Born this day in 1871: Eleanor Clarke Slagle (1871–1942), social welfare worker, occupational therapy pioneer, and founder of the American Occupational Therapy Association.
Not much is know about Slagle’s early life. She was born Ella May Clarke in Hobart, New York, in 1871, studied briefly at Claverack college, and was married for a time to Robert E. Slagle.
In 1908 she began working with Jane Addams and Julia Lathrop at Hull House, the famous settlement house in Chicago. There she studied “invalid occupation,” or occupational therapy. In 1913 she was selected by Adolf Meyer to organize the occupational therapy program of the Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
Slagle returned to Chicago in 1915 to serve as director of the Henry B. Favill School of Occupations, a training center of occupational therapy aides. Occupational therapy began as a method to treat the mentally ill, improving their health and quality of life. Slagle quickly realized, however, that the medical, physiological, psychological, and sociological principles behind occupational therapy could also applied to treat individuals with physical illnesses, soldiers with disabilities, and children with learning disabilities.
From 1918 Slagle created the occupational therapy program’s for Illinois state mental hospitals, then in 1922 became director of occupational therapy for the New York State Hospital Commission. At this post, which she maintained until her death, Slagle established the first large-scale occupational therapy program for a state hospital system. Her methods were widely adopted throughout the nation.
Slagle is also responsible for professionalizing occupational therapy. In 1917 she established he National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy, now known as American Occupational Therapy Association. The society established training standards and instituted the certification of occupational therapists. She is remembered not only as a great leader and administrator, but as exemplary practitioner.