Taboo Talk

Steve Humphries unlocks the taboo histories of the disabled and handicapped.

As a child growing up in Tottenham, North London, in the 1930s Marie Hagger had an extraordinary secret. She was rapidly losing her hearing. But she could not tell her family or friends anything about this frightening experience because deafness was a taboo subject. Terrified of being rejected by her parents and sent away to an institution she taught herself to lip read. She got by at home and at school by guessing what people were saying.

It was something shameful, my deafness. I tried to tell my father once and he said 'don't talk to me about that'. The teachers just thought I was a little bit backward. I remember when they turned their backs to write on the blackboard I was completely lost, I couldn't lip read them anymore. I was always being punished for not paying attention, I used to be sent to stand outside the class. And sometimes it was such a strain trying to understand what everyone was saying I'd fall asleep in class, I was in real trouble then. The build up inside me was tremendous, it was like an unexploded bomb. One day in my frustration I looked at the Welsh dresser in our kitchen and I picked up every plate and cup and simply smashed the lot on the ground.

Want the full article and website archive access?

Subscribe now

Already a member? Log in now


The History Today Newsletter

Sign up for our free weekly email