Often deemed the “mother” of OT in the United States, Eleanor Clark Slagle is undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in the development of the field of occupational therapy. Biographical information about her is relatively scarce but they are some aspects of her life and work that are known. She was born in Hobart, NY, on October 13, 1871. She was a social worker and has personal experience with disability in her family as her father had become disabled due to an injury he suffered in the Civil War and her brother had tuberculosis.
It was while she was working at Kankakee State hospital that she took a course in “curative occupations and recreations” offered at the Chicago settlement house, Hull House, because of her concern about the “detrimental effects of idleness” on the patients. Now a proponent of the therapeutic value of occupation, she began offering training courses in occupations at Hull House. For a period of time she was the director of occupational therapy at Johns Hopkins. Then in 1917, the year the profession formalized itself, she was named the supervisor of all OT programs in the state of Illinois. She also started the Henry B. Favrill School of Occupations, which served as a model for other occupations programs.
At the third annual meeting of the profession, she was named president and she served various leadership roles throughout her career. In 1922 she established the headquarters of AOTA in New York and worked as the director of OT for over 20 years at the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene. She died on September 18, 1942 in Phillipse Manor, NY.
It was clear that Eleanor Clarke Slagle was passionate about the use of occupations as a means to promote health and function. I wonder if she could see the profession today, in what ways would she be pleased? Are there aspects with which she would not be pleased? Given her commitment to the implementation of occupations in various settings, it is evident that she saw the need to meet the occupational needs of clients with whom she worked and had a new vision for how this should be done. I think I can say that OTs are grateful for her intelligence, commitment and passion to the ideals of occupation as a therapeutic process. Thank you, Eleanor.