Introductions & Initial Impressions

Introducing Edward E. Allen & Sir Frederick Fraser

Edward E. Allen

black and white portrait of Edward E. Allen standing in a dark suit and tie

Edward E. Allen

Edward Ellis Allen was born in West Newton, Massachusetts on August 1, 1861. He graduated from Harvard in 1884 and spent the following year at Harvard Medical School. In 1885, he “found that his interest lay in teaching rather than medicine” (1) after spending a year teaching at Norwood, a school for the blind in London. From 1885 until 1888, Allen taught at the Royal Normal College for the Blind in London. Allen first came to Perkins in 1888 as a teacher and headmaster. Two years later, he moved on to become principal and director of the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia. While there, he designed the layout of the school and oversaw its entire construction.

Allen returned to Perkins School for the Blind in 1907 to serve as Director of the school. While Director, he oversaw the design and construction of a new campus in Watertown, Massachusetts. Using his experience at Overbrook, he designed the school to better accommodate people with visual impairments. Allen served as Director of Perkins until his retirement in 1931.

Allen was a champion of student-focused teaching methods and invested in playground equipment, swimming pools, speech therapists, psychologists, and social workers to better suit the needs of his students.

Edward E. Allen was inducted into the APH Hall of Fame in 2011.

(Adapted from Perkins Archives Edward E. Allen Collection biographical note.)

Sir Charles Frederick Fraser

Black and white portrait of Charles Frederick Fraser, who is seated.

Sir Charles Frederick Fraser (Image courtesy of the Nova Scotia Archives)

Charles Frederick Fraser was born on January 4, 1850 in Windsor, Nova Scotia, Canada. He lost sight in his right eye after an accident and eventually lost sight in his left eye as well. He was sent to Perkins “under the tuition of Doctor Samuel Howe, and Sir Francis Campbell” in 1866 (2). He graduated at age 22 and went on to a business career (3) before becoming the first superintendent of the Halifax School for the Blind in 1871. Considered a hero for his advocacy on behalf of  the blind, Fraser “wanted to help [people who were blind] all to be free by training them to earn their own livelihood” (4). 

The Halifax Asylum offered services to students between ages 6 and 21, teaching them reading, math, history, and geography. Emphasizing his desire for independence, the School taught trades like piano-forte tuning, music teaching, cane-chair seating, and massage (5).

Halifax School for the Blind was closed in 1983, but a new school bearing Fraser’s name was opened nearby (Wikipedia).  

More about Charles Frederick Fraser can be found in the APH Hall of Fame

Initial Impressions

"...eyes have never before been put to the terrible tests that characterize this disaster."

newspaper clipping. Headline reads "More Canadians blinded at Halifax than at war front."

Newspaper article proclaiming that more Canadians died in the Halifax explosion than at the war front. Read a transcription of this article.

There were conflicting reports of the conditions and number of those injured and blinded by the explosion. In a report to the American Association of Instructors of the Blind in 1918, Edward E. Allen recalled that a “newspaper man reported the fortunately unfounded news that Halifax would be a city of the blind.” He also notes Sir Frederick Fraser’s initial “conservative” estimate that 500 people would be “made totally blind by the explosion.”

The four reports below demonstrate the increasing accuracy in reporting the number of injured and blind, but also the varying information that was available. They are only a sample of numerous reports scattered throughout correspondence, newspaper reports, and committee reports. Lucy Wright, a medical social worker from the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, gave some reasons for why the initial estimates had such high numbers when she explained that there was confusion as patients were moved from one hospital to another and that reporters may have had inconsistent definitions or criteria for blindness.

The American Red Cross sent Wright to Halifax “in order to help the Blind Relief Committee in making a correct registration of the names, ages and addresses of those who had one or both eyes injured by the explosion” (Halifax School for Blind Annual Report, 1918-B, p. 39). She reported on January 1, 1918, that there were 333 with eye injuries as a result of the explosion. Forty one of these were “totally or practically blind.” After she returned to Boston in early January, Allen “deputed” Lotta S. Rand, a social worker with the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind to go to Halifax and continue Wright’s work. Rand remained in Halifax for three months.

Rand wrote to Allen on March 8, 1918 to respond to his questions about the conditions. She reported that as of March 7, there were 633 people registered with the Clinic. Of these, 32 were blind, 58 had “both eyes doubtful,” and 171 had “one eye doubtful.” One hundred twenty four were blind in one eye, and 124 also had both eyes injured but were “now o.k.” They were unable to locate 80 people for follow up. She lists that 17 cases were “not caused by Explosion” and 7 died. She goes on to provide demographic information about the specific conditions. A transcription of her report is available. 

typewritten statistics about clinic patients

Allen's April 9th report of clinic patients. Read a transcription of this report.

Just a month later on April 9, 1918, however, Allen updated this information in a report of the American Red Cross Committee on Eye Victims of the Halifax Explosion addressed to Director-General Frank Persons. 

  • Blind: 41
  • Both eyes doubtful: 44
  • One eye doubtful: 136
  • One eye blind, other saved: 141
  • Both eyes injured, both saved: 166
  • Unable to locate: 84
  • Out of town, unknown: 50
  • Not caused by explosion: 21
  • Died: 8
  • Total: 691

Figures were also reported in the 1918(-B) Annual Report of the Halifax School for the Blind. The numbers are “respecting those who had their eyes injured in the explosion” and are taken from the registration cards compiled by Rand at the Clinic as of November 1, 1918. Some of the notable figures included are:

  • Totally and Practically Blind: 37
  • Partially Blind: 4
  • Both Eyes Defective: 10
  • One Eye Blind, Other O.K.: 260
  • Both Eyes O.K.: 144
  • Not Disaster Cases: 55
  • Died: 16
  • Total: 861

Captain Frederick T. Tooke published an article describing his experience and the injuries he saw in Halifax.

Citations:

  1. Allen, Katherine Gibbs. Edward Ellis Allen. Priv. Print. at the Riverside Press, 1940. p. 16
  2. McNeil, Mary A.E.A. The Blind Knight of Nova Scotia: Sir Frederick Fraser, 1850-1925. The University Press, 1939, archive.org/details/blindknightofnov00mary. p.10
  3. McNeil, p. 13
  4. McNeil, p. 14
  5. Pearce, Joanna L. 'Fighting in the Dark': Charles Frederick Fraser and the Halifax Asylum for the Blind, 1850-1915. Dalhousie University, 2011, bit.ly/halifax-pearce. p. 5

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