During the Depression we had no money to buy anything, so we were all problem-solvers right from the beginning – there was no way around it, we had to be. We made everything except shoes and glasses.
My father was one of the first 100 men to work for the FBI, but when I was about a year old he lost his job and had no work for seven years. We moved in with my grandmother. Can you imagine a toddler being brought into a house of an 80-year-old who didn’t like kids? She never smiled. But I was very happy with my parents. My father was a keen observer of his surroundings and imparted that to me. My mother was very creative, and I followed suit.
We didn’t have money to buy toys so we used to make our own. I put two car tyres together to make a hobby horse – I learned a lot about gravity because I fell off so many times.
I knew by the age of 10 that I wanted to become an inventor, but I was told by my vocational adviser at school that they didn’t take women in engineering school, so I went into home economics, thinking maybe they needed someone to design new can openers. Well, that wasn’t true.
When I graduated in Applied Arts and Design from the Home Economics School of Syracuse University in 1945 I was very fortunate to be accepted in the Army’s Occupational Therapy (OT) training programme. That really launched my career.
At that time occupational therapists would use craft materials – weaving, carpentry, leather work – to activate the hands and legs of patients who were coming back from the war.
As an occupational therapist (OT) in the army there were many things I had to devise that were unique to each person’s needs, both to adapt the equipment to the patient, and to adapt devices for them individually to make them independent and able to hold a spoon, a fork, a writing utensil.
In 1966, aged 42, I retired from the Army as a major and went into private practice, the first occupational therapist in the US to do so – I’m always a pioneer.
I worked with children with learning disorders. I wanted to develop equipment that would appeal to them but also help improve their balance.
I patented an inflated square pillow, about 3ft high, with rolls around the outside that protected children when they fell – I called it a space ship. It was fun for them, but it also improved their sense of balance.
Full story at BBC website.