Perkins' Milestones

Boaters on the Charles River with the Perkins campus in the background.

Founded in the 19th century, Perkins has enjoyed a long, exciting history. Here are a few highlights:

1829
Dr. John Fisher charters the first school for the blind in the U.S. after observing educational practices in France for people who are blind.
1832

The school opens with Samuel Gridley Howe as the first director, using rooms in his father’s downtown Boston home.

1833

Enrollment grows and Thomas Perkins, vice president and school trustee, offers his larger home to the school.

1837

Laura Bridgman enrolls in the school and becomes the first documented person who is deafblind to be educated.

1838

Bursting at the seams with 65 students, Thomas Perkins sells his house and puts the funds toward the school’s relocation to a hotel in South Boston. The school is named for Perkins in honor of his generosity.

1842

Charles Dickens, the author of American classics such as “David Copperfield,” visits Perkins and documents Howe’s work with Laura Bridgman in “American Notes.”

1881

Howe Press opens to produce braille books.

1887

Perkins graduate Anne Sullivan travels to Alabama to teach Helen Keller. The pair relocates to Perkins the following year and stays until 1893.

1912

A new campus is built on the banks of the Charles River in Watertown, Massachusetts, the school’s current site.

1951

The first Perkins Brailler is designed and produced by David Abraham at Howe Press.

1955

The school’s name changes from Perkins Institution for the Blind to Perkins School for the Blind.

1989

Perkins creates the Hilton/Perkins Program, known today as Perkins International, to provide services to children who are blind or deafblind with multiple disabilities around the world.

2003

Perkins opens the Thomas and Bessie Pappas Horticulture Center, a greenhouse for students to study horticulture and benefit from horticultural therapy.

2008

Perkins Products unveils the Next Generation Brailler, an update on the classic that is 25 percent lighter than the original and easy to use.

2011

Perkins officially opens the new Lower School, which features larger, more accessible classrooms and a bigger auditorium, as well as renovated office space for staff and cottages for students. The renovated space includes the Patti and Mike Cataruzolo Independent Living Apartments, created to give students an opportunity to practice life skills in preparation for life after Perkins. The apartments were made possible by a gift from Trustee William Schawbel and his wife, Judy A. Samelson.

Perkins celebrates the official dedication of the Grousbeck Center for Students & Recreation, the first campus-wide space for student recreation and technology, made possible through a $10 million commitment from the Grousbeck Family Foundation.

2012

Perkins co-sponsors Africa’s first Braille Cup, the first-ever braille reading and writing competition on the African continent, designed to encourage the learning of braille by more students and emphasize literacy’s life-changing impact.

Perkins Products unveils the SMART Brailler®, a revolutionary tool that combines audio feedback and a digital screen to change the way people who are blind and sighted can learn braille.

The Federal Communications Commission names Perkins, in partnership with Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-blind Youth and Adults, to be responsible for the marketing and outreach portion of its new National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, which provides communications technology free of charge to low-income people who have combined vision and hearing loss. Perkins creates the iCanConnect campaign and works with all 50 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to successfully connect thousands of individuals with accessible technology.

2013

Perkins takes donors on a first-of-its-kind trip to India to observe first-hand the important work being accomplished through Perkins’ local partners.

Perkins Products is presented with the President’s “E” Award, the highest recognition any U.S. entity may receive for contributing to the increase of American exports.

Perkins celebrates the completion of the Touch Our World Comprehensive Campaign, the first-ever major campaign in Perkins history. Through the generosity of hundreds of donors, the Campaign raised $136 million to support Perkins' worldwide mission of empowering people who are blind through education, advocacy and technology.