Halifax Disaster Collection Finding Aid

Samuel P. Hayes Research Library
Perkins School for the Blind
175 N. Beacon Street
Watertown, MA 02472


Edward E. Allen; Perkins School for the Blind

Date Range: 
Call number: 

Collection of correspondence, reports, statistics, publications, and clippings related to the relief effort for those blinded by the disastrous explosion of a weapons ship off the coast of Halifax, Nova Scotia on December 6, 1917, which left between 500-600 people with eye injuries. Edward E. Allen, the third director of Perkins Institution (now Perkins School for the Blind), was a member of the Red Cross Committee on Eye Victims of the Halifax Disaster. Allen also authored a paper titled “The Halifax Disaster of December 6, 1917 in its Relation To Blindness”, published by the American Association of Instructors of the Blind, 1918.

0.75 linear feet
Processed by: 

Processed by Molly Stothert-Maurer, 2013; Susanna Coit, 2017

Biographical/Historical notes: 

On the morning of December 6, 1917, two ships collided in the narrows between Halifax and Dartmouth. One of the ships, the Mont Blanc, was fully loaded with over 2,500 tons of highly explosive munitions and caught fire after the collision (MacDonald, 62). The crew abandoned the ship as it drifted towards the Halifax side of the harbor. Drawn by the brilliant colors of the burning explosives, many Haligonians watched the fire from their windows, unaware of the ship’s explosive cargo. About twenty minutes later, however, the ship exploded.

The area was absolutely devastated by the explosion as it demolished a large portion of the North End of Halifax and caused a twenty-foot tsunami (MacDonald, 60-66). Thousands of homes were completely destroyed by fires and the force of the blast. Windows 50 miles away were shattered by the force of the explosion and the shock was felt more than 270 miles northeast (Kitz, 24).

As the burning ship drifted towards Halifax, however, one sailor hurried to the Richmond Railway Yards to alert workers Vince Coleman and William Lovett of the situation. Lovett fled, but Coleman stayed, realizing that a train was due at the station momentarily. He sent a series of urgent telegraph messages to the train: “Munitions ship on fire. Making for Pier 6. Goodbye.” (Kitz, 22). These messages made their way down the line to Boston, triggering relief efforts just two hours after the Explosion.

On December 16, Perkins director, Edward E. Allen called the attention of the Red Cross to situation in Halifax and the number of people who suffered eye injuries. The Red Cross appointed their own committee to manage and oversee their efforts in Halifax. They named Allen as chairman of the “American Red Cross Committee on Eye Victims of the Halifax Disaster." The Director-General of Civilian Relief, W. Frank Persons, charged the committee “to report very frankly and explicitly the plans that seem most desirable and to estimate the necessary expenditure therefore, and to indicate what proportion of this outlay should, in your judgment, come from the American Red Cross”. 

Sources of information: 

Coit, S. (author), Hale, J. (contributor), and Arnott, J. (contributor). (2017) Halifax Explosion Centennial Exhibit. Perkins Archives, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA.

Kitz, Janet. Shattered City: the Halifax Explosion & the Road to Recovery. Nimbus, 2010.

MacDonald, Laura. Curse of the Narrows: the Halifax Disaster of 1917. Walker & Co., 2005. 

Credit line/Citation: 
Halifax Disaster Collection, Perkins School for the Blind

This collection contains correspondence, reports, and other documents. The materials represent the work that was done by Edward E. Allen both alone and as a member and chairman of various committees. The majority of the correspondence includes both formal and informal communication between Allen and other committee members and reports from Halifax. Reports include some that were presented at conferences, or published in journals and newsletters. 


Series 1: Correspondence
Series 2: Project Files
Series 3: Publications and Clippings

Container List: 

Series 1: Correspondence

Correspondence sent to Edward E. Allen, with many copies of letters forwarded between members of the Halifax Relief Committee, Sir Fredrick Fraser of the Halifax School for the Blind, directors of other schools and institutions for the blind, and officials at the American Red Cross.

Box 1

B1:F1: Bordley, Major James, Office of the Surgeon General, War Department, 1 letter, 1918

B1:F2: Burnham, Julia E., Perkins Alumnae Association, on behalf of the “older girls at Perkins”, 2 letters, 1918

B1:F2a: Carstens, C. C., American Red Cross, Halifax, 2 letters, 1918

B1:F3: Burrit, O. H., Pennsylvania Institution for the Instruction of the Blind, Overbrook, about 24 letters, 1917-1918

B1:F4: Fraser, Sir Frederick, Halifax School for the Blind, about 35 letters, 1917-1918

B1:F5: (continued) Fraser, Sir Frederick, Halifax School for the Blind, 12 letters, 1918

B1:F6: Deacon, J. Byron, Dept. Civilian Relief, American Red Cross

B1:F7: Halifax Relief Committee, 4 letters, 1917-1919

B1:F8: Harris, Robert E., written from “The Queens” in Toronto, 5 letters, 1918

B1:F9: Hayes, Charles B., Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, 2 letters, 1918

B1:F10: Hayes, Samuel P., Perkins Institution and Mount Holyoke College, 2 letters, 1918

B1:F11: McAloney, Thomas S., Western Pennsylvania Institution and A. A. I. B., 11 letters, 1917-1918

B1:F12: Persons, W. Frank, and Alice Higgins [Lathrop], American Red Cross, 13 letters, 1918

B1:F13: Rand, Lotta S., [Massachusetts Commission for the Blind], about 14 letters, 1918

B1:F14: Swift, S. C., Canadian National Library for the Blind, 5 letters, 1918

B1:F15: Van Cleve, Edward M., New York Institution for the Education of the Blind, about 45 letters, 1917-1918

B1:F16: Wright, Lucy, School of Social Work, Boston, Mass, 3 letters, 1918

B1:F17: Other correspondence:

Sexton, F. H., Military Hospitals Commission, Canada, 1 letter, 1918

Ruby Seal Club, 1 letter, 1918

McMahan, Mrs., Red Cross, 1 phone message, 1918

Everett, Elizabeth L., n. d.

Ternan, Gerald B., 3 letters, 1918

B1:F18: Letters from Edward. E. Allen to others, mostly copies of night letters, 25 letters and snippets, 1917-1918

Series 2: Project Files

B1:F19: Messages from blind person to those who lost their sight in the Halifax Disaster, several drafts of the same letter, 1918

B1:F20: Halifax Fund, financial information: yearly estimates, by department, and with estimates depending on 4 or 5 percent interest on principal investment over the course of 10 years, 1918

B1:F21: Press notice, C. F. Fraser, Supt. Halifax School for the Blind, 1917

B1:F22: Draft: “The Blinded of the Halifax Disaster. A Plan-” by E. E. Allen, handwritten notes, [1918]

B1:F23: Boston Placement Bureau and the Vocational Bureau materials: application materials, work record cards, and other business forms, n. d.

B1:F24: Sample medical and record cards, Perkins Institution and Pennsylvania School for the Blind, blank record cards labeled “Survey for Blind and Near-Blind Cases, Halifax Explosion, Dec. 6, 1917”, one small (pocket) writing board, n. d.

B1:F25: Handwritten draft: “The Halifax Disaster of Dec. 6, 1917, In Its Relation to Blindness”, by E. E. Allen, [1918]

B1:F26: Typed draft: “The Halifax Disaster of Dec. 6, 1917, In Its Relation to Blindness”, by E. E. Allen, printed in “The Light for the Blind”, Chicago, 1918

B1:F27: Project: collection of correspondence, copies of correspondence, statistics, notes, draft: “To the President and Members of the Corporation of the Halifax School for the Blind”, [1918]

B1:F28: Draft: “Resolution of Halifax Relief Committee December 27, 1917”, 1917

B1:F29: Notes: handwritten, E. E. Allen, [1918]

Box 2

B2:F30: Draft: “Report of the American Red Cross Committee on Eye Victims of the Halifax Explosion, December 6, 1917.”, [1918]

B2:F31: Minutes: American Red Cross Committee, 1918

B2:F32: Draft: “Results of the Eye Injuries, Explosion of December 6th, 1917, Halifax and Dartmouth, N. S.”, [1918]

B2:F32a: Draft: “Results of the Eye Injuries, Explosion of December 6th, 1917, Halifax and Dartmouth, N. S.”, [1918]

B2:F32b: Draft: “Results of the Eye Injuries, Explosion of December 6th, 1917, Halifax and Dartmouth, N. S.”, [1918]

B2:F33: Records, statistics and questionnaire (for patients), of those blinded in the Halifax explosion, 1918

B2:F34: Reports: Joint Executive Committee, labeled “Miss [Lotta] Rand’s report, Halifax, N. S., April 12, 1918”, 1918

Series 3: Publications and Clippings

B2:F35: Publications: “Saving Sight in Halifax”,The News Letter, New York, New York, Number 16, April, 1918, 2 copies

B1:F36-40: Clippings, newspaper, ca. 1918

Subject Headings: 

Halifax Explosion, Halifax, N.S., 1917

Perkins School for the Blind

Perkins School for the Blind—History

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