Students with Deafblindness at the Perkins School for the Blind Collection Finding Aid

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

various papers and drawings

Image with illustration of a student and teacher, a drawing of a house by Ernest Smith (1919), and a sample of Oliver Caswell's handwriting (1844).


Perkins School for the Blind

Date Range: 
1813-1962, bulk 1840-1940
Call number: 

Multiple papers concerning various Perkins students who are Deafblind. Papers include correspondence, teacher notes, student works, newspaper clippings and articles, one scrapbook, and many teacher journals.

5 linear feet
Processed by: 

Elizabeth Constanti, 2014

Biographical/Historical notes: 

Perkins is the oldest school for the blind in the United States and the first school to formally educate a person with deafblindness. This began with Laura Bridgman who enrolled in 1837. Bridgman was taught with methods devised by Samuel Gridley Howe, Perkins Founding Director, and included the use of the manual alphabet (or tactile fingerspelling) to communicate. These methods were learned by Perkins graduate Anne Sullivan, and used fifty years later to educate Helen Keller.

In the years between, and for decades afterward, many other children who were deafblind were educated at Perkins. Although Anne Sullivan’s creative, child-guided educational techniques were groundbreaking, the approach to educating Perkins students who were deafblind varied little from Laura Bridgman’s day. Each child had his or her own special teacher, usually a young unmarried woman who was on duty constantly from morning to night, sometimes around the clock. The children attended classes with the other Perkins students, and their special teachers fingerspelled the lessons and provided supplementary information.

Helen Keller enjoyed communicating with the world at large, and she worked hard to learn to speak orally. Keller’s efforts influenced educators of the deafblind to focusing on oral speech. Sophia K. Alcorn of Kentucky developed a method (Tadoma) to teach oral speech to people who were deafblind, and Inis B. Hall introduced it at Perkins. In 1931 Perkins School for the Blind opened a special department for students with deafblindness. Prior to this time, a special teacher was hired for each pupil, but once the new department was established, teachers trained in speech development were hired for classroom instruction, and residential staff was hired for time outside of the classroom. The Tadoma method (named for students Tad Chapman and Oma Simpson), one placed a hand on the face of the speaker, thumbs lightly touching the lips and fingers spread on the cheek and upper neck. The listener could identify speech by feeling air, lip and jaw movement and vibration of the speakers vocal cords as each sound was made. Tadoma was the primary method of teaching speech and language to children who were deafblind until the early 1950s. Mastering Tadoma was very time consuming, and Perkins established a separate Deafblind Program to focus on the needs of those students.

Oliver Caswell (c.1830-1896) was a student of the Perkins Institution alongside Laura Bridgman, who helped educate him under the direction of Dr. Howe. He grew up with his family in Rhode Island. He arrived at Perkins Institution in 1841 and was among the first students who were deafblind. At the age of twelve he began his education at school and he learned the manual alphabet, and how to write and read. He had a talent for woodworking and building, and this was thought to be a future profession for him. Oliver Caswell died in 1896 at the age of sixty.

Edith Thomas was born October 8, 1878 in northern cost, Massachusetts. At the age of four she fell ill with scarlet fever and diphtheria and lost her sight. By age six she lost her hearing as well. She eventually lost her ability to speak and at age eight enrolled in the new Kindergarten for the Blind in Jamaica Plain. In nine months she had a command of 400 words in sign language, and by the time she transferred to the main Perkins Institution in South Boston this number increased to 700. Edith was classmates with Helen Keller. Edith was strong-willed, adept at manual labor skilled in sloyd style woodworking, knitting, and sewing.

Leonard Dowdy came to Perkins School for the Blind in 1932 when he was five years old. He lost his vision and hearing as a result of spinal meningitis, at the age of 21 months. Dowdy used the Tadoma method of communication, whereby he placed his right hand on the speaker's lips, jaw, and vocal chords. He was able to express himself through speech, as well as tactile sign language. Leonard graduated from Perkins School for the Blind in 1948.

Julia Brace (1807-1884) Born in Newington, CT, Julia Brace became deafblind at the age of 4 and a half, due to Typhus Fever. At seventeen years of age Julia enrolled in what is now known as the American School for the Deaf (previously called Hartford Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb). Julia was the first deafblind person to receive instruction, and was taught tactile sign language. In 1842 Julia enrolled at Perkins Institution but did not stay long and left to go back to her familiar sign language at the American School for the Deaf. She lived in Bloomfield, CT with family until her death in 1884.

Sources of information: 

Fish, Anna Gardner. "Edith Thomas" in The blind-deaf : A monograph, being a reprint of The Deaf-Blind, with revision and additions / Wade, William. Indianapolis IN: Hecker Brothers, 1904.

Perkins School for the Blind Museum, webpage.

Deafblind History, Minnesota State Academies webpage. Retrieved 3/18/14.

Julia Brace. Dartmouth College Library Bulletin webpage. Retrieved 3/18/14.

“Laura Bridgman and Oliver Caswell”. American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb. Vol. 20, Issue 1. 1875. Print.

Perkins School for the Blind Annual Reports. /history/archives/collections/perkins-annual-reports

Credit line/Citation: 
Students with deafblindness at the Perkins School for the Blind Collection, Perkins School for the Blind

6 manuscript, 24 boxed volumes

Series 1: Oliver Caswell

Series 2: Edith M. Thomas

Series 3: Leonard Dowdy

Series 4: Teacher Journals

Series 5: Newspaper Clippings & Published Works

Subseries 1: Julia Brace clippings
Subseries 2: Perkins School/Deafblind related clippings
Subseries 3: Perkins students and others who are Deafblind, clippings/works

Container List: 

Series 1: Oliver Caswell

Box 1

Folder 1: Oliver Caswell’s journal, March 8, 1844

Folder 2: Letter from Oliver Caswell to Miss. Rogers, Square hand, March 29, 1849

Folder 3: Oliver Caswell correspondence, 1882

Folder 4: Letter from Oliver Caswell, 1890

Folder 5: Writings of Oliver Caswell, undated

Folder 6: Writings of Oliver Caswell, undated

Folder 7: Writings of Oliver Caswell, undated

Folder 8: Writings of Oliver Caswell, undated

Series 2: Edith M. Thomas 8 teacher journals 

Box 7: Edith M. Thomas journal kept by teacher Miss. Fletcher, 1887  

Box 8: Edith M. Thomas journal kept by teacher, 1893-1894 

Box 9: Edith M. Thomas journal kept by teacher, 1894-1895 

Box 10: Edith M. Thomas journal kept by teacher Evelyn Torrey, 1895-1896 

Box 11: Edith M. Thomas journal kept by teacher Edith Moultrie Thurston, 1896-1897 

Box 12: Edith M. Thomas journal kept by teacher, 1897-1898 

Box 13: Edith M. Thomas journal kept by teacher, 1900-1902 

Box 14: Edith M. Thomas journal kept by teacher, 1902 

Box 1 

Folder 9: Letter entries by Edith Thomas & Miss. Fletcher, removed from teacher journal, 1887-1889   

Series 3: Leonard Dowdy

2 teacher journals

Box 15: Leonard Dowdy journal kept by teacher, 1932-1935

Box 16: Leonard Dowdy journal kept by teacher, 1936-1938

Box 2

Folder 10: Leonard Dowdy reports, 1932-1934

Folders 11-21: Leonard Dowdy, reports on, 303 pages, 1934

Folder 22: Leonard Dowdy, observational report, 1934

Folder 23: Leonard Dowdy, vocabulary development & observational reports, 1934

Folder 24: Leonard Dowdy vocabulary lists, 1934

Folder 25: Leonard Dowdy report on “Development of Meaningful Language”, 1934

Folder 26: Leonard Dowdy vocabulary studies, undated

Folder 27: Leonard Dowdy reports on school life & vocabulary lessons, undated

Series 4: Teacher journals 

Box 17: Willie Elizabeth Robin, 1905-1906

Box 18: Nellie Winitzky, 1905-1907

Box 19: Nellie Winitzky, 1907-1911

Box 20: Nellie Winitzky, 1911-1912

Box 21: Louis Yott, 1907-1908

Box 22: Louis Yott, 1907-1911

Box 23: Louis Yott, 1912-

Box 24: Carmella Otero, 1934-1936

Box 25: Carmella Otero, 1936-1937

Box 26: Patricia Mead Homans, teacher journal kept by Inis B. Hall, 1935

Box 27: Margaret & James Allen (twins), 1937

Box 28: Ralph Gautz, 1937-1938

Box 29: Patrick J. Quealy, 1935-1936

Box 30: Dovie May Yocom, 1937-1938

Box 3:

Folder 28: Draft of deafblind lesson plan written by teacher Inis B. Hall, [1932]

Series 5: Newspaper Clippings & Published Works

Subseries 1: Julia Brace clippings

Box 3

Folder 29: Julia Brace, Articles & Booklets, deafblind, 1817-1890

Julia Brace studio portrait with her name pin pricked at the bottom. Given as a gift to Laura Bridgeman, from a Miss [Storrs]. Written on the back of the photo is; “Julia Brace see 10th Report Appendix D pp. 58-60”, n. d.

Folder 30: Julia Brace, deafblind. Hampden Federalist newspaper article, 1818

Folder 31: Poem about the Deafblind, The Connecticut Mirror, 1826

Folder 32: Julia Brace Collection-Annals of Education and Instruction, 1831

Folder 33: The Religious Magazine and Family Miscellany, 1837

Subseries 2: Perkins School/Deafblind related clippings

Box 3

Folder 34: Living Age magazine, American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb, 1844, 1848

Folder 35: Articles/Periodicals related to deafblind, 1849-1897

Folder 36: “Four Fortunate Unfortunates” article, The Home Maker magazine, Issue 6, March 1892

Box 4

Folder 37: Periodicals with deafblind articles, 1897, 1900, 1902

Folder 38: Newspaper clippings & Magazine articles, 1900’s

Folder 39: Articles/Newspaper clippings concerning deafblind, 1900’s

Folder 40: Silent Worker newspaper vol. XIV Issue 1, Sept. 1901

Folder 41: Lottie Sullivan, deafblind, newspaper clippings March 1903

Folder 42: British Deaf Times, 1909

Folder 43: Volta Review, 1913, 1933

Folder 44: The Volta Review, American Annals, 1919, 1911

Folder 45: Newspaper Articles, 1935

Subseries 3: Perkins students and others who are Deafblind, clippings/works

Box 4

Folder 46: Lillian Fletcher, teacher/Perkins alum, worked with Edith Thomas, 1864-1932

Folder 47: Willie Elizabeth Robin, 1890-1906

Folder 48: Helen May Martin, deafblind, d.o.b 1897, (non Perkins student), pianist, 1901-1933

Folder 49: Louis Yott, deafblind, reports, 1907

Folder 50: Kathryne May Frick, deafblind, (non Perkins student) educated at Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb.
Mentions fellow student Grace Pearl who was deafblind, 1909-1930

Folder 51: Chester Roberts, 1914

Folder 52: Ernest Smith, 1919-1921

Folder 53: Willetta Huggins, (non Perkins student), educated at Wisconsin School for the Blind, 1922

Folder 54: Willetta Huggins, (non Perkins student), newspaper clippings, copies, 1922-1923

Box 5

Folder 55: Willetta Huggins, (non Perkins student), educated at Wisconsin School for the Blind, 1923

Folder 56: Helen Shultz, 1926-1929

Folder 57: Clarence Goddard, 1926-1930

Folder 58: Harley Chatterton, blind, reports on work by Lillian Huset (teacher), 1928-1940

Folder 59: Margaret & Jimmy Allen, deafblind, twins, reports of works with, some removed from teacher journal, 1930’s

Folder 60: Kathryne M. Frick, (non Perkins Student) educated at Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, 1930

Folder 61: Winthrop C. Chapman “Tad”, 1927, 1928, 1930, 1931

Folder 62: Earl Martin, deafblind, schoolwork reported by Inis B. Hall (teacher), 1931

Folder 63: “Perkins Instruction and its Deafblind Pupils”, by Anna Gardner Fish, 1943

Folder 64: Helen Siefert, deafblind, clippings, Margaret Hosher (teacher), 1934-1935

Folder 65: Helen Siefert, deafblind, education at Perkins, newspaper clippings, 1935-1937

Folder 66: Annie Lozo & Grace Casella, students, 1937-1938

Folder 67: John Heald, student, Ruth [Frankel] (teacher), Ralph Feleciano (teacher), 1938

Folder 68: Vergil Warren, student, Gretchen B. [Wachmer] (teacher), Late 1930’s early 1940’s

Folder 69: Robert Baker, student, Maurine Nielson (teacher), Miss. Cambridge (co-teacher), 1940

Folder 70: Chan Poh Lin, copied newspaper clippings, 1962

Box 6 (oversized)

“The Deaf Blind at Perkins” scrapbook, original & copy

Subject Headings: 

Perkins School for the Blind.

Perkins School for the Blind--History.

Deafblind children--Education--United States.

Brace, Julia, 1807-1884

Copyright © Perkins School for the Blind