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Biography - Dr Pamela Dale

I started working on learning disability topics as a postgraduate student at the University of Exeter in 1997. The records of the Royal Western Counties Institution at Starcross, near Exeter in Devon, formed the basis for my PhD thesis examining the implementation of the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act. This sought to develop an understanding of the relationship between institutional and community care for people with learning disabilities in an area where this single prestigious asylum (established in the 1860s and closed in the 1980s) dominated the care landscape.

Evidence from Starcross records formed the basis of a number of conference papers and publications. I am continuing to work on these themes but have expanded the project to look more generally at local authority health and welfare services, 1900-1974. This was facilitated by a research fellowship, funded by a Wellcome Trust, which allowed me to work fulltime on a project entitled The Medical Officer of Health and the organisation of health visiting as a comprehensive community health service, 2004-2007. I am currently working as an independent scholar, and have an honorary fellowship with the University of Exeter.


Edited collections

  • Anne Borsay and Pamela Dale (eds) Disabled Children: Contested Caring, 1850-1979 (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2012).
  • Pamela Dale and Joseph Melling (eds) Mental Illness and Learning Disability since 1850: Finding a Place for Mental Disorder in the United Kingdom (London: Routledge, 2006).

Chapters in edited collections

  • (with Anne Borsay) ‘Introduction: Disabled children – contested caring’, in Anne Borsay and Pamela Dale (eds) Disabled Children: Contested Caring, 1850-1979 (Pickering and Chatto, 2012), pp. 1-13.
  • ‘Health visiting and disability issues in England before 1948’, in Anne Borsay and Pamela Dale (eds) Disabled Children: Contested Caring, 1850-1979 (Pickering and Chatto, 2012), pp. 117-129.
  • ‘Health visiting in anxious times’, in Kathrin Hőrschelmann and Rachel Colls (eds) Contested Bodies of Childhood and Youth (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010),  pp. 121-135.
  • (with Joseph Melling) ‘The politics of mental welfare: fresh perspectives on the history of institutional care for the mentally ill and disabled’, in Pamela Dale and Joseph Melling (eds) Mental Illness and Learning Disability since 1850: Finding a Place for Mental Disorder in the United Kingdom (Routledge, 2006), pp. 1-23.
  • ‘Tension in the voluntary-statutory alliance: “lay professionals” and the planning and delivery of mental deficiency services, 1917-45’, in Pamela Dale and Joseph Melling (eds) Mental Illness and Learning Disability since 1850: Finding a Place for Mental Disorder in the United Kingdom (Routledge, 2006), pp. 154-178.
  • ‘Assistance and Resistance: Making Sense of Inter-War Caring Strategies’, in Duncan Mitchell and colleagues (eds) Exploring Experiences of Advocacy by People with Learning Disabilities: Testimonies of Resistance (Jessica Kingsley, 2006), pp. 191-201.


  • ‘A Halifax case study that offers an alternative history of care provided by local authorities under the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act’, British Journal of Learning Disabilities (online publication 13 January 2013 pending inclusion in forthcoming issue)
  • ‘A new approach to vocational guidance for school-leavers in the 1920s? Exploring themes from an influential 1926 report’, History of Education, 41:5 (2012), pp. 595-615.
  • ‘Managing vulnerable victims and perpetrators of crime in institutional and community settings: an interwar case study of the south west of England’, Family and Community History, 14:1 (2011), pp. 57-71.
  • (with Kate Fisher) ‘Contrasting municipal responses to the provision of birth control services in Halifax and Exeter before 1948’, Social History of Medicine 23:3 (2010), pp. 567-85.
  • (with Joseph Melling) ‘Medical officers of health, gender and government responses to the problem of cancer in Britain, 1900-1940’ Medical History, Volume 53, Number 4 (2009), pp. 537-60.
  • (with Kate Fisher) ‘Implementing the 1902 Midwives Act: assessing problems, developing services and creating a new role for a variety of female practitioners’, Women’s History Review, 18.3 (2009), pp. 427-52.
  • (with Catherine Mills) ‘A preference for doing nothing or a misplaced focus on men? Problematic starting points for early twentieth-century public health reform in Cornwall’, Cornish Studies (second series) 16 (2008), pp. 126-145.
  • ‘The Bridgwater Infant Welfare Centre, 1922-1939: from an authoritarian concern with ‘welfare mothers’ to a more inclusive community health project?’, Family and Community History, 11: 2 (2008), pp. 69-83.
  • (with Catherine Mills) ‘Revealing and concealing personal and social problems: Family coping strategies and a new engagement with officials and welfare agencies c 1900-1912’, Family and Community History, 10.2 (2007), pp. 112-125.
  • (with Joseph Melling and Janet Greenlees) ‘A kiss of death or a flight of fancy? Workers’  health and the campaign to regulate shuttle kissing in the British cotton industry, c1900-1952’, Social History, 32.1 (2007), pp. 54-75.
  • (with Graham Chester) ‘Institutional Care for the Mentally Defective 1914-1948: Diversity as a Response to Individual Needs and an Indication of Lack of Policy Coherence, Medical History, 51.1 (2007), pp. 59-78.
  • ‘Special education at Starcross before 1948’, History of Education, 36.1 (2007), pp. 17-44.
  • ‘Training for work: Domestic service as a route out of long-stay institutions before 1959’, Women’s History Review, 13.3 (2004), pp.387-405.
  • ‘Implementing the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act: Competing priorities and resource constraint evident in the South West of England before 1948’, Social History of Medicine, 16.3 (2003), pp. 403-418.


  • Review of Knox, A., and Gardner-Thorpe, C., The Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, 1741-2006, Medical History, 54.2 (2010), pp. 287-8.
  • Review of Richardson, N., Typhoid in Uppingham, History of Education, 39.2 (2010), pp. 291-2.
  • Review of  Mahone, S. and Vaughan, M., (eds), Psychiatry and Empire, Geschichte.transnational, 2009.
  • Review of Watts, R., Women in Science, History: The Journal of the Historical Association, 93. 2 (2008), pp. 278-9.
  • Review of Thomson, M., Psychological Subjects, and Stinton, J., A Dorset Utopia, History of Education, 37.3 (2008), pp. 501-5.
  • Review of Welshman, J. and  Walmsley, J., (eds) Community Care in Perspective: Care, Control and Citizenship, British Journal of Learning Disabilities (2008).
  • Review of Borsay, A., Disability and Social Policy:  A History of Exclusion, History of Education (2007).
  • Review of Devlin, R., Relative Intimacy: Fathers, Adolescent Daughters and Postwar American Culture, History of Psychiatry, 17.2 (2006), pp. 243-4.
  • Review of Andrews, J., and Digby, A., (eds.), Sex and Seclusion, Class and Custody: Perspectives on Gender and Class in the History of British and Irish Psychiatry, Medical History, 50.1 (2006), pp. 134-135.
  • Review of Berridge, V., and Blume, S., (eds.) Poor Health: Social Inequality before and after the Black Report, Social History of Medicine, 18.3 (2005), p. 503.
  • Review of Eigen, J. P., Unconscious Crime: Mental Absence and Criminal Responsibility in Victorian London, Social History of Medicine, 18.1 (2005), p. 126.
  • Review of Cherry, S., Mental Health Care in Modern England: The Norfolk Lunatic Asylum, St Andrew’s Hospital, 1810 –1998, Medical History, 49.1 (2005), pp. 120-121.
  • Review of Wright, D., Mental disability in Victorian England: The Earlswood Asylum, 1847-1901, Medical History, Vol 47.1 (2003), pp. 119-120.
  • Review of Freeman, H., A Century of Psychiatry.  Social History of Medicine, Vol 15.1 (2002), pp.176-177.
  • Review of Bartlett, P., and Wright, D., Outside the Walls of the Asylum: The History of care in the community 1750-2000, Reviews in History, March 2000 (

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About the Group

If you woud like to get in touch with the Social History of Learning Disability (SHLD) Research Group, please contact:

Liz Tilley 
Chair of the Social History of Learning Disability (SHLD) Research Group
School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care
Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes

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