The spelling of Trencheri’s name varies. Sources in Paris and early Perkins documents use the spelling Trencheri. His own spelling in an early letter, the spelling in later resources, and his children’s surnames are spelled Trenchery. Resources in this collection include both spellings, and both should be used in searches. The spelling of Trencheri was selected as the predominant spelling for this article.
Emilie Pierre Trencheri (1813-1904) was originally from Dijon Côte-d’Or, France. Blind since he was an infant, Trencheri would attend the Institution Nationale des Jeunes Aveugles in Paris, where he was a classmate of Louis Braille (“Blind Educator”). The school was the first special school dedicated to teaching students who were blind and served as a model for successive schools, including Perkins School for the Blind. Like Louis Braille, Trencheri began teaching at the school he attended after graduation.
In 1831, Perkins’ Founding Director, Samuel Gridley Howe, traveled to Europe to visit schools and learn about the field of education for students with blindness. At the time, knowledge about how to teach students who were blind came from schools in France, England, Scotland, and Prussia. Trencheri was teaching Mathematics at the school in Paris when Howe met him and invited him to join his faculty (Brooks 107). In 1832 Howe returned from Europe with two teachers to assist him at the school, Emile Trencheri and John Pringle of Scotland.
Instruction began in July of 1836. In the first Annual Report, Emile Trencheri is listed as “Principal Teacher”(16). John Pringle, who taught handicrafts, was listed as “Master Workman” in the second Annual Report (20). Both teachers were blind, and Howe recognized the advantages of this. He was not just educating children but also proving that children who were blind could learn and that adults who were blind could support themselves. In January of 1834, the school’s Trustees said of Emile Trencheri,
“It is gratifying, moreover, to pay the tribute due to the persevering industry of our Mr. Trencheri, the instructor from the French institution, who, though blind from his infancy, possesses a great fund of acquired knowledge which he imparts to his pupils with remarkable success. Indeed, it is one of the most gratifying circumstances connected with the education of the blind, that they themselves when properly educated become the best teachers of their fellow blind” (“Winter Term,”).
An article about the new school appeared in the Penny Magazine in 1934 that described Trencheri as the principal teacher “whose intellectual acquirements are of the highest order, and who succeeds admirably in teaching the blind children geography, arithmetic, reading, writing, Etc. (“The New England Institution”).
In 1836 Trencheri moved to Alton, Illinois, where he lived until he died in 1904 (“Blind Educator”). He opened a music store there and is credited with both establishing the first music store in the central west and selling the first piano shipped west of the Mississippi River (“Emile Pierre Trenchery”). Trencheri also served as the Organist in the Catholic Cathedral In Alton for many years (“Blind Educator”). His four surviving children were born in Alton.
In a July 1891 issue of The Mentor, Otis Patton, the brother of Bryce Patten, founder of the Kentucky School for the Blind, recalls the school’s origins. In this remembrance, he mentions meeting Trencheri, his former teacher, at Perkins. Patton would join him as they both were headed to Louisville at the time (Otis, 211).
At the time of his death, Trencheri was remembered as being one of the “foremost blind musicians and educators in America half a century earlier and credited with bringing the system of braille to the United States (“Talented”). Trencheri is also described as having friendships with notable 19th Century figures, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William Hickling Prescott (“Emile Pierre Trenchery”).
In 1932, Trencheri’s daughter, Wilmine P. Trenchery, was a special guest of the school for the celebration of 100 years teaching students at Perkins (“To Be Special Guests”). Through the generosity of Trencheri’s granddaughter, Eugenie A. Whitmore, a suite in Northeast Building, brand new in 1970, was furnished and named in his honor (“Perkins Honors Founding Teacher”).
Several resources mentioned in this article include links to Perkins Archives’ digitized text available on the Internet Archive. These resources rely on optical character recognition (OCR) and downloadable file formats, including Daisy, to provide access to users who are blind and visually impaired. We acknowledge that OCR is prone to errors, and cannot recognize graphics or handwritten text, thus creating barriers to some of these materials. It is our intention that by providing the materials as is, the resource is findable online to all. If any of Perkins Archives resources accessed online aren’t accessible, in part or in whole, to a user because of a disability, we will provide an accessible version upon request. Please email [email protected] for more information.
“Blind Teachers of the Blind.” The Lantern, 15 June 1954, p. 4. Available on the Internet Archive.
McGinnity, B.L., Seymour-Ford, J. and Andries, K.J. (2004) Campus Place Names. Perkins History Museum, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA.
Mellor C. Michael. Louis Braille : A Touch of Genius. National Braille Press 2006. (Includes information about Trencheri).
Mention of Trencheri in letter from Louis Braille dated September 20, 1831, Louis Braille : Correspondance, p. 14. L’Institut National Des Jeunes Aveugles, 1999. Available on the Internet Archive.
Hale, Jen. “Emile Trencheri” Perkins Archives Blog, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown MA, April 14, 2023.