Highlights of the Archives

There are many treasures awaiting discovery in the archival collections.  As resources become available, we will continue to add more jewels to this site.  Click on the images below to view larger images and additional pages.

Letter from Charles Dickens to Samuel Gridley Howe (Perkins founding director), 1843

Letter from Charles Dickens to Samuel Gridley Howe (Perkins founding director), 1843


Monday Morning
June Fifth 1843. 

My Dear Howe

I have always been so strongly opposed to our Poor Law, that I think it highly probable my introduction upon to this workhouse might not be an agreeable one. I presume I am entitled to commend it to our notice, but I really am not sure, now of that; and I am unwilling to argue the point with inferior functionaries.

But I have written to Chadwick, who is the head and front of this matter in England and with whom my differences of opinion are no cause of division between us, as he has done unquestionably much good for the people. I have begged him to send me such powers as may be necessary for your object: and I will hand the same to you when we meet, for Tower purposes, tomorrow.

With best regards
Believe me always
Faithfully yours
Charles Dickens

Letter from Charles Dickens to Samuel Gridley Howe on February, 23, 1868

Letter from Charles Dickens to Samuel Gridley Howe on February, 23, 1868Transcript: 

Charles Dickens
Boston, Sunday Twenty Third February

Dear Dr. Howe,

Before I answer your letter written will you have a calculation made, and kindly reply to the following question:-

What would be the cost of printing in raised letters for the use of the blind, an edition of say 250, or 500 copies, of the old Curiosity shop?

Faithfully yours,
Charles Dickens

Letter from Charles Dickens to Samuel Gridley Howe on May 18, 1868

Letter from Charles Dickens to Samuel Gridley Howe on May 18, 1868Transcript:

Gad's Hill Place,
Higham by Rochester, Kent

Monday Eighteenth May, 1868

Dear Dr. Howe

I -- ---- -----] personally Wm. I. S. Amory of Boston, that gentleman (as agent to my Bankers Mr. T. Coutts and Co. Strand London) will pay you Seventeen Hundred Dollars. This sum, in accordance with your estimates, I place at your disposal for the production of 250 copies of the old Curiosity shop printed in raised letters for the use of the Blind.

I am unwilling to fetter you with any conditions, but I wish any Blind Asylums or asylum for the city of New York to share gratuitously  in this little gift. Kindly use your own discretion concerning it and you will please me.

Faithful Yours

Charles Dickens.


Henry David Thoreau

Born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1817, Henry David Thoreau applied for a job as an assistant teacher at Perkins on March 9, 1841.  He was not selected for the position, although he appears to have had relevant experience.  In addition, his references included Ralph Waldo Emerson and Josiah Quincy, who was president of Harvard and later became the mayor of Boston.  

Letter Written by Henry David ThoreauTranscript: 

Concord, Massachusetts
March 9, 1841


I observed in your paper of March 5 an advertisement for an assistant teacher in a public institution' etc. As I expect to be released from my engagement here in a fortnight, I shall be glad to hear further of the above-- if the vacancy is not already filled.

I was graduated from Cambridge in '37, previous to which date I had some experience in school-keeping and since have been constantly engaged as an instructor-- for the first year as principal of the Academy here, and, for the last two, as superintendent of the classical department alone.

I refer you to Samuel Hoar, Esq., Rev. R. W. Emerson, or Dr. Josiah Bartlett of this town, or to President Quincy of Harvard University.

Yours respectfully,
Henry D. Thoreau

This article and transcription appeared in The Lantern, 15 March 1960 (29:3):


Letter written by Henry David Thoreau


Thoreau Applies For A Position

The Library has brought to my attention this letter from our files. It seems to have sufficient interest to justify reprinting it in the Lantern. We can only speculate on the reasons Dr. Howe might have had for rejecting this application and on the possible effects on Perkins which his appointment might have had.


Letter from Margaret Fuller to Samuel Gridley Howe


Oct. 22nd. '45

Dear Sir,

---- Ball, who is much interested in the blind, would like, if agreeable to you, to visit the Institution and play to your [charge]. Thursday, tomorrow morning, is the only time he is quite free. if you shall be disengaged to receive him then, will you send me a note today to say so. At Ms. E.G. Loring 19 ---- St. Please remember me to Mrs. Howe. I hope to see her if I come to the Institution.  

with much regard
yours S.M. Fuller.

Letter from Margaret Fuller to Samuel Gridley HoweLetter from Margaret Fuller to Samuel Gridley Howe

Letter from Julia Ward Howe to Dr. Packard, Jan. 12, 1876

Letter from Julia Ward Howe to Dr. Packard, Jan. 12, 1876Transcript:

Dear Dr. Packard,

I write to ask that you, who comforted my dear husband so much by your aid and sympathy, would attend the family funeral service to be held at the Blind Asylum tomorrow, Monday [13th] at 10 a.m.

Yours truly,
Julia Ward Howe

Jan 12th [1876]



Letter from Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) to Helen Keller, 1903

Letter from Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) to Helen Keller, 1903Letter from Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) to Helen Keller, 1903

Letter from Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) to Helen Keller, 1903Letter from Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) to Helen Keller, 1903


Handwritten note in corner: I think I used this letter, or parts of it in my Vol. of letters. It is very familiar. I have no objection to your use of it. A. B. P. [Albert Bigelow Paine to Nella Braddy Henney]

Riverdale-on-the Hudson,
St. Patrick's Day, 1903

Dear Helen:

I must steal half a moment from my work to say how glad I am to have your book and how highly I value it, both for its own sake and as a remembrance of an affectionate friendship which has subsisted between us for nine years without a break and without a single act of violence that I can call to mind. I suppose there is nothing like it in heaven; and not likely to be, until we get there and show off. I often think of it with longing, and how they'll say, "there they come- sit down in front!" I am practicing with a tin halo. You do the same. I was a Henry Roger's last night, an of course we talked of you. He is not at all well- you will not like to hear that; but like you and me, he is just as lovely as ever. 

I am charmed with your book - enchanted. You are a wonderful creature, the most wonderful in the world- you and your other half together- Miss Sullivan, I mean, for it took the pair of you to make complete and perfect whole. Howe she stands out in her letters! her brilliancy, penetration, originality, wisdom, character, and the fine literary competencies of her pen- they are all there.

Oh dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that "plagiarism" farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism. The kernel, the soul - let us go farther and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second hand, consciously or unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources and daily used by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral caliber and his temperament, which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington's battle, in some degree, and we call it his but there were others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a photograph, or a telephone or any other important thing - and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite - that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that. 

Then why don't we unwittingly reproduce the phrasing of a story, as well as the story itself? It can hardly happen - to the extent of fifty words - except in the case of a child; its memory tablet is not lumbered with impressions, and the natural language can have graving room there and preserve the language a year or two, but a grown person's memory tablet is a palimpsest, with hardly a bare space upon which to engrave a phrase. It must be a very rare thing that a whole page gets so sharply printed on a man's mind, by a single reading, that it will stay long enough to turn up some time or other to be mistaken by him for his own. No doubt we are constantly littering our literature with disconnected sentences borrowed from books at some unremembered time and how imagined to be our own, but that is about the most we can do. In 1866 I read Dr. Holmes's poems, in the Sandwich Islands. A year and a half later I stole his dedication, without knowing it, and used it to dedicate my "Innocents Abroad" with. Ten years afterward I was talking with Dr. Holmes about it. He was not an ignorant ass - no, not he; he was not a collection of decayed human turnips, like your "Plagiarism Court", and so when I said- "I know now where I stole it, but who did you steal it from", he said, "I don't remember; I only know I stole it from somebody, because I have never originated anything altogether myself, nor met anyone who had! To think of those solemn donkeys breaking a little child's heart with their ignorant rubbish about plagiarism I couldn't sleep for blaspheming about it last night. Why, their whole histories, their whole lives, all their learning, all their thoughts, all their opinions were one solid ruck of plagiarism, and they didn't know it and never suspected it. A gang of dull and hoary pirates piously setting themselves the task of
disciplining and purifying a kitten that they think they've caught- filching a chop! Oh, dam --- 

But you finish it, dear, I am running short of vocabulary today.

Ever lovingly your friend


(Edited and modified by Clara Clemens, deputy to her mother, who for more than 7 months has been ill in bed and unable to exercise her official function.)

Amelia Earhart Poster

Poster of Amelia Earhart standing on top of a planeNote on poster: When a little Syrian boy from Denison House was blinded by the explosion of a kerosene heater, Amelia drove him to the famous Perkins Institute for the Blind on the outskirts of Boston for lessons three times a week. She became fascinated by the techniques employed by the teachers there, many of whom were blind themselves. Soon she was giving several hours a week of her scant free time as a volunteer reader and as assistant to the director of dramatics. Once she said to me "It takes so little to make those people forget their handicaps and troubles for a half hour. I can't teach them braille [sic], but I can make them laugh, and I know that's important, too."




Telegraph from Alexander Graham Bell to Anne Sullivan, care of Dr. Gilman, Radcliffe College, 1897

Night Message from the Western Union Telegraph Company on July 3, 1897 with handwritten message: "Arrive Boston Saturday night anxious to see you and Helen won't you call Parker house Sunday morning reply Parker house Graham Bell."

Telegraph from Alexander Graham Bell to Anne Sullivan

Letter from James Holman, a British adventurer known as the "Blind Traveler", to Samuel Gridley Howe recounting a meeting with "Her Majesty" Queen Victoria, on June 21, 1838

An Eye-Witness
37 Gerrard St Soho [London]
June 21st, 1838

My Dear Friend

I think you will be pleased to learn that when I was presented to Her Majesty yesterday, at the levee, by my friend Captain King, he (who viewed it with a painter's eye) describes the scene he witnessed as most interesting. When he was in the act of raising my hand, after placing me in front of Her Majesty, she immediately perceived my situation and her countenance changed from a benevolent smile to a serious expression of the deepest interest, advancing her hand at the same time and took hold of mine, evidently desiring to aid me in the ceremonial. I then bent my right knee bowing at the same time to meet Her Majestys hand, which I gently pressed against my lips and retired. My friend observes, he will never forget the sudden change, and striking expression of intense interest that was displayed by Her Majesty, who had been looking round and smiling up to the moment her attention was arrested by perceiving me. If the eye of the painter should be aided by the pen of the Poet- do you not think something may be made out of it for the Courier tomorrow evening? With kind regards to the ladies.

in great haste 
I am yours faithfully
James Holman

Letter from James Holman to Samuel Gridley Howe

Letter Ralph Waldo Emerson to Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, Concord, October 4, 1848

Concord, 4 October, 1848

Dr. S. G. Howe

Dear Sir,

I learn that Mrs. E. C. Goodwin is a candidate for the office of Matron of the Institution for the Blind. It gives me great pleasure to tell you what I know of her. The feeble health of my wife having made it necessary that she should be relieved of the care of house keeping, I engaged Mrs. Goodwin to take my family to board in my home. She moved with her family to Concord, and remained with us sixteen months, and we had the opportunity of knowing very intimatly her manner of conducting her [affairs] of the household, comprising, much of the time, 16 or 18 persons. She proceeded in making everybody comfortable and in earning the esteem and respect of every one. We can all attest her energy, kindness, and power of system, her admirable temper, her self command, and her devotion to the wants of every individual. My wife affirms that Mrs. Goowin was born for the helping of others, and that no greater happiness can befal an Asylum like yours, than the finding of one so thoroughly tender and self sacrificing as Mrs. Goodwin, to foster the patients. I believe, I express the sentiment of all her friends here, as well as my own in saying, that she is a woman of extraordinary moral qualities, of eminent fitness to preside over a household of suffering persons. And where intelligence, indefatigable energy, high sense of justice, and a kind heart are wanted, she can be confidently recommended.

Yours respectfully,

R. Waldo Emerson

Letter Ralph Waldo Emerson to Dr. Samuel Gridley HoweLetter Ralph Waldo Emerson to Dr. Samuel Gridley HoweLetter Ralph Waldo Emerson to Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe