Who was Eleanor Clarke Slagle?
If you have attended any of the annual conventions of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) or paid proper attention to the articles in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy (AJOT), then you are certainly aware of the Eleanor Clarke Slagle Award. Since 1955, an AOTA member who has creative contributed to the profession of occupational therapy in the areas of research, education and/or clinical practices has been granted this award and has presented their findings as the Eleanor Clarke Slagle Lecture at the AOTA spring convention. To say that this is a prestigious event undermines its relevance for our profession. The first award was given to Florence M. Stattel, MA, OTR, entitled "Equipment Designed for Occupational Therapy." This and other Eleanor Clarke Slagle lectures can be read on AOTA's website, www.aota.org.
So who was the namesake for this yearly award? Eleanor Clarke Slagle is considered to be one of the pioneers of occupational therapy. Born in 1871 in Hobart, New York, some sources state that Miss Clarke's father fought in the American Civil War and may have become partially disabled from a wound to his neck. A social worker by profession, Clarke Slagle's experience with her father's injury may have been the impetus for her subsequent training in occupational therapy in Chicago.She ultimately helped found what we know today as AOTA, in around 1917. AOTA helped the profession expand and more important, to be taken seriously as a medical entity to work with people with physical and mental disabilities. Slagle worked as Occupational Therapy Director of the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene from 1922 until her death in 1942. The original headquarters for AOTA, formerly named The National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy, was located in New York State not in the Baltimore area where it has been located for most of the many years since then.
I have attended several of the national spring OT conventions. They are exhilarating and energizing and a great way for occupational therapists to spread their wings both educationally and socially as it is a terrific place to make connections with therapist from all over the country working in every type of setting imaginable. The Eleanor Clarke Slagle lecture is typically one of the high points of each year's event.
Whether you are a relatively new OT or a seasoned therapist of forty or so years like me, it is easy to take the profession for granted. It is a career choice they we all embarked on whether deliberately or by some unexpected fork in the road as happened to me. It has many perks including decent pay, status, a variety of work settings and flexible hours. But it is so important to maintain a perspective of the history of OT, where it has been and where it is headed. It has been an ever-changing field for OTs, thanks to pioneers like Eleanor Clarke Slagle.