Centenary Address by Dr. Edward E. Allen

In "Perkins Institution Within the Memory of Those Still Living," Allen spoke about the second half-century of the school

A black and white portrait of Dr. Edward E. Allen. He stands, wearing a white shirt and striped tie under a very dark suit and vest. Allen's hands are in his coat pockets. He has a greying beard and stares at the camera. There is a blurry diamond-shaped pattern in the background. Circa 1910.

Historical information

At the Perkins Centenary Celebration on November 10, 1932, Dr. Edward E. Allen delivered the address “Perkins Institution Within the Memory of Those Still Living.” Dr. Allen, Director Emeritus and third director of Perkins, spoke about the second half-century of the school, largely based on his own experiences. Topics included Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, the daily schedule and life of students in South Boston, the importance of physical education, the Work Department, and the establishment of the Royal Normal School for the Blind in England and its relationship with Perkins. Staff members who are discussed include Emilie Poulsson, Gazella Bennett, Michael Anagnos, and Sir Francis Campbell

This recording comes from the American Foundation for the Blind, which sold it in a set of three records that also included: “Reflections at a Milestone,” a speech given by Dr. Gabriel Farrell at exercises commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Ohio School for the Blind in 1937; and, “The Duty of Success and Day Dreams,” which featured Dr. Samuel P. Hayes reading two of his essays. 

Preferred citation

Allen, Edward E., “Perkins Institution Within the Memory of Those Still Living.” Historical Recordings Collection, AG206-2022-17, Perkins School for the Blind Archives.

Audio recording

Recording of Edward E. Allen address in 1932


Edward E. Allen: Perkins Institution, within the memory of those still living, an address delivered at the Perkins Centenary by the author Edward E. Allen. 

Edward E. Allen: Since Perkins celebrated appropriately in 1882 her first half-century, my remarks this afternoon, while historical and somewhat reminiscent, will deal largely with the second half-century with which, by far, the most of you are more or less intimately acquainted. 

I have spent 47 years consecutively in work for the blind, 44 of them in more or less intimate connection with Perkins so that this chronicle is written largely from personal experience. The ideal underlying all Dr. Howe’s work for the blind was to [teach] them, as much as possible, like the seeing, that they might later be diffused in the world. Today, we call it socialization. For this, Perkins has always stood staunchly as against any sort of institutionalization. 

He is said to have given his girls’ cottages no back door in order that these pupils might have much front door practice, answering the doorbell and receiving company properly. Certainly, he often brought school visitors in that way to show them the training his young people were getting in social acceptability. A little episode of our convention here in 1924 revealed how well we had brought out to Watertown the old-time courtesy and spirit [of] hospitality. 

Three guests who had arrived late at their assigned cottage said to me the next morning, “We were delighted to be met at the door by two of your pupils who greeted us by name, apologized for the temporary absence of their housemother, and showed us to our rooms like the gracious, young hostesses they are.” 

A Perkins feature of the late 1860s when all departments were still in the great house at South Boston credits, above all others, Ms. Moulton, its 40-years matron, with creating and radiating the atmosphere of hospitality, which every newcomer felt. 

Dear Saint Moulton, how we who basked in the magic of thy provocative smile and voice revere thy memory. Then there was Joel W. Smith. New teachers, after mounting the formidable flight of steps up to the great front entrance and [hearing] that heavy door closed behind them, have confessed that they might have felt twinges of homesickness in those spacious halls had not the omnipresent Mr. Smith, a seeing man in the dark, if ever there was one, promptly met them with a waggish story. And perhaps with a pressing invitation to go with him the following Sunday to hear some famous preacher. 

Or it might be that he would make them feel at home through a sly invitation to become one of the after-dinner readers to his group who had to wait until that hour to hear the daily newspaper. In the 1880s, these listeners, then of the Perkins staff, were Ms. Boylan, Ms. [Black,] Mr. Smith, Mr. Reaves, Mr. Hart, Mr. Titus, Tom [Carroll,] and sometimes Dennis Reardon. Are they not all meaningful names to many of you? 

Before long, each reader had acquired a nickname given by Mr. Smith, who would say with a quizzical smile, “Now, Sister Simply, it’s time to lend us your [peepers.]” Or it might be the turn of Sister Perpetua, or of Dolly Varden, or of Cleopatra, names he had got from his wise reading. And they were sobriquets that usually fitted. Who that had ever slept under the cupola of the Institution [in South] Boston, can forget Jonah, the great chiming clock which, to some, seemed to say “three blind mice” as cheerfully as an old-time watchman cried “half-past 12 and all is well?” 

An old pupil still tells how expectantly he listened to Jonah’s voice at night, interpreting his refrain assuredly as, “There’s still hope. Don’t give up. Only work the more.” There could be a new Jonah in the tower at Watertown in the chamber built for him. When, in the fall of 1887, I first came to Perkins, I was quickly introduced by the old guard named above to the hero worship of Dr. Howe through poems, stories, and books about him. The admiration and loyalty of many another teacher and pupil too were instilled in much the same manner. 

How often a young, new arrival from the country has come to Perkins and, liking its atmosphere of wholesome vigor, courage, and culture, he remained to find her lifework there or left after a few years, permanently inspired by the unforgettable experience? One who stayed on writes, “It is 63 years since I began as a teacher of the blind. I have not then lost any of my enthusiasm.” The many who left keep coming back to visit, which shows pride in Perkins and loyalty to her traditions. 

The Girls’ Department got the name Galatia and flung back at the boys the appellation Cappadocia. Once, one had innocently began telling Ms. Bennett, on her side of the fence and surrounded by her girls, certain happenings on my side, she gave the mildly spoken, but nonetheless effective rebuke, “We would rather not hear what may be going on up at the great house.” Ah, Ms. Bennett, principal teacher to the girls all through Mr. Anagnos’ time and well on into mine, your name spells excellence to instruction, devotion, and consecration. Your outstanding virtues throughout so many years could not but tell upon the quality of your school. How fondly your pupils recall your Sunday evening reading. Perhaps the mutual respect between teachers and pupils there exceeded that in other departments, so that was considerable too.

Here is a sample of Ms. Bennett’s wise administration: At the period when her girls were over-critical, as girls will sometimes be in the best-conducted schools, she quietly called their attention to the matter, and to a contribution box by the door of her assembly room, suggesting that whenever anyone thought of something to praise, she put a penny into this thanks-giving box. Ms. Poulsson who tells the story, declares that as the little box fills, oh, fill it did, the fault-finding ceased. Mr. Anagnos loved his girls’ school and it, in turn, understood and appreciated him. Perhaps the feminine mind is more naturally meta-loyal than the masculine. Though how anyone could be more loyal to a predecessor than Mr. Anagnos was to his, it would be difficult to tell. 

He wished the Boston Line Type acquired before the braille, and square-hand pencil writing before the typewriter. Now, his girls responded, and as a whole, with far better results than did his boys. Most of the latter hurt and balked at what they considered the imposition of these more difficult, often hopeless, tasks. And they knew that practically all their teachers, particularly those of them who were blind, sympathized. 

Mr. Anagnos realized this. Realized, also, that The Mentor, the fine and worthy periodical which his alumni issued in the 1890s, and which he did not fully approve of, sometimes contained papers favoring other systems of reading and writing. Gradually, anyhow, incompatibility grew up between the director and his alumni. Perhaps this was inevitable, for a more or less open disagreement is said to be the natural state of things between even college presidents and their alumni. 

There are here this afternoon a few pupils from our first half-century. Some of them have confessed that everything was not always serene then, either. There was once a concerted outcry against certain spot and requirements soon to be mentioned, but this was followed by a general retraction, bravely signed by all the complainants admitting that the exercises which they did not like were unquestionably beneficial. 

In those long-ago days, the great building at South Boston housed the two always-distinct departments, the boys occupying the West wing, the girls the East. Early to bed and early to rise was the practice then, as now. Morning baths, also. During the summer term, for the school kept all summer, Dr. Howe often led his boys for the plunge into the sea. During cold or stormy weather, there were three tubs for all the boys down in the basement and three tubs for the girls up on their fourth floor. 

The water had to be pumped up there by Big Peter, whom some of you may remember as the fat, jovial man of all work. One girl of those days tells me that, together with another girl, she sometimes [spelled] him at the pump. This reminded me of my own early days when each boy of the family expected to help keep the household tank filled. Of course, Dr. Howe’s purpose in prescribing cold water wake-ups was mainly psychological, ushering in each new day with the impulse to conquer and achieve. 

The rising bell rang, then, at 5:15. At 6:00, there was school for most, piano practice for as many as there were instruments. Mr. Reaves, beloved head of the Music Department, usually gave an organ lesson then. At 6:50 came 10 minutes for prayers, the pupils sitting on the stage where a grand piano separated boys from girls. Then came a noisy rush downstairs for breakfast, after which, the boys took their regular brisk walk up East Broadway. 

The girls took their’s afternoons up and about Dorchester Heights. Even so, an early-rising, fresh-air-loving teacher, Ms. Greene, used sometimes to take out a girl on each arm before breakfast. And Dr. Howe could be depended on to approve of that as a substitute for indoor study. He was himself often out at that time riding horseback. 

Doubtless, it became his conviction, acquired while living as a surgeon and soldier in the mountains of Greece, that all poorly equipped and otherwise handicapped people who would surmount obstacles and win out in life’s battle must inure body and mind by early and vigorous practices, as many as possible of them to be performed in the open air. His whole regimen for his pupils was well-calculated to fit them for the acceptability, employability, and competition in the world, which diffusion there implied. Surely, a potentially far happier future than shutting them up in special workshops the easier way. And he succeeded with most of them. In course of time, he did open a non-residential work department, but he kept it small and for the necessitous few. 

As for his teachers, he chose them for what they were in personality and character. Mr., afterwards, Sir Francis Campbell, whom he describes as his devoted and accomplished teacher, headed his music department for 11 years, as a matter of fact, he made it over. He was ever a tower of strength. A compelling example. Dr. Howe had such faith in him that he later surrendered, in order to help him establish the Royal Normal College for the Blind in London, such tried and true assistants as Joel W. Smith and the Mrs. Greene, [Howes,] Knight, Dawson, and Faulkner. The last becoming, later, Mrs. Campbell, and lady superintendent of the college. 

A former Royal Normal School pupil reminded me last summer of how much we all heard there in the 1880s of Perkins happenings. And a fellow teacher of those days assures me that the obvious relationship of the two schools was that of mother and daughter. 

The training in each place was similar. That is, not cabin-confined through overmuch artificial method or system, division into grades, or dependence on textbooks. No, all means and methods were flexible. The classroom instruction was mostly oral, directly practical, and presented with such energy and brilliance as the teachers could command. Naturally, it was eminently successful. 

This address is continued on the other side of this record. 

Have you any exercise but walking? [INAUDIBLE] the girl pupils way back in 1833 when Perkins was hardly out marching close of its first year. As for the [INAUDIBLE] we have none but working about the house. So it’s that, from the outset, certain household tasks were expected from the girls. All the years before 1872, the older girls habitually helped the younger in personal details and told them to do for themselves the many little things they had not learned at home. 

There were few paid servants then, everybody contributing and doing the daily chores. After 1870, the transference to all the girls to study family life supplied ample routine practice in light household work, which opportunity was made the most of as a valuable part of their education. Nowadays, the boys too have, even if they do not fully enjoy, that inexorable [ability]. Anyway, they perform it, [INAUDIBLE] indeed. 

How splendidly they did help their housemothers to get the cottages ready for the convention guests, 1924, and then four days after [the school opened]. All this and much more is done today [by] these self-help boarding schools for boys recognizes the modern educational philosophy at the school [INAUDIBLE] not to separate them for life. Society should be interpreted to the child, though he’s living in a [INAUDIBLE] society. 

For the four years, or until certain busybodies carried pails from one school to the other, both of the teachers fought departmentally in both. Since then, each school has had its own principal and its own instructors. At first, the classes [INAUDIBLE] were only two, older pupils together and younger pupils together. Ms. Bennett, taking hold in 1875, shortly formed an intermediate class of girls. And not long afterwards, in other classes, she started grading from [class] number one upwards, in order to correspond both with public school procedure. That her girls could better compare and classify themselves with their brothers’ and sisters’ schools. Most people will consider such conformity an enslavement in itself. This was so at Perkins in proportion as the school grew in numbers of pupils and teachers. 

Yet, the instruction continued to remain [inaudible] rare textbooks, but partly so, also, because both Ms. Bennett and Mr. Anagnos believed it to be the purer, better way. Except, of course, when [inaudible] teachers attempted it and failed. The later advent of more and more textbooks was helpful in proportion, as it honestly put the pupils more and more on their own resources. 

It also lightened the labors of the teachers, a relief that sometimes pained us rather than help consecrate us. And without consecration, the instructor is [mislabeled] teacher or educator. Yet, Dr. Howe was a rare creative genius of the first order, happily combining the seeing eye and the helpful hand. So Mr. Anagnos was a great disciple and follower. 

The only arresting criticism I ever heard of Dr. Howe by our fellow worker in our course was that he did not devote all his time to just one [inaudible]. Mr. Anagnos did, you know. He labored for Perkins day and night, and succeeded in putting it before the public and in keeping it there in an unprecedented fashion. As it grew in pupils, it required evermore money to meet its legitimate demands for equipment and development. 

Having been brought up as a country lad to be thrifty and frugal in everything, he set the example of that thrift and frugality before his staff and pupils. “I will make every penny earn a penny,” he used to say. So he walked the walk and then back, even out to Jamaica Plain, when he might have ridden. [Inaudible] when necessary, and sometimes, when unnecessary. But who more than blind children need to cultivate [inaudible], [grit,] and economy? 

This policy was altogether wise. [Inaudible] the day on him who could so educate [inaudible] that he felt political for Perkins and its welfare. After the three funerals given Dr. Howe, Mr. Anagnos snuck out opportunely in the half-an-hour memorial stretch with which to make all five books of [inaudible], his great collection of optic reading materials, and his museum of Blindiana. Next, [inaudible] to the [inaudible]  –whereupon his kindergarten for blind children began to rise in Jamaica Plain.

The story of this beautiful enterprise reads like a romance. [Inaudible] for everybody else, it became, and long will remain, Boston’s darling private [requests] to charitable foundations, commonly including the kindergarten, as most appealing of them all. Within a quarter of a century, this endowment exceeded that of the parent institution. Was there ever such a successful credit? 

He used to say with a laugh, “But when I am dead, you will carve on my monument a hand with palm upwards and inscribe under it, and the beggar [dies].” He dearly loved a good joke. Those of you who know his serious side only would be surprised to learn that many knew him as something of a wag. How happy he showed himself when paying one of his weekly visits to the kindergarten. His joy appeared in his roar of his laughter on being told the occasional funny remark of his children there. 

Yes, his children. He could feel that that darling school was his very own. The kindergarten has created a separate trust, funds not to be diverted for upper-school usages. Do you know why Mr. Anagnos will not allow any portion of the then-rough appropriation of $30,000 of Perkins Institution to go into the kindergarten’s pocketbook? He proposed having that department fully private, not semi-public, as now, and so holding it independent of possible political control. 

He did, indeed. And he declared [the school] the last time for grief that on his return, he would begin a campaign so to endow Perkins itself, that she also might be forever politically free. No one who understands the man and his determined and often inspired way of doing things can doubt that, with health and strength restored, he would have succeeded. Already, he had begun in South Boston to buy up the whole block of land on which the institute stood. The large Unitarian Church [inaudible]. 

[Inaudible]–vision. Why, the man looked and saw very far ahead. He had an architect lay out the [drawing] [inaudible] was destined [inaudible]. His South Boston estate would become a national conservatory for the blind. Not of music only, but of other vocational and professional studies too. Perkins should become the mecca of all sorts of those blind students. Not alone blind, also seeing ones seeking knowledge and inspiration from association with its principle, its personalities, and its treasures. An exalted fellowship, indeed. 

With this, his historical collections of everything obtainable on the subject of blindness and the blind. Lacking this veritable museum of [inaudible], the present vocational course on this education [of the blind] would not have been recognized and adopted by Dean Holmes of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. And this fundamental course would reflect the [inaudible] or normal ones for his preparation of pieces of our specialty. Both, together, comprising that which is now considered to be a cheap, recent contribution affecting our fine department of psychology or of our brief, but nonetheless brilliant, joint, experimental school so full of possibilities for our work. 

Mr. Anagnos seemed, to some, arrogant and unapproachable. He was really not so to those whom he liked and trusted as being loyal to him and his ideas. He has been called unprogressive. He hated the telephone and would not use the typewriter for his personal or official correspondence. In the matter of braille, doubtless, he was unprogressive. What it entailed to, he kept with the majority. It was because he heard a different drummer. He marched, as did Dr. Howe and an army of others in this country and abroad, to the fundamental French drumbeat, which said everything is to be avoided which makes separation between the blind and the seeing. 

A very similar controversy has long divided education [inaudible] whether to introduce language to their charges manually or orally. Mr. Anagnos was, essentially, a scholar, a feat to reckon his own opinions in educational matters. He was progressive enough, and scientifically so. That is, he refused to abandon the proved good until sure of having found its better. Holding fast to Dr. Howe’s principles and energizing motto, “Obstacles are things to be overcome.” 

[Inaudible] he yet could find superiority insisted as he was grading [training?] his many pupils that improve methods such as introducing his students to take corrective gymnastics under the directive of medical specialists, and kindergarten training for blind children under nine, the former [inaudible] to Perkins Institution. Yes, indeed. And he urged his principal teachers to study and do all these things through taking courses in them. And so to keep, educationally [inaudible].

He was, essentially, a democrat, and no aristocrat. Though he had entree to the best society of Boston, he cared little for it except that it could help him and his cause. He accepted few invitations, [inaudible] he wanted to [inaudible], as well as his longing for the labor to which he had consecrated his soul. They say he wrote too much, too voluminous reports. Yet, he [inaudible] open to that accusation. But whether the thousands for whom he delivered these reports, and many of them by horse and wagon, read them through or not, his writings, poetry, quotations, epitaphs, and obituaries [inaudible]. Of this, Boston [inaudible] his sincerity. So they gave, and gave, and gave. 

He was a good businessman. Under his direction and under the devoted management of Mr. Eugene Howard, the Perkins workshop [normally] nearly took care of itself. Normally ran without money lost, that any shop of fine workers had ever done before, here or elsewhere. How it thrilled Mr. Anagnos to be able to [placed] so much. How it [heartened] his work, but it proved them that they were actual producers, not large consumers of relief and charity. He was a financier. I cannot imagine what Perkins would do now unsupported by the endowment he brought it. We could not have rebuilt the institution we are as we see it without bringing the kindergarten along to share expenses. 

Indeed, [this present plant] for this rich equipment, [inaudible] very material [inaudible] Mr. Anagnos [inaudible]. Yes, Mr. Anagnos was a constructive agent of the first magnitude, a worthy successor of Dr. Howe. The more one studies him and his achievements, the more one must concede proof of this statement. 

Most directors carefully gathered about them exceptional helpers. I have already mentioned a few. Let me name some of the more recent ones who, having died, yet live in your memory. Ms. Greeley, Mrs. Hill, Ms. Jones, Mrs. Davidson, Ms. [Stratton] And I cannot omit my own 97-year-old Ms. Sarah Lane and an octogenarian, Mr. Flanders, both happily still living. Then there were Ms. Laura Bridgman, Mrs. Hopkins, Ms. Betsy Wood, Ms. Gillingham, Ms. Frances Langworthy, Laura Sawyer, Ms. Martha Sawyer, Mr. and Mrs. [Stover?], and Mrs. Bowden, daughter of Anthony Bowden, affectionately known as Old Bowden. Also, Katie Fleming, whom, though totally blind, was many years Head Laundress. And finally, Mr. Wright, whom his boys spoke of as The Judge. 

I must not add here to the graduates already mentioned as teachers the names of your other fellow pupils whom you cannot quite recall with pride and satisfaction. The list, no similar school is longer or more worthy of honor for the courage and success with which they kept their traditional poise while meeting the obstacles that they learned, at Perkins, to overcome. 

Recorded in the Talking Book Studios of the American Foundation for the Blind. 

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