History Department

Jennifer Free

Jennifer Free expects to receive her Ph.D. in American History in May after completing her dissertation titled, Inherently Undesirable: American Identity and the Role of Negative Eugenics in the Education of Visually Impaired and Blind Students in Ohio, 1870-1930, under the direction of Professors Diane Britton, Cynthia Ingham, James Ferris,  and Peter Linebaugh.  Her area of specialization is the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, as well as thematic specializations in Disability History, British Legal History, Atlantic History, American Legal History, Labor History, and the history of American Nationalism and Identity. 

Jennifer’s dissertation utilizes disability as a distinct analytical construct to explore the evolution of the special education system as applied to visually impaired and blind students as an aspect of the eugenics movement in America.Relying on a thematic and chronological analytical framework, the piece suggests that the development and formalization of the special education system, and its attendant formal segregationist policies as applied to visually impaired and blind students in urban centers in Ohio from 1870 to 1930 exemplifies the broader application and sophistication of the eugenic design.  Jennifer’s work suggests that the high-tide of the eugenics movement played a far greater role in facilitating the development and ongoing reform of the special education system than did any altruistic desire on the part of contemporary reformers

Eugenics was, at the time, in line with mainstream Progressive ideology and its emphasis on efficiency, rational management, and improvement of the races.  But these eugenic-oriented policies targeted marginalized groups and were inherently oppressive and paternalistic.   Various socially and economically marginalized groups were singled out and labeled as “undesirable,” and “inadequate.”  As the argument ran, these individuals were most likely to become social and financial burdens to society.  However, the labels of “undesirable,” “inadequate,” “unfit,” and their underlying justifications are rarely interrogated from a critical perspective.  Conceptualizing disability as a distinct category of analysis through which to view the development of special education in America as reflective of the broader eugenics movement and its mandate of desirability among American citizens has been neglected by earlier scholars.  The centrality of eugenics in informing and driving the evolution of special education policies as applied to visually impaired and blind students has not been subjected to a rigorous, exacting analysis to date. 

In addition to her most recent work, Jennifer has published complimentary research.  First, in a forthcoming book that she coauthored Jennifer investigated the histories of blind and deaf individuals in Northwest Ohio in attempt to afford them the personal agency that is often lacking in the literature.  Second, in her 2005 Scribes Award-nominated law review article, Equal Educational Opportunities and the Visually Impaired Student Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, she relied on statutes, case law, and legislative history to argue that Congress intended for the courts to substantively interpret the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s mandate of a “free appropriate public education” as granting disabled students an equal opportunity to learn, not simply equal access to the system. 

Jennifer received her Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Northern Colorado in 2001.  In 2006, she received her Juris Doctor from the University of Toledo College of Law, graduating second in her class.  Jennifer is a member of Order of the Coif.  She was admitted to the Ohio Bar in November of that year.  During law school, she served as the Assistant Executive Editor for the Law Review.  In addition, she received Highest Ranking Student awards in Evidence, Employment Discrimination, Trusts and Estates, Administrative Law, Employment Law, Family Law, and Labor Law. Jennifer was on the Dean’s List and received two academic merit scholarships. In addition, she received the Ohio State Bar Association, Labor and Employment Law Section, Law Student Achievement Award in 2006.  Also in 2006, she was awarded the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers Scholarship Award.

Jennifer moved to Toledo from Boulder, Colorado in 2002. For Jennifer's CV, click here.

Contact Information:

Office: University Hall UH 5210-F
Phone: 419-530-7985

Last Updated: 6/26/15