NAU Professor Contributes to the History of the U.S. Disability Rights Movement


Associate Professor of History Linda Sargent Wood has been investigating Montana’s care of people with cognitive disabilities in the last half of the 20th century. Her project is part of the relatively new and growing literature on the history of disabilities within American culture.

Central to Dr. Sargent Wood’s research is the work of Dr. Philip Pallister of the Montana State Training School. Under his guidance, the institution, which housed individuals born with a variety of mental and physical disabilities, underwent radical transformations in its medical practices. This led to dramatic decreases in tuberculosis, pneumonia, and overall death rates. The school was also the site of genetics research and the identification of serious genetic disorders.

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Dr. Philip Pallister, Billings Gazette

“Pallister used his scientific knowledge, keen intellect, and humanistic expertise to change more than the institution,” says Sargent Wood. “For more than 50 years, Pallister educated families and politicians; discovered and named genetic disorders; published articles in medical journals; spoke at state, national, and international conferences; transformed popular conceptions of people with disabilities; overturned state policies and laws; and worked nationally with genetic specialists and disability associations.”

Sargent Wood will present a paper on Pallister and his school at a conference on medical genetics at Montana State University. She is also preparing a two-part article for Montana: The Magazine of Western History. The first part will focus on the Montana State Training School’s history; the second will feature Pallister’s professional biography. Both articles are the foundation of a larger, book-length work she is writing on Montana’s contribution to genetics research, health care, and the disability rights movement.

--Sylvia Somerville