Samuel Eliot was a historian and educator who served on the Perkins Board of Trustees for 33 years – including as the president from 1872 to 1897. Beyond Perkins, Eliot was well known in Boston and New England. He was a professor of history and political science at Trinity College in Connecticut. He served as president of the College from 1860 to 1864 and kept teaching at the school until 1874, even after he returned to Boston in 1864. Eliot was an overseer at Harvard from 1866 until 1872 and lectured in history from 1870 to 1873. From 1872 until 1876, he was the headmaster of the Boston Girls’ High and Normal School and was named Superintendent of Boston Public Schools in 1878. In addition to serving on the board of trustees at Perkins, Eliot was involved with the boards of Massachusetts General Hospital, the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), the Boston Athenaeum, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Massachusetts Bible Society, and the Massachusetts Historical Society.
A life-long friend of Perkins’ founding director, Samuel Gridley Howe, Eliot thought highly of the work done at Perkins and was eager to celebrate the school’s accomplishments. In 1882, he said that “No words are needed from my lips to tell you what the work is that is accomplished by the school. What the pupils do will be the best comment on the institution.” In a memorial written following Eliot’s death in 1898, Perkins’ second director Michael Anagnos described Eliot as an “able and distinguished leader” who was “a public spirited man.” At Perkins, Anagnos wrote, “We never think of him simply as a scholar.” Anagnos remembered that “In the cause of the education of the blind Dr. Eliot took a most profound interest, and contributed to its advancement an ample share of his time and the best of his energies.” He went on: “[Eliot’s] constancy in doing good to the blind faltered not, nor did his labors of love in their behalf fail.” In both his role as a member of the Board of Trustees and as president, “he was mindful of the responsibility placed upon him, and discharged his duties with absolute exactness and with conscientious adherence to the highest rules of right.”
One of Eliot’s most public roles as president of the Board of Trustees was to address students and families at events and school gatherings, like graduations. Annual Reports from the time of his tenure are full of excerpts from these speeches. Anagnos remarked in the 1895 Annual Report that Eliot “always speaks to the point and never repeats himself.” In 1894, Eliot offered some advice to the graduates: “You need to feel that the world to you will be very much what you choose to make of it, and that the life to be lived in the world will be very much according to the purpose which you form, and which nobody can possibly form for you.”
Dr. Eliot’s work is still remembered on Perkins’ campus; Eliot Cottage is named for Dr. Eliot.