Ed Skarnulis Interviews Rosemary and Gunnar Dybwad

Pioneering Parents: "Who were some of the early leaders?"

Produced in 1987 (Run time 5:36)

Ed Skarnulis: One of the things that is true with almost any new movement is that in its early years there is a passion, an excitement, like Rosemary described, and oftentimes there are people who emerge as leaders. In the past, say, three decades since the movement began in 1950; In fact, I think it got started in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Dr. Gunnar Dybwad: Um-hmm. That's right. Yah.

Ed Skarnulis: In those three decades, could you tell us who you might think of as the leaders, both parent and professional in those, in those…

Dr. Gunnar Dybwad: Well, in the very early days, in the... late 1940s and then, of course, as you say correctly, in 1950 here in Minneapolis, was the first, the founding assembly of what was then called the National Association of Parents and Friends of Mentally Retarded.

There was quite a group of people, and it is hard to single out any one of them. I might say that a very active member of this group was Mr. Lindh from Minnesota. And, among the professional people in the field, again I can single out a Minnesotan, that was Mildred Thomson, who was primarily responsible in the professional field to recognize the value of an independent organization of parents.

There were a good number of professionals in those days that felt that the parent movement should be an auxiliary to the professional organization. It was Mildred Thomson, herself an older professional person, that's all wrong, we need the parents as an independent body speaking for themselves, watching what we are doing.

So Minnesota had really a very important role to play, and I should quickly add here, of course, Governor Youngdahl who, at this first assembly in 1950, made a speech about the rights of persons with mental retardation, particularly the rights of children with mental retardation, which was 20 years ahead of its time. Governor Youngdahl was a great leader. And so Minnesota, really, played a very important role in this.

But, of course, as you say, eventually leaders grow out of such movements, and probably one of the most astounding leaders was Elizabeth Boggs, is Elizabeth Boggs, a parent of a child with profound degree of mental retardation.

Herself a product of PhD from the University of Cambridge in England in mathematical chemistry, somebody who worked on the atomic energy during wartime, and who is without a doubt the most knowledgeable, the most versatile person to this day in our field. Really, one, you see that belies our silly phrase of "lay people." She is a parent and she's not a professional paid to work in our field, but to call her a lay person is silly, you see. She is far more a professional individual than many people who have a paid position. So she is a very great leader.

In more recent years, we had some very interesting persons, Lotte Moise a parent in California, Ann Turnbull, who teaches special education and who with her husband, who is a lawyer and special educator, have allowed their son, who is severely multiply handicapped, to become a symbol of a modern positive approach.

So she represents the younger person in our field, which perhaps is not as dependent on the existence of the former parent association, she represents the parents' movement, but she has contributed tremendously to an understanding and has been very free to talk about her own son and what it means.

Dr. Rosemary Dybwad: I think there's someone else, another kind of person, just an ordinary housewife, perhaps, who, faced with the challenge of having a handicapped child has grown into a real professional even if she never gets paid for her voluntary work.

But we've met many people like this who are quite open in saying, "I never would have believed I'm doing what I'm doing now, that I dare to go and speak to the legislators the way I can now, but I found I can." And I know people in Australia and New Zealand, in England, in Denmark who have simply been turned into different kinds of people.

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