A World without Martha

A Memoir of Sisters, Disability, and Difference

By Victoria Freeman
Categories: Social Sciences, Disability Studies, Family Studies, History
Publisher: UBC Press
Paperback : 9780774880404, 328 pages, October 2019
Ebook (PDF) : 9780774880411, 328 pages, October 2019
Ebook (EPUB) : 9780774880428, 328 pages, October 2019

Table of contents

Author’s Note

1 Baby

2 Conceptions

3 One on Every Street

4 Substitutions

5 The Fairy Hill

6 Jesus Loves Me

7 Fair Exchange

8 “Progress and Happiness”

9 Revolutions

10 Normalization

11 Becoming Human

12 Into the Fire

13 Breakthroughs

14 Echoes

15 Crossing Over

16 Ashes

17 Remembering

18 Not Ending

19 Second Chances

20 How Far You’ve Come

21 Remember Every Name

Postscript; A Note on Sources

A World without Martha is an unflinching yet compassionate memoir of how one sister’s institutionalization for intellectual disability in the 1960s affected the other, sending them both on separate but parallel journeys shaped initially by society’s inability to accept difference and later by changing attitudes towards disability, identity, and inclusion.


Victoria Freeman was only four when her parents followed medical advice and sent her sister away to a distant, overcrowded institution. Martha was not yet two, but in 1960s Ontario there was little community acceptance or support for raising children with intellectual disabilities at home. In this frank and moving memoir, Victoria describes growing up in a world that excluded and dehumanized her sister, and how society’s insistence that only a “normal” life was worth living affected her sister, her family, and herself, until changing attitudes to disability and difference offered both sisters new possibilities for healing and self-discovery.


  • Short-listed, Bisexual Nonfiction, Lambda Literary Awards 2020


A World without Martha reminds us that disability is not just an individual issue, it is a family issue.

- David J. Wilson