They Need You! Disability, Visual Culture, and the Poster Child, 1945-1980




Sharpe, Celeste

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



They Need You! Disability, Visual Culture, and the Poster Child, 1945-1980 examines the history of the national poster child—an official representative for both a disease and an organization—in post-World War II America. This dissertation argues that the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis/March of Dimes and Muscular Dystrophy Association’s poster child campaigns increased the visibility and understanding of physical disability in new ways by depicting disabled American children within their families and communities as full, if physically limited, citizens of the nation. The campaigns’ emphasis on curing disability and illness centered on a rhetoric of disease eradication, which through repetition became a dominant logic for health charities in the United States. The focus on disease eradication in poster child imagery promoted a narrow view of disease and disability as conditions to be overcome, and precluded political avenues and policies beyond medical research into a cure. Moreover, these poster child campaigns contributed to broader shift toward viewing charitable donations as a consumable good through the establishment of annual rituals of philanthropy-as-civic participation.



History, Digital humanities, Disability, Philanthropy, United States History, Visual Culture