Collection Feature: Department of Occupational Therapy at Milwaukee-Downer College

Carolyn Westgaard (MDC '60) helps Arthur Stewart sew leather with burnt arms, 1960

News report: A part of history saved for the ages! Although much of Milwaukee-Downer’s history is scattered, we have a great collection here at the Archives. It documents the organization at M-D C. of one of the first Occupational Therapy programs in the country. Much of the collection is comprised of photos, which advertise the achievements and daily tasks of M-D occupational therapy graduates around the world. Some of the more interesting photos reveal the work of therapists in Ireland during the war; there might have been a shortage of everything else besides occupational therapists and their crafts! Crafts, such as weaving, metal work, puppetry, etc., were the main activities which a therapist would have learned and taught. These crafts were meant to help a patient in recovery by entertaining him and exercising his muscles. The scope of patients for a therapist varied from sick children to wounded soldiers. Occupational therapy, which was a field dominated by women, became so popular at M-D C. that even Roosevelt commented on the school’s success at training therapists. And by 1944, the O.T. program had earned a contract with the War Department of the U.S. government! Although few know of the extensive work of occupational therapists, this collection shows just how prominent a role M-D C. played in national and international events from 1919 to 1963.

Note: This post was written by Archives intern, Laura Scholten ’13, who processed the MDC Department of Occupational Therapy Records this term. View the finding aid for more information or check out Laura’s display on the first floor of the library!