Paul Longmore

washingtonI never met Paul Longmore, but like J.L. Bell I first learned about this historian through his book The Invention of George Washington. If I remember correctly, Longmore’s history of Washington’s self-fashioning was one of the books I read in preparation for my Ph.D comprehensive exams.  Back in the late 1990s (or was it 2002?) I prepared for a job interview with the history department at San Francisco State by reading nearly everything Longmore wrote.

After writing The Invention of George Washington Longmore switched his scholar focus to disability studies.  J.L. Bell picks up the rest of his story at Boston 1775.

A taste:

I didn’t realize until this year how much effort Longmore had to put into the book, however. Longmore contracted polio when he was seven years old and lost the use of both hands. He needed a ventilator to breathe for much of the day. When he wrote, he held a pen in his mouth and punched a keyboard with it. The Invention of George Washington took ten years to finish.

After that biography was published, Longmore burned a copy in front of the Federal Building in Los Angeles to protest how royalties from it would reduce his Social Security disability payments, thus discouraging him or other disabled people from doing creative work. (Those rules were later changed.)

Longmore became a professor at San Francisco State University. He specialized in the study of disability in American history, helping to establish that historical field. He coedited the anthology The New Disability History: American Perspectives and published the collection Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability.


Paul Longmore

Longmore died in 2010 at age sixty-four. The Institute on Disability he co-founded at San Francisco State is now named after him. Earlier this year, Longmore’s colleagues completed the publication of his last history book, Telethons.

Read Bell’s entire reflection on The Invention of George Washington here.