Not Quite Sisters: Women with Learning Difficulties Living in Convent Homes

By Mary Stuart.
British Institute of Learning Disabilities Publications
ISBN 1 902519 86 8

Several books on the history of learning difficulties have
appeared over the past 10 years. This is one of the best.

Most readers will know something of the history of institutional
care, but how many also know about places like the two convents at
the centre of this book, which took in women with learning
difficulties at the behest of their families, with none of the
trappings of medical certification?

Through skilful weaving of life history testimony from the women
who lived in the convents into a socio-historical narrative we
learn that the past cannot be simply labelled “bad” and the present
“good”. Stuart is no defender of the practice of incarcerating
women for a lifetime in convents.

But she does show that a simple dichotomy of institutional
versus community care is far too simple. The lives of the women
with learning difficulties and the nuns who cared for them are
portrayed as diverse and complex. It is a unique record of daily
life and delightfully illustrated with the women’s drawings.

This book is essential reading for anyone who believes that to
build a better future we must learn from the past.

Jan Walmsley is dean, school of health and social
welfare, Open University.

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