The 1900s


At the start of the 20th century Perkins Institution relocates to a new campus designed specifically for its’ students and expands it’s advocacy and teacher training internationally. The school continues to provide and facilitate education and vocational training to people who are blind or visually impaired including adults and low vision students.

    Table of Contents

  1. 1907: Ophthalmia neonatorum
  2. 1910: Watertown Land Purchase
  3. 1911: First Librarian
  4. 1912: New Location

    Timeline Sections

  • Advocacy
  • Did You Know
  • Education
  • Innovation
  • Literacy
  • People

1907: Ophthalmia neonatorum


Image of the The Boston Nursery for Blind Babies pamphlet, circa 1910. The large three story house sits on a hill. Read the digitized pamphlet this photograph was taken from on the Internet Archive.

1907: Ophthalmia neonaturum was one of the most common causes of blindness in the 19th century, affecting 20-40% of students.


Silver nitrate was explored as an option beginning in the mid 1880s. This solution was applied to a baby’s eyes shortly after birth. In 1900, the American Medical Association studied options in detail. Many states then established laws requiring treatment of all babies with silver nitrate solution. 


This treatment dramatically changed schools for the blind. By 1915 only one student was admitted to Perkins who was blind due to ophthalmia neonatorum.


Photograph from a 1912 clipping showing a caretaker holding a baby who is blind. A woman with a large hat hold up a baby close to her face. The image captions describes the infant as a beneficiary of the Blind Babies Bill. Read the full article on the Internet Archive.

In Massachusetts, silver nitrate treatment was provided free to all doctors beginning in 1910, and additional laws were passed about reporting eye infections and blindness. Modern babies are still routinely treated, though safer medications are now used instead.

1910: Watertown Land Purchase


Photograph of the Stickney Estate on what is now the Perkins Campus. A long dirt road with tall trees lines both edges of the road. The Stickey Estate is barely visible in the far right background behind the trees. Explore this image and learn more about Josiah Stickney on the Watertown Free Public Library Digital Collection. Image Courtesy of the Watertown Free Public Library.

1910: A new campus is purchased and built on 38 acres, the Stickney Estate, on the banks of the Charles River in Watertown, Massachusetts, the School's current site.  


Contract was signed on December 31, 1910. Work started immediately.


Josiah Stickney estate, where May Cottage now stands. This photograph of the Stickney estate shows a large, light colored 3 story building with several chimneys. Large trees are in the foreground of the picture, blocking some of the edges of the building. Explore this image and learn more about Josiah Stickney on the Watertown Free Public Library Digital Collection. Image Courtesy of the Watertown Free Public Library.

Did you know? The purchase price was probably about $40,000 (worth about $1,020,263.06).

1911 First Librarian

an open room

Librarians in the Perkins Library, circa 1890
A photograph of the Library at the South Boston Location, circa 1890. There are two women, one is at a desk and the other is standing. There is also a man sitting at a table. There are drawers for card catalogs around the edge of the room and some shelves with books. There is also a table with chairs around it. Miss Sarah Elizabeth Lane was the Librarian. This photograph is online in the Perkins Libraries Flickr Collection.

1911: Sarah Elizabeth Lane was the first librarian at Perkins. She began working in 1880, when the library had 4,590 volumes. By the time she retired in 1911, there were 16,872.


At the time, the Library had just moved to a new building in South Boston. It housed the first circulating library for readers who were blind anywhere in the United States.


There was a need for books in accessible formats. Miss Lane wrote an article in 1881 that includes: “Do you think we shall ever have books of biography and travel, etc, printed in our type?” Read the entire letter at the Internet Archive.


Young female students with taxidermy animals for a lesson on mammalia at Perkins, circa 1893. The room has a line of students with tactile models of animals (taxidermy on a wooden table in front of them. On the right is a large monkey hanging on a tree supported from a base on the floor. The monkey is almost as tall as the child standing behind it.This photograph is part of the Perkins Archives Flickr Collection.

The library also contained teaching items like minerals, stuffed birds, and even a small kangaroo - items similar to our current tactile museum.


Did you know? Miss Lane was librarian and proof reader at Perkins for thirty years, and treasurer of the Ladies’ Auxiliary Society for seventeen (including managing donations for the kindergarten). She wrote a history of the Howe Memorial Press. She was described as “quietly unobtrusive, pleasantly accommodating, accurate, capable, and loyal”

1912 New Location

A photograph of Howe Building Tower, 1913

A photograph of the 180 foot tall Howe Building Tower, as viewed from an angle and through the trees in front of the building's main entrance on the Perkins campus, 1913. This photograph and more of the Perkins Campus are available on Perkins Archives Flickr site.

The new location opens in Watertown with the goal of increasing the quality of service to students, not the number of students.

Boston Public School low vision class in 1913

Photograph with showing the Boston Public Schools, “Pioneer Defective Eyesight Class in 1913. Small classroom with a dozen students sitting at individual desks and workstations. The chalk boards on the wall have writing in very large type.  The female teacher stands in the corner pointing at a chalkboard with a wooden stick. A digitized copy of this photograph is available on Perkins Archives Flickr site.

Perkins accepts a few low vision students and urges the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind to persuade the Boston School Board to form special classes for these students.


The Perkins Mission this year is “the training of blind boys and girls to live lives of happiness and efficiency, both in the institution and in the world."