Paul K. Longmore, winner of Claremont Graduate University’s Distinguished Alumni Award and a pioneer in the field of disability studies, died on August 9. He was 64.
Longmore helped establish disability studies as a field in academic research and teaching, much as women’s and ethnic studies were shaped in prior decades. He was also an expert on American colonial history.
He earned a PhD in history from CGU in 1984 and was later inducted into the university’s Alumni Hall of Fame. He received his Distinguished Alumni Award in 2005 in recognition of his extraordinary work as a historian and activist.
“His charm and everyday courage stirred the best in those who knew him,” said CGU history Professor Robert Dawidoff, who taught Longmore and later became his friend and colleague. “He was also witty, irreverent, smart, and devoted.”
Longmore became partially paralyzed after suffering from polio as a child. He drove an electric wheelchair and breathed with the help of a ventilator.
As a graduate student, he grew frustrated with public policies that limited federal aid for disabled people who tried to work.
“The government would pay for health insurance and personal assistance as long as I didn’t work,” Longmore told the Flame magazine in 2003. “According to public policy, I could not take fellowships and assistantships, and when I published my dissertation, I couldn’t take royalties on its sale. I wasn’t allowed to earn more than $300 a month without forfeiting the financial aid that allowed me to live in my own home, get an education, and seek to build a career as a historian and college teacher.”
To protest the policies, Longmore burned a published copy of his dissertation, The Invention of George Washington, in front of the federal building in Los Angeles in 1988.
His activism prompted the Longmore Amendment, which allowed disabled authors to count publishing royalties as earned income.
Longmore helped found and directed the Institute on Disability Studies at San Francisco State University, where he also taught. In 2003, he published a collection of his essays in his book Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability.
He received the Henry B. Betts Award from the American Association of Persons with Disabilities in 2005. The award honors those who have devoted themselves to improving the quality of life for people with disabilities.
Most recently, Longmore was working on a book about the rise of the disability rights movement in the United States, supported by a research fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education that he received in July 2010.
“I am proud to have been Paul’s teacher,” Dawidoff said. “I learned from him about many things and have always remembered his lesson that disability can happen to anyone. Paul Longmore was an important and influential man of his times. He honored his alma mater.”
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