Esther (Blanchette) Connelly came to Perkins in 1932 and quickly made many friends. While at Perkins, she enjoyed typing, reading, and manual training. She also enjoyed gym and dancing and was a member of the Girls’ Glee Club and Scouts. Connelly lived in May, Glover, and possibly Bradley Cottages during her time at Perkins. After earning a certificate from the Manual Training Department in 1948, Connelly moved to Boston to look for a job. Her first job was part of the vending stamp program by the Randolph Sheppard Act. Over the years, she worked at a telephone company, the Red Cross Blood Center, and a greeting card company before running a smoke shop until her retirement in 2001. Connelly died in 2013.
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This interview is a digitized copy of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Perkins School for the Blind. The interview was conducted on June 11, 2004, by Kevin Hartigan. The audio and transcript provided have been edited to protect the privacy of the interviewee.
This oral history transcript may be quoted if cited. A preferred citation is provided. The interview may not be published in full except with the permission of the Perkins School for the Blind. For permission please contact [email protected].
Connelly, Esther (Blanchette). “Esther (Blanchette) Connelly oral history interview conducted by Kevin Hartigan,” 2004-06-11, Perkins Oral History Project, AG195-2007-06, Perkins School for the Blind Archives.
Kevin Hartigan: This is an oral history for Perkins School for the Blind. The date is June 11th, 2004. The interviewer is Kevin Hartigan. The interviewee is Esther Blanchette Connelly. Could you state your name for me and spell it again, please?
Esther Blanchette Connelly: Esther E-S-T-H-E-R Blanchette, B-L-A-N-C-H-E-T-T-E.
Connelly: Connelly, C-O-N-N-E-L-L-Y.
Hartigan: Thank you.
Hartigan: My first question, when did you first come to Perkins and what were your expectations? What did you expect when you came here?
Connelly: I came in 1932 and my expectations I don’t know.
Hartigan: You were a little one.
Connelly: I was little and the building seemed huge.
Hartigan: You came to the lower school?
Connelly: I don’t remember.
Hartigan: What did you enjoy most at Perkins? What was the thing that brought you the most joy?
Connelly: Being with a large family, being with a lot of people like kids my age.
Hartigan: You made a lot of friends?
Connelly: Oh, yes. We got into mischief.
Hartigan: Want to tell me a little bit about the mischief?
Connelly: Oh, no.
Hartigan: I’m sure the statute of limitation has run out.
Connelly: Well, I used to be the lookout. I had a lot of vision and the mischief makers did their own thing. But I was the lookout. And I would give some sort of a signal. And the one that had gotten in trouble with me because I was the last one they saw going through the door.
Hartigan: So you didn’t have any of the fun. You just got the blame.
Hartigan: That didn’t sound like a good deal. How about school classes? What classes did you like?
Connelly: I enjoyed typing, reading. I enjoyed the manual training classes. I enjoyed working at the PBX telephone office. And math I was not that crazy about, but I ended up during my career using a lot of math.
Hartigan: What you learned at Perkins ended up being useful.
Connelly: That’s right but I didn’t think at the time it was anything I’d be interested in.
Hartigan: We never do. We never do. How about cottage life? What was life like in the cottage?
Connelly: Oh, I loved it. I loved it.
Hartigan: What cottage where you in?
Connelly: May cottage. Oh, and then that Glover when I was a youngster and maybe Bradley too.
Hartigan: Any special memories in the cottage? Things you liked or the food?
Connelly: Well I like meeting different girls. I was always amazed how the totally blind girls got along in a cottage without any canes or dogs. They never seemed to fall down stairs, and I always wondered how they did it. But now that I lost my sight, I can understand. It’s by distance and sound.
Hartigan: Any hobbies or clubs that you belong to?
Connelly: I belong to the Girls Glee Club and the Scouts.
Hartigan: Any memories of Scouts? What kind of activities did you do?
Connelly: We did a lot of things. I enjoyed going down to the Cape with the group. And the Girl Scout leader seemed to have a friend that had a cottage, and we all spent the weekend at the college preparing our meals and doing different things working toward our badges. And I was so happy to be on the oceanfront because to me I never saw an ocean.
Hartigan: Do you know where on the Cape you were?
Connelly: Unfortunately, no.
Hartigan: You don’t remember. That’s OK. The kids still go down the Cape once a year. Any special memories of a specific teacher or staff person that had an influence on you that you remember fondly or special favorite?
Connelly: Well I liked my gym teacher. We had Bee Pankim them was one then Dorothy Rogers was another and Miss Mass who is our swimming teacher. And I liked social studies.
Hartigan: You were talking a lot about gym and sports and did you play a lot of sports? You enjoyed sports, physical activities?
Connelly: Well, I enjoyed dancing and gym. I enjoyed gym, but I was limited because I was always in poor health.
Hartigan: Tell me about the dances. What were they like?
Connelly: They were lots of fun.
Hartigan: Where would they be held?
Connelly: Lloyd Hall. And another dance I remember doing we put on a production and my gym teacher and I did a duet I mean and that was fun.
Hartigan: So you sang?
Connelly: No, we were doing a dance.
Hartigan: Oh, a dance. Wonderful. Any significant historical event happened during your time at Perkins and do you have memories of that?
Connelly: When Roosevelt died. And that was a sad event and our house mother, Mrs. Love, was very good about taking her into her room that night and talking to us about various things that women talk about. She was one of the first ones that taught us hygiene and the change of life and how we girls are growing up because the word sex in my life, if we said it we used to get our mouth washed out.
Hartigan: Things have changed.
Connelly: It sure has, right.
Hartigan: Talk a little bit more about President Roosevelt and the war.
Connelly: I was heartbroken because I know that one of the things he did that was very, very important was by signing the Social Security. And I was very impressed with that and I liked his fireside chats.
Hartigan: Did you used to listen to those in the cottage?
Connelly: If we were good. If we minded.
Hartigan: It was a reward.
Hartigan: Any other memories of the war and how things changed during the war here because you came in ’32, so you must remember?
Connelly: I remember the– in ’32 had happened– the Depression. It just kind of frightened you a little because you didn’t know what was happening. And didn’t the Queen get married that in those times, the Queen of England?
Hartigan: Might have been around that time. You remember.
Connelly: Well anyway, the war was very sad because when I used to look out of my bedroom window I could see this big streak of light going over the sky.
Hartigan: Like a spotlight?
Connelly: Yes. They were searching the sky. And then we used to have the air raid testing– drills I should say. And we’d have to get our partner and go very systematically down the stair and we had specific orders. And when we went to bed at night we’d always had our slippers in the foot of the bed along with our bathrobe. And if we were in bed we’d have to get up and just go. Find your partner and go downstairs in formation.
Hartigan: Was that frightening?
Connelly: It was.
Connelly: It was. Especially the rise and bell was so loud.
Hartigan: Well it’s the same now with the fire alarm, and the kids feel the same way.
Connelly: It was very terrifying.
Hartigan: What did you do after you left Perkins?
Connelly: We started looking for work. And first I wanted to leave home. I didn’t think I wanted to stay there the rest of my life. My parents, my mother especially, didn’t think I was going to make anything of myself because of my handicap, and I wanted to prove otherwise. So I finally packed a bag and left and moved to Boston.
Connelly: And then I went to work for one of the teachers, our music teacher. She had a little girl and I decided the only way I’m going to learn my way around Boston or Watertown was to take this job. And while I was taking care of this little girl, I was taking the streetcars and the buses just to learn my way around. And once I got the confidence for myself after two years, I handed in my resignation and I started looking myself for jobs. And I always had a job.
Hartigan: You mentioned before that you ended up using your math in your job. What did you do?
Connelly: Well, I get into the vending stamp program by the Randolph Sheppard Act. And I got into that program, but I did other jobs prior to that. I tried different jobs. And I worked for telephone company, Liberty Mutual, on the board there because I had a certificate. And then I worked for the Red Cross blood center.
Connelly: In either one of those jobs, I didn’t like sitting still or a headset on my ears, I just got fed up with that. Then when the war was going real strong, the Commission of the Blind found me this job, soldering wires to a panel board, which we weren’t told what it was. And I didn’t like that at all. I just didn’t care for that.
Connelly: Then I worked for a greeting card company. I stayed there about a year and then I just didn’t know where I was going to turn because I didn’t have any money to eat. So I met with a friend of mine and she asked me if I wanted a job. I said oh yes, anything. When she mentioned something about food, I said that’s the job for me because I was hungry.
Connelly: And I figured I was going to stay there until I find what I really wanted which I didn’t. And so I spent 54 years doing that. And I had to do my set of books. I had to have a report done for taxes. I had to have the report done for the Commission. I had to report every week on that. And then I had to do my quarterly taxes. And we didn’t have calculators. We had to do it in pen and paper.
Hartigan: Today’s graduation day. So what advice would you give to the class of 2004 as they’re leaving Perkins?
Connelly: If it’s possible and you are mobile, go out and find your own job and prove to them that you can go out and do yourself a favor, don’t depend on anybody. Persevere and you’ll win.
Hartigan: Any question I didn’t ask? Anything else you’d like to say about your time at Perkins or your memories?
Connelly: Well, I was very, very fortunate to be at Perkins. Monetarily at home there was not enough money because my father was bringing in a paycheck for 11 people. I had 6 and 5 of them siblings. And then when the boys went to war too we had to– just my mother what we could do. I don’t know. I was just lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time.
Hartigan: Great. Thank you very much.
End of interview.