Tactile pictures of plant specimens, circa 1902

Overview

The Perkins Archives program

The Perkins Archives program supports the mission of Perkins and the Samuel P. Hayes Research Library by preserving and providing access to its historical records and collections.

Perkins archivists care for a wide variety of materials, including photographs, documents, tactile objects, films, audio recordings and books–in both print and braille. The collection is local, national and international in scope. Through archival practices and preservation efforts—particularly digitization—the Perkins Archives continues to make its collections available and accessible to the public.

history

A legacy of knowledge

Perkins pioneered the work of educating students who are blind and deafblind. The first school for the blind chartered in the United States, Perkins has remained a leader in the field for nearly 180 years. The Perkins Archives document both the evolution of these fields of knowledge and of the gradual inclusion of people with visual impairments into mainstream society.

Many of the discoveries and achievements that fueled those changes occurred at Perkins—the first child with deafblindness to be formally educated, the first kindergarten for children who are blind, one of the first mechanical writing devices and the first lending library of tactile books.

No other American institution is as closely connected to these changes as Perkins. Thanks to institutional collecting practices begun in the 19th century, Perkins Archives holds and makes available unique collections that are essential in tracing the arc of that development all over the world.

Daguerreotype portrait of Laura Bridgman and her last teacher, Sarah Wight circa 1845. Bridgman, aged 16, is signing into Wight’s hand.

Archives resources

Explore a variety of materials stored in the Perkins Archives, many of which have been digitized and made available online.

Studio portrait of student Edith Thomas, circa 1880s.

Photograph collections

Digitized and described collections, that include photographs, photographed artifacts, and scanned manuscripts with transcription.

Anne Sullivan fingerspells into the hand of a very young Helen Keller in this black and white studio portrait circa 1888. Fingerspelling, a precursor to today’s tactile sign language, is one of many methods Perkins has used over the years to help students who are deafblind connect with the world around them.
Anne Sullivan fingerspells into the hand of a very young Helen Keller in this black and white studio portrait circa 1888. Fingerspelling, a precursor to today’s tactile sign language, is one of many methods Perkins has used over the years to help students who are deafblind connect with the world around them.

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan collections

Links to online resources from the Perkins Archives related to Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan.

A person writing at a desk
Anne Sullivan fingerspells into the hand of a very young Helen Keller in this black and white studio portrait circa 1888. Fingerspelling, a precursor to today’s tactile sign language, is one of many methods Perkins has used over the years to help students who are deafblind connect with the world around them.

Policies and forms

Information about our policies, including how to use our images and request digitization or scanning, our collection development and access policies and our digital preservation plan.

Scene from Perkins film Deafblind Circus, 1979.

Perkins films

Collection of films produced by Perkins spanning 1923-1985. The films are provided with audio description, closed captioning and include a downloadable transcript.

Bust of Laura Bridgman in the Deafblind Education exhibit.

Museum

The Perkins Museum tells the story of Perkins and traces the history of educating students who are blind or deafblind. A virtual version of museum content is available. 

Helen Keller working at her desk circa 1946

Subscribe to the Perkins Archives newsletter

The Perkins Archives Newsletter is a quarterly update on our activities, special projects, and more. It is a great way to find out about the latest processed collections and newly digitized materials, and to learn more about the items and stories that can be found in these collections.

Dr. Elisabeth Gitter Author of The Imprisoned Guest: Samuel Howe and Laura Bridgman, the Original Deaf-Blind Girl

“To describe the historical materials at Perkins as a national treasure is no exaggeration: these letters and journals delineate the development of America’s awareness of the needs and capabilities of the disabled and a vision for their integration into the larger society.”

Featured resources

Explore some of our favorite and most recommended historical resources.

The Halifax Explosion centennial online exhibit

An online exhibit about the Perkins contribution to relief efforts following the Halifax Explosion of 1917.

Helen Keller timeline

A brief timeline of Helen Keller’s life and work.

Latest stories from the archives

Discover Perkins history

Learn more about the people, places, and events that have shaped Perkins since 1829 from the Perkins Archives team.

Earphone with an attached Lorgnette Model A handle, circa 1920s.
Latest processed collection

Learn about the latest processed collection with the finding aid for: Deafblind Department Hearing Aid Collection, 1920s-2000s, bulk 1960-1970s.

Group portrait of the International Teacher Training Class 1950-1951
Latest digitized collection

Explore the Teacher Training Program’s 1925-1984 photograph collection.

Robert Smithdas communicates with his secretary Herbert Lehman via the manual alphabet inJapan in 1967.
Latest issue of the Archives newsletter

Read the latest issue of the Perkins Archives Newsletter emailed quarterly.

Frequently Asked Questions

Looking for an answer?

  • Perkins School for the Blind requires permission for all image use, including personal, classroom, or publications. More information is available on our Image Licensing Page.
  • K-12 students wishing to use images for school projects, should email Archives staff at [email protected].

We are glad to help. Please visit the Hayes Research Library’s School Project Resources page to get started.

We are glad to help. Please contact the Research Library to get started. It helps us to know:

  • Where you are located (state, province, or country)
  • The type of resources you would find most helpful (peer reviewed research, personal experiences, historical information, etc.)
  • If asking for materials about an educational topic, the age range you are focusing on.
  • Any accessibility needs or other notes that may affect what materials will be useful to you.

Visit our Donations to Archives page for more information about what we collect and contact us at [email protected] to discuss.

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Join us on Instagram to see more of our collection every week! Follow @PerkinsArchives on Instagram to learn more about the items and stories in our collections.