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The 1925 Solar Eclipse at Perkins

In the 1925 Annual Report, Jessica Langworthy and two students wrote about how Perkins prepared for and experienced the eclipse

Three students displaying models of the solar system and constellations made from plastecine. Two of the students are holding up the models and one student is standing next to the table.

Total eclipses have long created a buzz and the January 24, 1925 solar eclipse was no exception at Perkins. In the 1925 Annual Report, Perkins teacher Jessica Langworthy described the preparations and activities surrounding the January 24 event (the full transcript available at the end of this article). The twentieth century photo above shows students with models of the constellations and planets that they made using plasticine. The models are displayed on a table by two students, with another standing next to the table. 

Integrated curriculum

In anticipation of the 1925 eclipse, teachers in the Boys’ Department included the eclipse in their lessons. Langworthy reported that the library gathered articles from magazines and newspapers that were read in classes. Mr. Gibson, one of the Literary Teachers in the department, “made some raised diagrams showing the sun as nearly covered by the moon’s shadow” for students to study and explained the path across the country “in which the eclipse would be total” (25). 

Langworthy noted that the eclipse “aroused interest in things astronomical” and that “the pupils are always interested in such descriptions.” Some classes expanded their studies to the solar system. She suggested that these conversations should continue to be part of the curriculum as students’ “imaginations can reach the starry universe and they should know more about the wonders of it than they do.” Langworthy remarks that she was “always impressed by their appetites” for such information (25). Even after the eclipse, students were still talking about it and interested in what papers were reporting. 

January 24, 1925

By Langworthy’s report, the morning of January 24 was “bitterly cold” but students and teachers still stood outdoors on the gymnasium roof for two hours to observe the total solar eclipse (25, 26). Teachers provided “every boy who had enough vision to see the sun’s orb with a developed photographic film or a smoked glass.” Every student, regardless of their vision, participated in the viewing either to witness it themselves or “hear it described” (25). Langworthy reported that many of the students “could notice the fading light” and that “all were interested to hear about it” (25). The students were impressed by the “accuracy with which the phenomenon had been calculated” – giving a “new respect for the science of mathematics” to some students (25).

A trip to Willimantic 

Agnes Lummus, a matron in the Boys’ Cottages, and two students were so “enthusiastic on the subject” that they took an early morning train to Willimantic, Connecticut to view the eclipse in totality, “with its halo, – the corona” (25). 

Student reports

Langworthy includes accounts of the eclipse from Ruth Cohen and Mary Leppanen, who were students in the Upper School program. Cohen wrote that the eclipse was first explained during “some exercises” in the Assembly Hall before heading outdoors (26). She reports, perhaps using some of the new vocabulary learned in the preparation, that the Watertown campus was “not in the umbra when the eclipse was total, but instead in the penumbra,” noting that at 9:17 “only one-hundredth of the sun could be seen.” While Cohen was impressed by how much light that small shadow allowed, some students were disappointed that it was not darker (26). The phenomenon was “very wonderful and beautiful,” especially at the height. Cohen appreciated that she had learned about the eclipse before witnessing it, noting that the whole experience “will prove a source of interest which…will have a lasting effect” (26). 

Then and now

Langworthy concludes her report with a reflection on the experience and a suggestion going forward: “We ought to make our pupils a part of such events, just as far as we can. It means much in their lives.” For the April 2024 eclipse, the Secondary Program STEM Team invited students and staff to join the watch party on the Perkins track. The party included 2D and 3D models of a solar eclipse, fun facts, and an opportunity to listen to the change in lighting and safely view the eclipse. In the event invitation, as Langworthy hoped, the Team explains what the eclipse is, the path and timeline it will follow, and provides links to resources for learning more. 

Transcript of Jessica Langworthy’s 1925 Annual Report article

Interest in the Eclipse. 

Preparations for “viewing” the eclipse and understanding the show which Nature was preparing for us, were informal in the Boys’ Department but nevertheless effectual. The coming event furnished conversation at the table and at other odd times for weeks. Articles from the newspapers and magazines were obtained from the library and read in class. Mr. Gibson made some raised diagrams showing the sun as nearly covered by the moon’s shadow for the pupils to study, and the path across the country in which the eclipse would be total was told them.

The story of the eclipse aroused interest in things astronomical and some class sessions were spent in trying to give correct ideas of the sun, the solar system and the stars. The pupils are always interested in such descriptions. They should have more of them. Their imaginations can reach the starry universe and they should know more about the wonders of it than they do. I am always impressed by their appetites for such things.

When the morning came, we furnished every boy who had vision enough to see the sun’s orb, with a developed photographic film or a smoked glass; and all, whether seeing or not, proceeded to vantage points to witness the spectacle or hear it described. In spite of the fact that the weather was bitterly cold the most of the two hours was spent out of doors. Many pupils could notice the fading light and all were interested to hear about it. One thing that seemed to impress them was the accuracy with which the phenomenon had been calculated. A new respect for the science of mathematics seemed to have been instilled.

Two pupils and Mrs. Lummus were so enthusiastic on the subject that they rose before four o’clock on that bitter morning, took the train to Willimantic with other enthusiasts and had a view of the sun in total eclipse, with its halo, — the corona.

The eclipse is still talked of, the pupils wishing to know what the papers said of it, and what the scientific results are likely to be.

We ought to make our pupils a part of such events, just as far as we can. It means much in their lives.

Jessica L. Langworthy.

What I learned from the Eclipse.

Saturday morning, after some exercises held in the Assembly Hall, in which the eclipse was explained by seniors and freshmen, all of us prepared to witness it either in the schoolhouse or out-of-doors on the gymnasium roof. The eclipse began at eight-four, at which time the moon began to obstruct our view of the sun. We were not in the umbra where the eclipse was total, but instead in the penumbra where at nine-seventeen, only one-hundredth of the sun could be seen. Yet that small shadow gave more light than I had before imagined it would. Some were disappointed that it was no darker.

Still this phenomenon was very wonderful and beautiful. Especially at the time when the eclipse was at its height did it present a picture that will long be remembered by those who saw it. Some who realized this took pictures of the heavens at the time. I think that the knowledge gained in preparing for this event and the experience of witnessing it will prove a source of interest which we have good reason to hope will have a lasting effect. Ruth Cohen.

Observation on the Eclipse. 

Last Saturday morning we all gathered on the gymnasium roof at about half past eight to observe the eclipse for which great preparation had been made by those most interested in astronomy. Films were passed around with which to look through at the sun, and many an eye kept a sharp lookout for the shadow which slowly, for so it always seems to those waiting, but surely shut out the sun. It started in the upper right hand side and gradually passed to the lower left where it reached its height at nine-seventeen. We could see the crescent of the sun for the space of two minutes, and then it began to grow lighter. We did not have the good fortune to be in the total shadow. My observation was rather limited, so I hope I heard aright; for I do not wish to give the impression that I have seen more than others. Mary Leppanen.

A digitized copy of this article is available on the Internet Archive.

Works cited: 

“January 24, 1925 Total Solar Eclipse.” Total Solar Eclipse on January 24, 1925, www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/solar/1925-january-24. Accessed 25 Mar. 2024. 

Langworthy, Jessica L. “Interest in the Eclipse.” Perkins Institution And Massachusetts School For the Blind Ninety-Fourth Annual Report of the Trustees. 1925. Available on the Internet Archive.

Recommended citation:

Coit, Susanna. “The 1925 Solar Eclipse at Perkins.” Perkins Archives Blog. Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown MA. April 3, 2024. 

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