Kyriake Nicolaou and the Queens of Avalon

Portrait of girl standing outside wearing short sleeve shirt with a scarf.

Kyriakie Nicolaou at Camp Allen in Reeds Ferry, New Hampshire, circa 1932.

October 22, 2020

In 1934, Kyriake Nicolaou made it clear in an interview that, “there was nothing wonderful in what she had accomplished in those two years at the Perkins Institute, she was just an ordinary girl who wished to be considered as such.” While Nicolaou might have thought of herself as an “ordinary girl,” her story was not.

Nicolaou came to Perkins from Greece after her family was killed during a massacre in Turkey in 1921, when she was just 8 years old. An article in the Boston Globe in 1933 told the story: “...Kyrie joined the weary march to Greek territory. Sanitation and living conditions were indescribable and somewhere along the line Kyriakie [sic] contracted a malady which robbed her of her sight.” Officials at the Near East Orphanage believed that she was a “child of promise” and sent her to the United States to be educated at Perkins (called Perkins Institute for the Blind at the time) (Enterprise, March 1934). When she arrived at Ellis Island, her eyes were red and swollen from crying. Fearing trachoma, officials held her in a hospital for examinations and diagnosis. Eventually, physicians pronounced her “safe for admission” and Nicolaou arrived at Perkins shortly thereafter. Her education was funded by “a person amply able to assume the responsibility (Enterprise, March 1934).

While Nicolaou was at Perkins, she participated in performances. She played the role of “Worthington, Little Dan’s Uncle” in Peggy on January 15,1937 and led the “Seirtos,” a Greek dance, during a program of folk and original dancing the same year. During the Centennial of Michael Anagnos, Nicolaou gave a short talk titled “Perkins Gift to Greece Through Me” in which she emphasized her desire to share her experience and knowledge with people who were blind in Greece. She said that following graduation, she will “sail to Greece, where I shall take the happy spirit of Perkins and the lighted torch of learning.” A 1934 article states that “The young girl’s teachers believe she may become a second Helen Keller for she has made rapid progress since coming to the Institution. Though she could not speak English two years ago she talks and writes very well, types accurately, plays the piano, sings in the glee club and is clever with her hands.”

Nicolaou also played the piano. She explained in a 1934 article that she loves piano music and that she “places the sheet of music in her lap and reads one or two measures at a time, first playing it with the right hand and then with the left until she commits it to memory.”

During the summer of 1933, Nicolaou attended Camp Allen as one of the first campers. The next summer, in 1934, Nicolaou was “adopted” by the Queens of Avalon, a club in Marlboro, Massachusetts. During school vacations, she lived with members of the group and participated in activities and events they scheduled. She stayed with Mr. and Mrs. Burton S. Lippard during Easter vacation and attended “concerts, luncheons,” and “visits to the homes of the various girls for getting better acquainted that her adopted sisters may know how best to help her attain her coveted goal of getting an education…”. 

In 1934, a reporter described Nicolaou: “While most seventeen-year old girls are thrilled over the movie magazines, Kyriaki [sic] is reading the classics, becoming familiar with the opera and revelling in poetry, and she reads as quickly and readily as any one having the sense of sight, for she declares, “one enjoys the operas so much more when the story is familiar.” 

When Nicolaou was asked what she enjoyed most during one of her stays with the Queens of Avalon, she quickly answered “everything,” and went on to say that she “did enjoy attending the Greek church.” But during the summer of 1934, Nicolaou traveled to New York after a week with the Queens of Avalon, to study at a summer school in New York and then stayed in Plymouth, Massachusetts until it was time to go back to school at Perkins (Enterprise, August 1934).

Nicolaou’s relationship with the Queens of Avalon continued in 1935 as she spent Christmas vacation with Mrs. Goodwin (“for the third year”) (Public Spirit, 1935). Later that year, the Queens of Avalon sent Nicolaou a trunk for her birthday and “renovated and renewed” her wardrobe to prepare her for the summer. After “a brief rest and visit with friends” in New Hampshire, Nicolaou entered the New York School for the Blind for a six week summer school (Enterprise, 1935).

Nicolaou is listed as a student in the Perkins Annual Reports from 1932 through 1936. After completing her study at Perkins, Nicolaou began the Harvard Teacher Training program at Perkins as she prepared to return to Greece to teach (Enterprise, 1935).

The Executive Secretary of the Near East Foundation, Mr. E.C. Miller, reported in 1939 that he “made an inspection of the work that is being conducted by Miss Kyrieake [sic] Nicolaou” and that he discovered her “doing excellent work under rather difficult conditions and there isn’t any doubt but that the training she received at Perkins Institution makes her the outstanding leader in this field.”

After this report, however, it seems that Perkins lost touch with Nicolaou as a report of Teacher Training alumni in the 1942 Annual Report laments “We often wonder what has become of...Kyriake Nicolaou, a pupil for five yeas, who left in 1937 to teach in Athens.” 

 

Sources:

(March 1934). “Queens Adopt Greek Girl.” Marlboro, Mass. Enterprise. Available on the Internet Archive. 

(April 1934). “Appreciates New Sisters.” Hudson, Mass. Sun. Available on the Internet Archive.

(August 1934). [No title]. Marlboro, Mass. Enterprise. Available on the Internet Archive.

(January 1935). [No title]. Avon, Mass. Public Spirit. Available on the Internet Archive. 

(June 1935). “Queens Remember Adopted Daughter on Birthday”. Marlboro, Mass. Enterprise. Available on the Internet Archive. 

Lyons, Leo J. (1933). "Camp for Blind Girls Opened by Lions Club". The Boston Globe. Available on the Internet Archive.

Perkins School for the Blind (1934). “Founder’s Day Program -- November 7, 1934”. Available on the Internet Archive. 

The Perkins Institution (1939). “From Our Mail.” The Lantern, Vol. VIII, No. 4. Available on the Internet Archive. 

Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind (1942). “The Harvard Class.” One Hundred and Eleventh Annual Report. Available on the Internet Archive.