I Speak As One Who Knows:
The Story Behind The Child Who Never Grew
Pearl S. Buck was a Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, avid humanitarian, and ardent social justice activist. Buck used her writing and celebrity to shine a light on many issues facing society, including women’s rights, racial injustice, and the plight of marginalized children living in poverty around the world. One of the lesser known causes for which she advocated was the rights of the differently-abled. This cause was near and dear to Pearl Buck’s heart, as it was something that personally affected her own family. Buck’s only biological child, Carol, was born in China in 1920. Though she appeared healthy at birth, she was born with phenylketonoriua (PKU), an inherited metabolic disease. If left untreated, it leads to profound intellectual disabilities. PKU can now be treated, but at the time of Carol’s birth, both the illness and the treatment were unknown. Carol was not diagnosed with PKU until adulthood, and thus experienced a life-long intellectual disability. She grew up in the Vineland Training School in New Jersey with other differently-abled children and adults, and Pearl Buck used her writing in part to support Carol’s care.
In a time when families experiencing and raising differently-abled children was not only not talked about, but often actively hidden from the world, Pearl Buck wrote about Carol and her experience as the mother of a differently-abled child in The Child Who Never Grew, published in 1950. Her inspiring account of her struggle to help and understand her daughter was one of the first public disclosures of its kind from a public figure. Throughout her life, Buck advocated for the care, treatment, research into, understanding, and acceptance of not only Carol, but all children and families in their same situation. This exhibit highlights Pearl S. Buck’s journey as a mother of a differently-abled child, her advocacy for all differently-abled children, and how American society’s view of people with intellectual disabilities evolved from the 19th century to today.
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