Perkins' long history of promoting blindness education

Perkins' mission to educate children who are blind has always extended far beyond our Watertown campus.

Vintage photo of children in a classroom

Children at Perkins learn to read and write (photo from archives).

February 20, 2015

Perkins may have been founded as a residential school, but we’ve always worked to serve people who will never attend school on our Watertown campus. It began with Perkins’ first director, Samuel Gridley Howe, who after opening the first chartered school for the blind in the U.S. helped establish similar schools in other states.

Howe took his students to the legislatures of Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia and South Carolina to demonstrate the effectiveness of education for students who were blind. In the decades that followed, Perkins shared its knowledge and resources with these new schools, donating copies of tactile books produced by the school using Boston Line Type, an embossed alphabet Howe created.

While students who were educated at Perkins in the 19th century learned to read at an early age, adults who became blind later in life didn’t have that same access to instruction. In 1898, Michael Anagnos, Perkins’ second director, established a Home Teaching Department for adults who were blind. The department, spearheaded by members of Perkins Alumnae Association, was immediately successful.

Two years later, the Massachusetts legislature appropriated funds to support home teaching, making it the first state to allocate public funds for this purpose. Perkins continued to run the department until 1916 when it was transferred to the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind.

Today Perkins continues to offer a variety of programs designed to reach individuals beyond our campus. As one of the oldest accessibility services in the U.S., the Perkins Library provides books and magazines in braille, audio, electronic and large print formats to over 27,000 children and adults who are visually impaired, or have a print disability or physical impairment.

Educational Partnerships brings the knowledge, experience and skills of Perkins staff to schools, homes, training centers and communities throughout New England. And our Outreach Short Courses help public school students who are visually impaired gain insight, learn life skills and form friendships for life.

Through these and other community programs, Perkins builds the knowledge, support systems and skills that give individuals with visual impairments the ability to lead proud and meaningful lives as productive members of their communities.

To learn more about Perkins’ history, visit the online Perkins Archives.