Grace (Swanson) Toth (1921-2008) entered Perkins as a student in 1921. She graduated in 1939, but remained at the institution until she got a job in April 1940. She is photographed above with the female members of the class of 1939. She is second from the right in the back row. While at Perkins she was particularly fond of mathematics and languages – especially Latin and French. She was the president of the Sport Club and also a member of the Handwork Club, as an avid knitter. After Perkins she went to the Wilson House Industries where she worked sewing pillow cases during a shortage. While working there, she learned cane skills and went on to use those skills as a home teacher in Connecticut for five years before having children. Over her life, she worked as a teacher of people who are blind and deaf for 25 years. She and her husband, Frank William “Bill” Toth had four children.
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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 unedited.
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 The interview may not be published in full except with the permission of the Perkins School for the Blind.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]
Toth, Grace. “Grace Toth oral history interview conducted by Kevin Hartigan,” 2004-06-11, Perkins Archives Oral History Project, AG195-2004-12, Perkins School for the Blind Archives.
Kevin Hartigan: This is an oral history for Perkins School for the Blind. It’s 6/11, 2004. The interviewer is Kevin Hartigan. The interviewee is Grace Toth. Grace, could you please state your name and spell your last name for me?
Grace Toth: Grace Toth, t o t h.
Hartigan: Great, thank you. Could I ask you your date of birth and the place of birth?
Toth: 6/15/21, 1921, that is. Brockton, Mass.
Hartigan: OK. Grace, before you came to Perkins, what were your expectations? What did you think Perkins would be like before you came here?
Toth: Well, I was only six, so you know.
Hartigan: So this was your first experience with school?
Toth: And it’s a funny thing. I had– I knew I had clothes, that I had a suitcase and nightgown and everything. Yet the first day I came, I still expected my mother to come back. I’m sure she told me that I would– but when you’re small, you take in what you want to take in, so they say.
Hartigan: Right. So it was a little bit of a shock that mom wasn’t here.
Hartigan: What was your greatest joy as a student at Perkins? What did you like the most?
Toth: Oh. Do you mean in–
Hartigan: It can be anything. It can be in the– what did you– you know, what’s your happiest memory or the thing that you remember fondest?
Toth: Oh, bugger. It’s hard to pick out really. You know, I mean, I enjoyed my– I liked class. I liked school, you know, lessons, and so forth. You know how, Chris, when you’re a child, you– everybody says they hate school. I suppose, basically, it’s hard to say, you know, how you feel about it, but you don’t hate it.
Toth: And couldn’t say.
Hartigan: OK. Were there favorite classes? What was your favorite class?
Toth: Well, I liked music and I liked– because I loved arithmetic and I liked languages.
Hartigan: What languages did you study here?
Toth: Latin and French.
Hartigan: Did you have any special favorites in teachers or staff that you would say had a great influence on you?
Toth: Well, I don’t really think of things in that way for some reason. I liked a lot of them. You know, a lot of them were very pleasant and nice, and then there were the ones that we–
Hartigan: You didn’t like.
Hartigan: I won’t ask you about them but–
Hartigan: How about cottage life? What did you do in the cottage? What did you like to do after school?
Toth: Well, of course, we had some homework eventually and we– I guess we played a few games, maybe, two card games, so we just sat and gabbed or whatever.
Hartigan: Now you were here from 1927 till when?
Toth: I graduated in 1939.
Toth: Yeah. And I stayed on until– I came back and stayed until April of 1940, when I got a job and left.
Hartigan: OK. Any big historical events that you remember happening during the time you were at Perkins?
Toth: Oh, yeah, there was the 100th anniversary, yeah.
Hartigan: What do you remember about that?
Toth: Well, they had a concert in Jordan Hall– I think it was Jordan Hall– and we– I was in sixth grade. Yeah, that was the spring– the autumn of 1932, so I was in sixth grade and we sang. And actually, we sang a Christmas Carol called the Chorus– Cornish Bells, and I guess the chorus sang too. I don’t remember much else about the program, but I know we sang.
Hartigan: OK. If you got to be the teacher now and you can give Perkins a grade, A, B, C, D, E, or F, what grade would you give Perkins?
Toth: Well, I would say it would really be quite high. It’s certainly, as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure it’s got it all over the public school business that they’re trying to do now, because we were able to have a life, social life, I think, much better than what children get who live at home and go out to school like that. And we also, I think, learned a lot to do a lot more than the children– I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that children who don’t see and live in their home are not forced by their parents to do a lot of the things that we learned to do and should learn to do.
Hartigan: Can you give me an example of something that maybe you were forced to do that you might not have done if you stayed at home?
Toth: I wasn’t forced. It’s school, but, I mean, this was just part of life here. But at home, if the kid says, I don’t want to, and then the mother might not make them.
Hartigan: Right. There were teachers here let you do it for yourself.
Toth: Well, I mean, we were assigned our particular jobs and we did them.
Hartigan: What was your job? What were some of the jobs that you had here?
Toth: One of my favorite ones was– because I could do in the morning and get it over with– was taking a dustpan and brush and going down the– brushing the stairs. That was great because I was finished for the day with housework.
Hartigan: Now were there any jobs you didn’t like that maybe they gave you here?
Toth: I can’t think of one right now.
Toth: And you see, I’ve raised a family and so, you know, a lot of things– I still don’t like to do a housework very much. I have a cleaning lady.
Hartigan: That’s good.
Hartigan: Not even the stairs? You don’t brush down the stairs?
Toth: I don’t have to because the stairs have a carpet on them and go down into the basement where my laundry room is.
Hartigan: How about hobbies or clubs that you belonged to while you were here at Perkins?
Hartigan: I know you loved music. Anything else?
Toth: Yeah. One year, they had us all kind of break up in two different clubs and so forth. At that time, I joined the handwork club. I was and still am quite a knitter. And then I joined– left that the next year and joined the sport club. Eventually, I was president of that.
Hartigan: And what sports?
Toth: Well, kind of stupid. Part of it was some bowling, but we went tobogganing and I think we just called it the sport club because it wasn’t all sports. It was a good–
Hartigan: Just outside activities and physical activity.
Hartigan: Now did you go bowling here in the bowling alley at Perkins.
Toth: No. There was no bowling alley here. Not that I knew about.
Hartigan: There was one later. It’s a different period, I guess. There was a bowling alley when I started working here.
Toth: That wasn’t 65 years ago.
Hartigan: No, it wasn’t.
Toth: That’s when I graduated.
Hartigan: Was it?
Hartigan: Do you keep in touch with any of your friends from Perkins?
Toth: Yeah, so a couple of times a year, at least, we– I talked with Mary-Jane and Saber, who are here, and I– we exchanged Christmas cards with some of my classmates and friends. We exchanged Christmas cards and, you know, things like that. And a few others, I talked to them.
Hartigan: Great. What did you do after you left Perkins?
Toth: First, I went to a place that was known as the Wilson House Industries, and I worked on a pillow case project for the government basically and some others. When there weren’t pillow cases, we did some sewing for the state, and this was in– from 1940 to ’46. And then I left– well, I learned a cane during that time, too, during one of the slack spells because it looked as though I might become a home teacher, which I did, and I went to Connecticut to be a home teacher. And I married my driver’s brother four years later, and I only taught for five years because I was pregnant at night. Quit. And now– and then I had four children.
Hartigan: So is Toth your married name?
Hartigan: Toth, I’m sorry.
Toth: It’s my married name.
Hartigan: What was your maiden name?
Hartigan: Today’s graduation day at Perkins. If you could speak to the graduating class, do you have any advice you’d give them? To the class of 2004–
Toth: Yeah, right
Hartigan: From the class of 1939?
Toth: Just enjoy it and do everything you can and more, if you can
Hartigan: And the last one, I promised I would let people answer is, is there anything I didn’t ask you about you’d like to tell us about your memories of Perkins?
Toth: They’re good, you know, and, naturally, there were– I wasn’t always an angel, you know.
Toth: It was fun.
Hartigan: Well, that sounds–
Toth: I’m glad that I had the chance to go to a school like this, and I’m sorry for the ones that don’t.
Hartigan: Can I ask one more question since you– you said you weren’t always an angel. Can you tell me some of the naughty things you might have done here at Perkins? What did you do to cause trouble?
Toth: Gee whiz.
Hartigan: I’m sure the statute of limitation has run out.
Toth: Yeah, I’m sure it has too.
Toth: Well, probably same things to other kids might do, you know. I don’t– I can’t think of anything particular right now that I care to admit to.
Toth: No, I really don’t think of anything in particular.
Hartigan: All right.