Desperately seeking Sylvia; a bit of detective work for early Conductive Education material

I regularly search the Internet for items to put in the Virtual Library catalogue and in August I came across two items by Sylvia B. Kottler, written in the 1970s.

 The name rang a bell with me and I remembered that the journal article was the first thing on Conductive Education that I was ever asked to look for. At the time I worked in the Education Library, University of Birmingham, and the enquirer was Andrew Sutton, his interest sparked by a then MEd student, Ann Mintram. He was investigating: how far that went, but that is another story! At the pre-computerised time I was unable to trace that article.

 Now, having come across these two references in ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center), remembering that enquiry all those years ago made me want to look into finding the complete papers if possible, and to find out whether Ms Kottler had written anything else. The Internet is now a wonderful resource making information readily accessible, so I recommenced started my long interrupted search for both the journal article and the conference paper.

Below is the journal of my efforts.

 21 August

 Found the two references in ERIC.

 22 August

 Couldn’t find the complete version of either, and found no further mention of Ms Kottler in connection with Conductive Education on the Internet. I couldn’t remember anyone’s referring to her and there was no mention of her in the acknowledgments in Laird Heal’s American research report of 1972.

 The article had been published in the DOPHHH Journal. I discovered that DOPHHH was the Division on Physically Handicapped, Homebound and Hospitalized, a division of the Council for Exceptional Children. There was nothing on the Internet or the Council’s website to go on. This division and its journal has changed names several times and the journal appears to be now titled

Physical Disabilities: Education and Related Services 

 So I wrote to the current editor. She replied saying she had only been editor for a year and only has past copies of the journal back to 1994. She suggeste looking at the large US university libraries for earlier issues. I told her I had already looked in UK universities, and would try the US, but had assumed, and hoped that the Council would archive all its journals.

 23 August

 I received a further message that as she had some spare time she would make further inquiries over the next couple of weeks and get back to me. 

I have heard nothing since so assume she was unsuccessful.

 The conference paper entry showed that it had been read at the 1st World Congress on Future Special Education held in Stirling, Scotland, June 25 – July 1, 1978. I then searched for any proceedings or collection of abstracts for this conference.

 23 August

 I found two locations for the conference papers – Miami University and California State University, and wrote to their respective libraries. I also found mention of a collection of abstracts but no location.

 24 August

 California State University Library replied that items from ERIC appear in their catalogue but they don’t always have the full text of such articles, which was the case here. It was suggested that I contact another library on campus for the conference proceedings. I decided to wait until I heard from Miami before doing this.

 I received a reply from Miami that informed me that digital resources were for university students only so I explained that I was in UK and the librarian agreed to look in their site storage facility (where older stock is held) and get back to me in a few days.

 27 August

 I received apologies for the delay in getting back to me . She had been able to search the conference papers and abstracts for the 1st World Congress on Future Special Education, but there was nothing from Sylvia Kottler.

 28 August

 While all these emails were going back and forth I had a hazy memory that a copy of the DOPHHH article might be in the National Library of Conductive Education so decided to write and ask.

 1 September

 Marie McCann wrote back to say that she would look in the catalogue.

 5 September

 Marie wrote to say she had found it and sent me an electronic copy of the article, which will go in the Conductive Depository.

 The Article

 Looking at the references in the article I assume that Sylvia Kottler had some contact with Ester Cotton, as she listed papers distributed by her, and used her as a main source for information about Conductive Education.Or maybe she had read the Heal research report. Even so her approach is fresh and interesting. I wonder why she did not take it further. Perhaps time will tell.

 Sylvia Bravman Kottler

 At the same time I looked for information about Sylvia Kottler. She became a professor at Purdue University Indiana, and had written several books:

 She died in October 2010, in New York:

 It was frustrating not to find any more than this about her and I hope anyone who does know more will let me know, but also satisfying to discover what I did, to be able to read the paper and preserve it on line in the Conductive Depository.

 Many thanks to Katie Gibson, Lisa Pufpaff, Marie McCann and the California State University Library Enquiry Service who helped me to get this far. It just goes to show that the world still needs librarians and libraries, the Internet is not enough on its own!


Laird Heal (1972) Evaluating an integrated approach to the management of cerebral palsy. Parts1-4. Madison: Wisconsin University

Kottler, Sylvia B.(1976) Conductive Education: an alternative to conventional therapy.DOPHHH, Journal, 3(1), pp.12-17.

Kottler, Sylvia B. (1978) The role of Conductive Education in the management of the individual with cerebral palsy. Paper presented to 1st World Congress on Future Special Education, Stirling, June 25th – July 1st.

4 comments on “Desperately seeking Sylvia; a bit of detective work for early Conductive Education material

  1. Andrew Sutton October 8, 2014 10:52 am

    Thanks, Gill, for documenting this search for trace of Sylvia Kottler. I takes me think several things.

    How quickly the contribution of our forebears gets pressed aside by the pressing matter of today, then ‘lost’. Send not to ask for whom the bell tolls…
    Yet if one knows what to look for and how to look – or one knows someone who does – how much might yet be recovered.
    There is a lot of good will out there.
    Conductive Education outside Hungary can be too careless about its history. It might need it some time!
    And there are things worth hearing from those who went before, Yes you are right, Prof Kottler was reliant on inadequate Cottonist interpretation of the substance of Conductive Education, but she had her own fresh insights, something not met that often in public discussion.
    This may well reflect the fact that she was a special educator, and special educators have been not that common amongst those interested in Conductive Education. This may have proved particularly important – perhaps even decisive – in the continuing marginalisation of CE in the United States.

    I have been fortunate in having read Prof Kottler’s little paper, because you emailed me a copy privately. Do be sure to announce its arrival ia in the Conductive Depository to remind others to look when it is available there.

    By the way, Laird Heal, now there’s another forgotten name to conjure with from America’s misty conductive prehistory, and a story to be told, of more that just American interest. Are you up to that one too some time?

    • Gillian Maguire October 8, 2014 9:10 pm

      Your comments are always welcome, Andrew, and I appreciate your input. I wish more people would comment, contribute and write about CE. I live in hope! As to Laird Heal, I will take that up as a challenge and post how I get on very soon..

  2. Rony Schenker October 8, 2014 1:09 pm

    Dear Gill, The world needs librarians and the conductive world needs you!

  3. Gillian Maguire October 8, 2014 9:06 pm

    Thank you for this, Rony. Its good to know!


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