s diagnosis and welfare, my mother could have been the mother standing in the dock today.
Hertfordshire County Council you gave my mother nothing. You made her life unbearable. She, too, was put upon by professionals who did not attend to her knowledge and experience of her life with a deaf child. It was traumatic to say the least. It was left to her to find a school that would address my sister’s difficulties. She wrote to all schools but, in the Second World War, many teachers of the deaf had been sent from schools for the deaf to fight on the front line. Teaching deaf children was NOT deemed a reserved occupation. How dreadful was that? Hertfordshire County Council you should be ashamed of yourselves. But you have never apologised. You have never offered compensation to my sister who had such a bad start in her education.
If it had not been for my grandparents and a deeply involved and caring mother, passionately keen for her child to have a normal life, my sister would have lived a life unable to communicate. Thanks to Miss Corbishley in Mill Hall, my sister learned to speak and lipread. You, Hertfordshire County Council, would not have offered that. You would only have offered entrance to a signing school at Margate at SEVEN YEARS OLD. This was disgraceful.
I cannot get this mother of those children in the news today out of my mind. This could have been my mother. Sixty professionals were involved with this case but NO-ONE noticed that the mother was deeply depressed and likely to harm her children. This was 2013.
My mother suffered in 1941. What has changed? NOTHING!