Dorothy Gooder’s Mission

By Isabella Lee

Dorothy Gooder arrived in Lethbridge in 1943 and became interested in the education of children with disabilities. Gooder’s son was born with Down syndrome and was one of her main sources of inspiration. Doctors and school officials at the time recommended to parents that individuals with Down syndrome and other disabilities be institutionalized rather than be educated in public schools. Gooder believed that all children could have the same opportunities to learn and grow as long as teaching methods were appropriately modified.

Gooder was motivated to fight for the inclusion of students with disabilities in the public education system after reading an editorial from the Calgary Herald that came out on January 4, 1955. The editorial talked about the work that some parents were doing in Calgary for children with disabilities. In 1955, Gooder was voted president of the newly formed organization that is now the People First Association of Lethbridge. She also began a pilot program in which six children with disabilities were taught in a segregated classroom at the Kintown Playground building by Helene Urwin. This program demonstrated that children with disabilities can learn and benefit from being in the public education system rather than being institutionalized. Gooder began advocating for the funding of a school building for educating disabled individuals which she saw as the first step to integrated schools.

With the help of various associations and the community, the building of a new school dedicated to the education of individuals was opened in 1959. The new school was named the Dorothy Gooder School and was located at 18 Street and 9 Avenue North. It began with three classrooms and approximately 50 students and quickly increased enrolment. An addition to the school building was completed in 1966. In 1970, Lethbridge School District No. 51 took over the operation of the Dorothy Gooder School. The school was open for 19 years until students with disabilities were integrated into the general school populations of Lethbridge in 1978.

Gooder played a key role in changing the way people with disabilities are viewed and treated in Lethbridge. This change in our community allowed all children to grow and learn together.

You can learn more about Dorothy Gooder and education in southern Alberta at the Galt Museum & Archives.