13 September 2010

Hurray for the Crippled Children's Bus!

Everyday Children
Edith Lelean Groves
Toronto: The Committee in Charge of the Edith L. Groves Memorial Fund for Underprivileged Children, 1932

Unearthed during a recent trip to Cambridge, the publisher, "the children of the Saturday classes, Art Gallery of Toronto" and the promise of a biographical sketch by eugenics advocate Helen MacMurchy, CBE, conspired to remove five dollars from my wallet.

Of Edith Lelean Groves, I knew nothing, but was soon set right by Dr MacMurchy, who provides a good amount of detail, beginning with an account of her subject's great-grandfather and his imprisonment during the Napoleonic Wars. I dare say Mrs Groves is a much more admirable figure. She devoted most of her 61 years to the education of children, particularly those we describe today as having "special needs". Nearly a century ago, Mrs Groves fought for their integration into Toronto's public school system. When she succeeded, she turned her attention to providing wheelchair ramps and transportation.

Transportation, Crippled Scholars. Alfred Pearson, 15 April 1926

City of Toronto Archives

Sadly, Mrs Graves wasn't nearly so remarkable as a poet. Everyday Children is everyday poetry. Typical of what was once foisted on young readers, the collection stresses the importance of good manners, study, respect for authority and healthy living:

Still, the reader who sticks with it will find "My Upstairs Brother", about a young girl's relationship with her bedridden older sibling: "His name is Welcome Jack and he's got a twisted back,/ His arms and legs don't seem to want to go." This is followed by "Mended", in which a girl's "queer little mis-shaped limb" is straightened through surgery. These poems and others dealing with "crippled" everyday children are no better, but they do provide interesting and uncommon glimpses of the time.

It's not at all surprising that Everyday Children is forgotten, but what of Mrs Groves? She has no entry in The Canadian Encyclopedia. There was once a school named in her honour, but no more – it's since been renamed Heydon Park Secondary School. Seems no one knows why.

Gray Coach Lines' Crippled Scholars' Service. Alfred Pearson, 20 December 1928.
City of Toronto Archives

Object: A well-bound hardcover printed on very thick paper. My copy lacks the dust jacket by Arthur Lismer – he of the Group of Seven – which the Introduction tells us depicts "little faces of 'Everyday Children' who smile... the result of his gifted pencil."

Access: Everyday Children can be found in seventeen of our universities. Public library users are stuck with a single reference copy housed somewhere in the stacks of the Toronto Public Library. It would seem that this collection of verse enjoyed only one printing. Used copies range from US$15 to US$25, the uppermost price fetching that elusive dust jacket.


  1. Whatever her merits as a poet, Ms Groves is exactly the sort of person after whom Toronto should be naming its schools. That's a real shame.

  2. Although, given her association with MacMurchy, perhaps there were reasons to rescind the honour....

  3. A subject for further research, I think. That said, I haven't come across anything in Mrs Groves' writings (or writings about Mrs Groves) that suggests she shared the doctor's enthusiasm for eugenics. The only thing Everyday Children has to say is on their relationship is found in the Introduction: "To Dr. Helen MacMurchy who had known the author intimately and whose work brought her into sympathetic contact with Mrs. Groves, we are indebted for the biographical sketch".

  4. Can I ask where you got the image of Edith Groves? We would like to post one on our website, but need to have official permission to do so.

    1. Karyn, you catch me on the road so I can't check, but I'm pretty certain that the image comes from the book. I'll make a note to check after I've returned home Sunday. I'll let you know what I find.

  5. Mr. Busby, I have many questions! I'm writing a book about my Mother who had polio (here in TX) at age 9 (1926). Along w/info I was bequeathed, I've found very little info about polio patients that far back in history. We discussed EVERYthing about those days in their lives except...wheelchairs. She graduated from college in arm/leg braces. Can you refer me to other info? Mother's father (my Pop) was a pioneer chiropractor during that era; can you imagine his sadness & frustration in helping her? One last thing: My family's name (and hers) was BUSBY. Thank you, Sir. ~Donna Baker