Katherine Sorrels

The Origins of Camphill and the Legacy of the Asylum in Disability History

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Posted:
Wed, December 28, 2022

This essay analyzes the beginnings of the Camphill movement, an international network of intentional communities for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. At its founding in Scotland in 1939, Camphill was a community of refugees; both the staff and first disabled residents fled Nazi Austria and Germany. This circumstance precipitated an innovation: disabled and nondisabled people lived together in a family-style household. But the innovation was not so much in Camphill’s structure: it was common for nineteenth and early twentieth-century asylums to resemble homes and to strive for a familial atmosphere. Furthermore, Camphill’s focus on cures, vocational training, and productivity aligned with the prevailing mid-twentieth-century medical approach to disability. The innovation concerned content: Camphill did not invoke a sense of home; it was a home because its displaced founders needed it to be one. The essay concludes with a critical reflection on how the model Camphill created should be situated in disability history.