Left Handers Day is observed on Aug. 13, but that quality wasn't always so celebrated
The list of famous lefties inevitably goes back deep into history, to Charlemagne or Leonardo da Vinci. But it was only in the last few decades that being left-handed ceased to be a real problem for many people, and instead became something that could be celebrated.
As TIME explained in 1969, “southpaws, gallock-handers, chickie paws and scrammies” were seen as sinister—literally, since the word means “left”—for centuries. “In the Middle Ages, for instance, the left-hander lived in danger of being accused of practicing witchcraft,” the article explained. “The Devil himself was considered a southpaw, and he and other evil spirits were always conjured up by left-handed gestures.”
One possible reason that aura of suspicion may have changed, TIME suggested, was a lot less complicated than anything having to do with evil spirits. It was just a matter of simple economics. At the time, lefties had few options in terms of the everyday items that depend on handedness; from sports equipment to kitchen items, most things designed to be held were only optimized for one direction. That situation meant there was an untapped market for leftie goods, just waiting for a smart business owner to jump. And jump they did:
A few shops now cater to left-handers who either cannot or will not adjust to a right-handed world. One of the most interesting—run by a righthander, surprisingly—is Anything Left-Handed, Ltd. in London’s West End. Its director, William Gruby, 39, opened his store late last year after giving a dinner party at which he and his wife found that their four guests were all left-handed and all perfectly willing to complain bitterly about the nuisances of life in a right-handed world. Doing market research, Gruby found that shop clerks treated his inquiries with some Dark Ages-style rudeness. When he asked for a left-handed can opener, for instance, he was asked if he wanted a left-handed can as well. He stocks left-handed versions of most types of kitchen hardware, irons, and also carries artists’ palettes, dressmakers’ scissors, surgeons’ knives, pruning shears and cricket bats.
Not everywhere caught on equally quickly—a few years later, TIME ran a story about the persistence of the stigma in Japan—but barriers were being knocked down. And, finally, that knocking might happen with left-handed tools.
Read more from 1969, here in the TIME Vault: Left in a Right-Handed World