Antonia's wedding

“All disabled women should be sterilised” – Disability History Month

Psychotherapist and writer Antonia Lister-Kaye is 85. She is one of a number of older disabled people who contributed to The Disability Voices website at the British Library Sound Archive as part of Scope’s Speaking for Ourselves project.

For Disability History Month, Antonia looks back at how attitudes have changed to disability during her extraordinary life.  

I was kept in a chicken incubator!

Antonia with nanny
Antonia with nanny

My mother was a Christian Scientist, and she didn’t like doctors. I think it was explained to her that we must at least have a nurse. My father got a chicken incubator from his brother, who was a farmer, rushed to the house, and I never went to hospital. I was kept in a chicken incubator in my father’s study, and they did have this nurse, that was a compromise, but my mother didn’t see me for weeks and weeks, because she was quite ill. I don’t think she wanted me anyway. I know she didn’t, because she was only very young, and, you know, didn’t know much. She wouldn’t have had me if she’d known anything. But I think that’s how I came to be how I am.

“All disabled women should be sterilized.”

My mother-in-law was absolutely furious because I had a disability, and she thought it was genetic. A fortnight before my baby was born, she suddenly said, ‘Well, you know, personally, I think all disabled women should be sterilised.’

Teaching in a night school under Apartheid

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki

One of my students, for a short time, was Thabo Mbeki, the former President of South Africa. He was a very clever man, and he was a very beautiful man, too. He was about 19, I suppose, when I taught him. We followed syllabuses from London External Examinations. You could do exams which were called ‘London External Degrees’, in those days, and we based our teaching on those. I taught History, and they were all mad keen to do the French Revolution and the feudal system, that was their two favourite topics… I think I only taught him for a short time, but there were equally interesting students, but he was the cleverest.

Hear more of Antonia’s experiences of the apartheid regime. 

Legalise cannabis campaign

Antonia smoking a joint in a Amsterdam cafe
Antonia smoking cannabis in Amsterdam

My naughty daughter, Frankie, used to get hold of cannabis; this was in the seventies, and bring it home and smoke it, so I said, ‘Oh hey, give us a go,’ and because I knew people who smoked cannabis in the fifties, in Hampstead, you know: well, they do everything in Hampstead, before they do it anywhere else, and so she gave me a joint, and I smoked it.

I did, I’m not a smoker, so I didn’t inhale properly, but I said, ‘God, Frankie, the pain’s dropping out of me fingertips,’ and so she said, ‘Oh Mum, isn’t that interesting? Have another one. I’ll roll you another one.’ … and after that, I read an article, in The Independent, written by somebody with MS, called Liz, who lived in Leeds, and she wrote about the marvelous effect of cannabis on her MS, so I thought, ‘God, I must find out more about this lady…’

Listen to Antonia’s life story on The Disability Voices website.

You can also buy Antonia’s memoir, Broccoli and Bloody Mindedness on Amazon. 

Read the rest of our blogs for Disability History Month.

One thought on ““All disabled women should be sterilised” – Disability History Month”

  1. When I married in the late 70’s a social worker came round uninvited and demanded that I should get my wife sterilized because she had MS and was a wheelchair user. Even a nursing officer at the hospital I worked at(I was a nurse) offered to rush my wife to the front of the queue just in case. I believe our son who is 35 is fairly happy we did not take up their offers.

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