Books – A World without Martha

Book Cover final

Released October 1, 2019 from UBC Press: A World without Martha: A Memoir of Sisters, Disability, and Difference is a book-length account of the impact of my sister’s institutionalization for intellectual disability on my sister, my family, and myself, contextualized through more than five decades of policy and social responses to developmental disabilities.

 A World without Martha named a finalist for a 2020 Lambda Award! As the notification letter says, ” “the Lambda Literary Award is the most prestigious LGBTQ book prize in the world. With over 1,000 submissions, it is a significant achievement to be named a finalist…”

Who speaks? Who tells? Who listens? – Part 1. A post on the writing of A World without Martha for

Who speaks? Who tells? Who listens? – Part 3  An excerpt from A World without Martha for

Listen to Victoria Freeman read an excerpt from the book:

Listen to an interview with Shelagh Rogers on CBC Radio One’s The Next Chapter

Order a Copy from UBC Press

Praise for A World without Martha

“Victoria Freeman launches her profoundly honest and probing memoir about the cascade of lifelong effects of the institutionalization of her Down Syndrome sister in the early 1960s. Quite simply a jaw-dropping book no one other than Victoria could have written. A World without Martha: A Memoir of Sisters, Disability, and Difference is gripping, gutting, mind-deepening and heart-stretching. Rollercoaster for every reader untangling how to be human.”

MARGARET CHRISTAKOS, Author of Her Paraphernalia, On Motherlines, Sex, Blood, Loss & Selfies

“Victoria and I stayed in touch because my baby brother Robert disappeared to an institution, just like Martha. We ended years of isolation and shared our pain, anger, grief … with other sisters – and brothers. We were all overpowered and harmed by the same poisonous secret. By breaking the silence, we broke its evil spell. I remember feeling so cleansed after a day we talked together. Victoria’s book courageously clears the air – once and for all. First, she told this story to herself – painfully challenging her own past actions and assumptions. And now she has dared to tell the world.”

MARILYN DOLMAGE, Disability Activist and Litigation Guardian for Marie Slark and Pat Seth, Huronia Class Action

“Beautifully written, deeply personal yet equally accessible, this memoir by Victoria Freeman takes us on a journey of discovery. It weaves together the pain, loss, and long road to healing of one family with the powerful social forces that led to the institutionalization of Martha Freeman and so many other children with disabilities, and, finally, the slow movement to return them to a valued place in society. A World without Martha is a painful, powerful, and ultimately hopeful story that will help the reader understand why we segregate some members of society, the terrible impact on them and their families, and what it means to be human.”

JOHN GUIDO, long-time member of L’Arche Daybreak and L’Arche Toronto, and Outreach Coordinator for L’Arche Canada

“Freeman’s candid account illuminates the complex and far-reaching effects of institutionalization in the family and brings insight to essential human concerns including love, abandonment, and acceptance. It makes an important contribution to our understanding of families’ experiences of separation and loss due to designations of ‘difference.’”

MADELINE BURGHARDT, author of Broken: Institutions, Families, and the Construction of Intellectual Disability

“Brave, beautiful, and hopeful.”

DENISE NADEAU,  Author, Unsettling Spirit: A Journey into Decolonization

“Most memoirs written about people born with Down Syndrome have been authored by family members, often in a reassuring manner intended to destigmatize the condition for the general public. The tone of this book is strikingly different. It is full of regret, ambivalence, and conflict. There is no denying the honesty embedded in the author’s raw, unvarnished reflections of her family’s missed opportunities of acceptance and reconciliation.”

DAVID WRIGHT, author of Downs: The History of a Disability

“This is a raw, honest, and candid account of how institutional and ideological ableism – institutionalization and the separation of siblings as well as stigmatization, shame,
and marginalization – impacts individuals, families, and their relationships in tragic, shattering, and unpredictable ways.”

PATRICIA DOUGLAS, Disability Studies, Faculty of Education, Brandon University

“I have a 6 year old daughter who has T21. I have thought often about how lucky we are to be doing this in a day and age when attitudes and circumstances are changing (albeit not quickly enough). .. The perspective offered by your family’s experiences really puts into context today’s fights – and the importance of them. When we got our prenatal determination we had a consult with a neonatalist who told me, with great sincerity, that “Oh people with Ds have a wonderful quality of life now-a-days, but it is hell on their siblings.” I thought he was full of sh*t then, I know it for a fact now, as I watch children in our circle of Ds friends and their siblings grow together (our daughter is an only child, but her cousins are amazing with her). Thank you so very much for sharing your own sense of loss at not growing up with your sister, and I am so sorry that this was your experience. Thank you for the wonderful book.

MARTHA WALLS, Historian and mother of a child with Down Syndrome.

Your views, experiences, and insights resonated with me personally and professionally. In the late 70’s I helped return institutionalized citizens to their rightful place in community in Halifax. Decades of social work experience with marginalized people and parenting a son with disabilities nurtured deep roots in social justice. Too often the voices of family get ignored or dismissed by the system. I applaud you for daring to bare your experiences, vulnerability and fallibility. The world needs to hear your voice!

SUSAN DUNNIGAN, author of Warrior Angel Beyond Disability: A Family’s Quest for Ordinary.


Love and Accountability in the Face of the Tyranny of the Normal, podcast interview about A World without MarthaGood Things in Life podcast series, with Genia Stephen, November 11, 2020.

Ottawa Morning, CBC Radio One, Interviewed by Robyn Bresnahan, August 12, 2020

The Next Chapter, CBC Radio One, Interviewed by host Shelagh Rogers, broadcast date: Feb. 29, 2020, 4 pm and Monday, March 2, 2020, 1pm.

UBC Press Q&A


A World Without Martha: A Memoir of Sisters, Disability, and Difference by Victoria Freeman, reviewed by Mallory Davies, Ontario History, Vol. 113, No. 1, Spring 2021.

Daniel J. Wilson,  Review of Freeman, Victoria. A World without Martha: A Memoir of Sisters, Disability, and Difference. H-Disability, H-Net Reviews. October 2020.

“Read This: Life Minus Martha: 1960s-set memoir tackles difference and disability” THIS magazine, January 2020.

At the launch of A World Without Martha, October 10, 2019, at Glad Day Books, Toronto, with my host Nicholas Herd.


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