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A legacy of teaching students and teaching teachers

Dr. Jessica Linnell Langworthy's legacy as a teacher of students with blindness and of teachers is outlined in a 44-year career at Perkins.

Seated portrait of Jessica Langworthy, circa 1936. There is a Japanese style artwork showing bamboo in the background. She is wearing a sweater and blouse. Langworthy has round wire-framed glasses on. Her hair is styled in finger waves.

“Do not teach down to the level of the student. Keep your professional standards high. Your pupils will grow only if you have something to reach upward to.” This advice from Dr. Jessica L. Langworthy (1864-1938) was given to the teacher training Harvard Course class she taught for over a decade. It was advice that helps illustrate her 44-year dedication to educating students with blindness, their teachers, and the Perkins Mission.

Jessica Linnell Langworthy was born in 1864 in Findlay, Ohio. Her father Dr. Albert Langworthy migrated from Cape Code to Ohio, becoming one of the states’ early pioneers (Obituary, 4). Jessica attended Smith College and immediately went to work at the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind upon graduation in 1892. Her sister Frances Langworthy (1858-1927) would follow her to Perkins in 1893 where she assisted in and then ran the Manual Training Department for 33 years.

From 1892-1918 Langworthy taught English in the Boys’ School. She is remembered for taking on this role with “unquenchable zeal and indomitable will,” and for being respected and well-liked by the student body (Fish, 3).  In 1918 the principal of the Boys’ Department was called away by World War I and Langworthy assumed the position until 1925. While working in the Boys’ Department Langworthy “developed a love of literature among the boys and an interest in dramatics.” During her time as the head of the Boys’ School, Langworthy directed the students in many of Shakespeare’s plays. A testament to her devotion to her students, a Langworthy Theatre Fund was established following her death in 1938. The first use of the money was to take 28 pupils to see the film version of Romeo and Juliet (The Langworthy Theater Fund, 4).

Scene from a 1912 performance of Twelfth Night
Scene from a performance of “Twelfth Night,” performed by “Miss Langworthy’s boys” in 1912. This play helped raise funds towards furnishing the new cottages. Two boys engage in swordplay, While three others stand nearby. All are in Elizabethan era costumes.

In 1925 Langworthy was asked to assist Perkins Director, Edward E. Allen with a Harvard course on the Education of the Blind. This training course was developed in 1920 by Allen and Henry W. Holmes, Dean of the Graduate School of Education at Harvard and was the first formal training initiative in the United States for teachers of the blind, and attracted students from all over the world. During these years Allen gave lectures dealing with the “Principles and Problems in Education the Education of the Blind”  (Heisler, 7). Anna Gardner Fish wrote that Langworthy was “…the valued and, indeed, in-dispensable coadjustor of Dr. Allen in his Harvard course on the Education of the Blind” in 1925 (Fish, “Jessica Linnell Langworthy”). After 4 years as an extension course it received full graduate status and a second course was added for the second semester.

In February of 1926 Langworthy developed the course in “special methods” of teaching the blind, supplementing the Harvard course and supplying the practice to match its theory and background. This partnership between Perkins and Harvard now, “combined rigorous study at Harvard with experiential learning inside Perkins classrooms” (Gordon, “Teacher of Teachers”). Participants of this program in fact lived on Perkins’ campus, where they observed and worked closely with staff and students. The program became known as the Teacher Training Program at Perkins. Langworthy served as Harvard Class Tutorial Guide and Head of the Special Methods course from 1925-1936. In 1928, Dr. Jessica Langworthy also earned a Doctor of Education degree from Harvard.

Jessica Langworthy Conducting Special Methods Class, Circa 1927-1927
Photograph of the 1926-1927 Special Methods course being conducted my Jessica. L. Langworthy. Nine female students and 2 male students sit around a table with Langworthy who holds an open book. The women wear short bobbed hairstyles and the men are in suits and ties. Also in the room is a desk and several houseplants. A pennant with the symbols for Alpha Delta Tau and the portrait of a man decorates a wall in the background.

Dr. Jessica L. Langworthy passed away in St. Petersburg, Florida on March 28, 1938. At 3:00 pm on September 27, 1940, Edward E. Allen taught the last class to be held on the Harvard campus. Students would now receive their lectures on the Perkins Campus in a room with a plaque that has the following proclamation, “This room is dedicated to Jessica L. Langworthy in Grateful Recognition of Forty-Four Years of Service, 1892-1936” (Haven, 38). Her legacy was addressed in Perkins’ June 1938 issue of The Lantern, by stating “Miss Langworthy’s influence for the betterment of the blind is far-reaching and of lasting value. To it may be traced pioneer or revivified efforts in all parts of the world (Fish, 3).”

Related resources

Teacher training digital collection

Theater digital collection

“Teacher of teachers” Perkins stories

Selected works by Jessica Langworthy

Langworthy, Jessica. “Blindness in Fiction: A Study of the Attitude of Authors Towards Their Blind Characters.” Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 14, no. 3, 1930, pp. 269–286. Internet Archive

Langworthy, Jessica. “The Harvard Course on the Education of the Blind.” The Teachers Forum for Instructors of Blind Children,  vol. 4, no. 4, 1932, p. 67. Internet Archive

Langworthy, Jessica. “My Lady Lee.” Review of My Lady Lee by, Edith Ballinger Price. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness. vol. 19, no. 3, 1925, pp. 60-64. Internet Archive

Langworthy, Jessica. “Special Methods Class 1926-1927.” Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness. Vol. 22, no. 2, 1927, pp. 56-57. Internet Archive

Works cited

Fish, Anna G. “Jessica L. Langworthy.” The Lantern, 15 June 1938, p. 3. Internet Archive,

Fish, Anna G. “Jessica  Linnell Langworthy”. May 1936. Box 1, Folder 11. AG31 Anna Gardner Fish Papers. Perkins School for the Blind Archives, Watertown, MA. 19 Mar. 2020.

Gordon, Jamie. “Teacher of teachers” Perkins stories, Perkins School for the Blind, March 14, 2019, Accessed 19 Mar. 2020.

Haven, Genevieve M. “Department of Teacher Training.” Annual Report of the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind, 1941. Internet Archive,

Heisler, William T. “History and Development of the Perkins Teacher Training Course.” The Lantern, June 1970, p. 7. Internet Archive,

“The Langworthy Theater Fund.” The Lantern, 15 June 1938, p. 4. Internet Archive,

“Obituary.” Perkins Institution Scrapbook of Clippings, The Greenwich Journal, 16, November 1927, pp. 4. Internet Archive

Edith Thomas (standing) and Elizabeth Robin (seated) in front of ivy covered wall communicating via the manual alphabet.

Speaking with ‘flying fingers’

Seated portrait of Cornelia C. Roeske (1864-1895) outside reading an embossed book. She is wearing a dark dress with light trim.

Cornelia C. Roeske accomplished musician, teacher, and composer

A group of students gathered around a "u" shaped table.

Anne Emilie Poulsson the “Finger Play Lady”