Anne Sullivan would be proud: Perkins' 1966 Centennial Commemoration

Portrait of Anne Sullivan

Annie Sullivan portrait facing the camera, circa 1887.

November 18, 2016

This fall, I processed the “Anne Sullivan Centennial Commemoration” collection for the Perkins Archive.  I’m a graduate student at Simmons, and interning at Perkins was part of my course requirements for an archives class. I had never processed a collection from beginning to end before, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. This is one of the boxes I began with:

Old green file box filled with multicolored vinyl and manila folders, each full of letter-sized papers.

Four boxes of material (letters, magazines, clippings, mailings, proofs, and photographs) packed into vinyl pocket folders. The folders were labeled (“Washington Cathedral”, “Publicity”), but the labels didn’t always reflect what was actually in the folder. So I spread everything out and began refoldering:

Contents of an orange pocket folder, spread out across the frame, including white typed pages and green and brown typed carbon copies.

The collection turned out to be quite a mix. In the early 1960s, Perkins director Edward Waterhouse and his counterpart at the Industrial Home for the Blind in New York, Peter Salmon, began work on a collaborative project to celebrate the centennial of Anne Sullivan’s birth. The event was also intended to raise awareness about both schools’ efforts to expand education and employment opportunities for deafblind adults and children. So, although this collection consists of material related to the Centennial Celebration, it also offers a fascinating overview not only on the event, Anne Sullivan, deafblind awareness, and Perkins / IHB, but on publicity strategies in 1960s America.

In 1965, Waterhouse and Salmon settled on a series of events and began the work of arranging and publicizing them. At this point, Waterhouse hired Robert Campbell of Robert Campbell Associates as a coordinator / PR assistant.

In the 60s, before email, conference calls, and viral advertising, publicity was arranged through formal business letters and personal visits. While Campbell went to New York and tried to interest magazines in writing about Anne Sullivan and deafblind awareness, Waterhouse and Salmon (and their secretaries) hit the typewriters, writing hundreds of letters to politicians, civic groups, radio and TV stations, the Hollywood personalities involved with the production of “The Miracle Worker”, and Helen Keller. Their letters requested governors to proclaim “Anne Sullivan Week”, asked the President to present Anne Sullivan Awards at the main ceremony, networked with other schools for the blind and deaf on various related projects, and invited guests to the events.

Close-up of a letter, typed on white paper, addressed to Helen Keller. Transcription available at the bottom of the page.

Like the letter above, most of the correspondence is formal in tone, but their dry wit shines through in their correspondence with each other.  In a letter dated June 1, 1965, Salmon writes to Waterhouse:

“Our group felt that the meeting was delightful the other day, with the exception that our little dining room heated up. I am glad it was the dining room and not our conversation.”

On April 28, 1966, as Waterhouse prepares for Perkins graduation and a trip to Asia, he writes an informal letter to Salmon about the Centennial, and teases him about an uneven donation from the Cathedral:

“Bob Campbell tells me you received nice letters from the Cathedral and a contribution of two hundred dollars. This is wonderful, but I feel that I ought personally to be tremendously insulted insamuch as the nice letters they sent to us only [contained] one hundred and fifty dollars. Just why Peter Salmon commands the higher fee of the two of us for that fine joint performance we put on, I really don’t know. I think the whole thing is that they just think you are far more photogenic than I am.”

One of the most interesting items in the publicity material is a packet composed by Campbell, who pounded the pavement in New York in 1965 on behalf of the Centennial, trying to interest magazines and other media outlets in running articles on Anne Sullivan and deafblind education. It has the name and address of about 50 outlets, along with a note about the possibility of an article. A visit to “Cosmopolitan”, for example, has him promising his contact there information on “young, photogenic gals whose career venture is deaf-blind teaching”, while he notes “Chances are excellent!” at the New York Times, and “Generally I had the cold-shoulder feeling” at Parents Magazine.

Close-up of a page from a report of publicity calls (visits) to magazines. Typed on white paper. Transcription available at the bottom of the page.

The other project Campbell worked on during this time was the film “Legacy of Anne Sullivan”, and this collection contains the original production order for the movie, along with notes on the story and themes, information on participants, and a narrative.

The three men worked together on every aspect of the Commemoration, including guests, speakers, travel arrangements, and program design, all of which are reflected, through correspondence and the finished products, in these papers.

Working on this collection gave me a wonderful overview of Perkins in the 1960s, as well as all the hard work that went into planning, publicizing, and executing the Centennial. It was a great collection to process, and I am very happy to have had the chance to intern at the Perkins Archive.

Transcription for Helen Keller letter: March 24th, 1966 Dr Helen Keller, Arcan Ridge, Westport, Connecticut. Dear friend Helen Keller:

I send you greetings, and I am writing you at this time to let you know how things are progressing with regard to the Anne Sullivan Centennial Commemoration. So many good things have happened that it would be difficult to give you a catalog of all of them. The most important event will take place on April 17, 1966, when we will have a memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral, where as you know “teachers” remains are enshrined. This is a large cathedral and holds about 2,500 persons. The Perkins chorus of 70 young men and women will be on hand. Mary Switzer will make some references to Anne Sullivan and, undoubtedly, will be quoting you. We will place flowers on the bier of Anne Sullivan after the service. Both Perkins and IHB will be holding separate meetings during the week of April 10, and IHB will have a banquet on April 14 which is Anne’s birthday. Perkins and IHB are jointly making awards as follows: at Perkins on April 13 to several teachers of deaf-blind persons, on April 14 at the IBD banquet in New York awards will be given to administrators who have made contributions to the work of deaf-blind individuals, and at the Washington National Cathedral on April 17, we will honor several deaf-blind individuals from various parts of the United States who have achieved.  On the 28th of April Robert J Smithdas who is the Associate Director of the IHB Department for the Deaf-Blind, is to be designated as “The Handicapped American of the Year” by the President’s Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped. This award is to be given by the President of the United States. On May 15 the IHB will hold its “Day of Remembrance” at Burrwood where you visited some years ago and where we have your beautiful Helen Keller Garden. Here we will place a bronze tablet to the memory of Anne Sullivan so that she will always be remembered in your garden. Finally, on your birthday, June 27, we are changing the name of the original IHB residence to the Anne Sullivan Residence for Deaf-Blind Men.

Transcription for Campbell's media calls:

Cosmopolitan Magazine, 37th St at 8th Avenue, New York City. Saw Mr. George Walsh, Articles Editor. Mr. Walsh, while sympathetic, could not see how AS could fit in with the career-oriented thrust of the new editor (Helen Brown). We discussed young women entering field of teaching deaf-blind today. Took material and promised to go over it. I have since sent letter reinforcing idea of young, photogenic gals whose career venture is deaf-blind teaching - - and a bit of what it means.

Ebony Magazine, 1270 Avenue of the Americas, New York City 10020. Saw Mr. Allan Morrison, New York editor. (Main office: 1820 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, Illinois 60616). Mr. Morrison expressed definite interest in Negro children and adults at Perkins and the IHB. Asked to see any pictures that are now available of such children and adults.

Elks Magazine circ. 1.3 million, 386 Fourth Avenue, New York City, Regina Fisher, Assoc. Ed. Elks would be very much interested if tie-in can be established. Fisher suggested that we determine if local (and especially state) Elks have given to IHB or Perkins (especially IHB). If so, can we come up with a pix of money being presented, etc. Elks could then run short story working in Anne Sullivan Commemoration.