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This article has been peer reviewed. It is the author’s final published version in The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, Volume 51, Issue 10, November/December 1997, Pages 907-915.

The published version is available at DOI: 10.5014/ajot.51.10.907. Copyright © American Occupational Therapy Association


The development of occupational therapy is rooted in early 20th century medical reform. During the early 1910s, several members of the medical profession, human service workers, and the larger American society were increasingly disturbed by medical practices that did not consider the individual's personal experience of disability. Occupational therapy was developed, in part, out of this desire to provide persons with treatment that helped them to function in their communities despite their disability. Early occupational therapy leaders envisioned the fledgling profession as a societal service capable of assisting persons with disabilities to return to both work and community life. Vocational reeducation was initially considered to be an integral component of occupational therapy in the years from 1910 to 1920. However, the profession's early link to vocational reduction was challenged by vocational technical trainers during World War I. To prevent occupational therapy from being subsumed by vocational technical training, the early occupational therapy leaders implemented several strategies: adoption of physician prescription for all occupational therapy services, delivery of occupational therapy services primarily within hospital settings, and dissociation from vocational reeducation services. Reasons accounting for why the early occupational therapy leaders abandoned their initial commitment to vocational reeducation are explored. Suggestions about how this decision has affected present-day practice are also offered.

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