Wrong Headed: Ignorance from the past

Outdated “thinking” never goes away, it just changes the target of its ignorance.

I recently ran across three items from the past in separate places on uninformed attitudes about and biases against left handedness.  Dressing up opinions and labelling them “facts” happened as often 150 years ago as it does today.

In 1850, a poorly written story called Left-Handed Billy was published in a children’s book called “Robert Merry’s Museum”.  It made farcical claims of left handedness, equating it with ineptitude, and stupidity.  The last paragraph of the story reads:

Thus he grew up, and, when he was a man, he received the title of Left-handed Billy. If he drove a team of cattle, he was sure to be on the wrong side, as you see him in the picture at the head of this article. He never succeeded in anything, but became what is called an unlucky fellow. The people used to say, if there was a wrong side, Bill was sure to take it. Such were the evils of growing up in habits of carelessness.

Publishing Andrew Wakefield wasn’t the only time The Lancet screwed up and published pseudo-science gobbledygook.  In 1924, a questionable “paper” entitled The Mental Sorrows of Left-Handedness (William. S. Inman) was published.  It made risible claims about the causes of left-handedness, stammers, and squinting based on no facts whatsoever, only biases of the time and the author’s.  The “conclusion” was that emotional stress from “too severe parenting” caused them, that left-handed was “an unconscious revolt against authority”.

In 1935, J.W. Conway wrote (and I use that word loosely) a horrendously awful pamphlet entitled The Prevention And Correction of Left-Handedness In Children.  His pamphlet was the “homosexual aversion therapy” of its day, advocating physical and mental abuse upon children to “correct” them out of something perfectly natural.


  1. anat says

    I wouldn’t be surprised if left-handed kids who were constantly policed and punished for their handedness ended up either developing anxiety or rebellious attitudes.

    I have 2 relatives who were forced to use their respective right hands, both had chronic problems in school environments.