Sophia E. Faulkner (1848-1933) was a “fine, strong character,” who had an energy that was “inexhaustible in promoting the welfare, not only of her pupils, but of the blind generally” (Royal Normal College, 1933-34). She grew up on her family’s homestead in South Acton, Massachusetts, which had been inherited from her great-grandfather, Colonel Francis Faulkner, who commanded a regiment of Middlesex Militia in the Battle of Lexington in the Revolutionary War (Boston Transcript). After graduating from the Framingham Normal School in 1867, she was called by Perkins’ director Samuel Gridley Howe to work at the school (The Massachusetts Teacher).
Thus began Faulkner’s (later Lady Superintendent, and then Lady Campbell), pioneering work teaching people who are blind. A 1933 article in Outlook for the Blind, explained that an adequate account of the work done by her and her husband, Sir Francis Joseph Campbell, “would require not pages, but volumes.”
Faulkner remembered her time at Perkins with “pleasure, the happy years [she] spent within the walls of the old building” in South Boston (Campbell, “Greetings…”). While teaching at Perkins, Faulkner met Francis Joseph Campbell, another teacher (Outlook, 1933). In 1870, Campbell, who lost his sight in a childhood accident, left Perkins and two years later, opened the Royal Normal College and Academy of Music for the Blind. He called for Faulkner and two other teachers from Perkins, Joseph West Smith and Sarah Greene, to join him (Outlook, 1913). Faulkner was excited to teach at the Royal Normal College because it would “give the youthful blind of that country a practical education, both literary and music, and thus fit them to become self-sustaining citizens (Campbell, “Greetings…”).
Campbell and Faulkner would go on to work together for 40 years as they led the Royal Normal College and advocated for people who were blind around the world (Outlook, 1933). Campbell remarked that she felt her life “would have been no good to myself or anyone else” if she had not come to the Royal Normal College. She enjoyed her work and described her life as “full of sunshine” (“An Account of the Re-union…”, 14 ; Outlook, 1933).
Faulkner married Campbell in 1875, two years after his first wife, Mary Frances Bond, died from ill health. With Campbell as Superintendent of the Royal Normal College, Sophia took on the role of “Lady Superintendent.” Together, they had three sons and one daughter, along with one son from his first marriage. Continuing the family work of advocating and providing resources for people who were blind, their eldest son, Charles, became the Superintendent of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind and the founder of Outlook for the Blind (now called the Journal of Blindness and Visually Impairment) (Boston Herald).
In 1909, Francis was knighted, taking on the title Sir Francis Joseph Campbell and Sophia becoming Lady Campbell. Sir Campbell took immense pride in the honor bestowed upon both him and his wife. When he was knighted, he said that “I tell my wife the one thing I am proud of is being the husband of Lady Campbell” (Boston Traveler). He continued that Lady Campbell had been his “inspiration” and that without her “I know I should have given up long ago” (Boston American).
As Lady Superintendent, Sophia taught in all departments of the school as well as advising her husband. In The Blind, the author noted that “No notice of Sir Francis Campbell’s work would be complete without referring to her who for so many years has been the faithful sharer in every detail.” In fact, Lady Campbell’s presence was so much a part of the school that she “comes second only to Sir Francis in the affectionate admiration of their many friends and pupils.” (“Some Other Work…”).
As Superintendent and Lady Superintendent, the Campbells ran the Royal Normal College in a way that would “convince the public that the blind are worthy of an education equal to that given the seeing” and “to raise the status of the blind by giving them an education equal to that of the sighted” (Boston Herald,1929). In a 1929 Boston Herald article, Sophia explained that they did this by, ”by increasing [the students’] intelligence, bodily activity and dexterity, by a thorough training in the evocation to be followed, by inculcating business habits, by arousing their self respect, and by creating a belief in the possibility of self-maintenance” (Boston Herald, 1929). At an event honoring their retirement, the Lady Superintendent suggested that “every active, earnest, upright man or woman who has been…a pupil” at the school could demonstrate the school’s mission (“An Account of the Re-union…”, 14).
As Lady Superintendent, Sophia was a warm, maternal figure to the students. Sir Campbell observed that she was the students’ “guardian angel when they come to the college” (Boston American). Mr. West, a Royal Normal College alumnus, remembered that he had “pleasant recollections of Lady Campbell’s hospitality,” especially, he continued, “her American doughnuts” (“An Account of the Re-union…”, 15).
The Third Triennial International Conference on Matters Relating to the Blind was held at Exeter (England) on July 3 through July 8, 1911. Lady Campbell read “a most valuable paper” about training people who were blind “the requirements of social life at home and in society” and the best methods to do so (Outlook, 1911). She believed that teachers and parents had standards that were too low for children who were blind and “from mistaken kindness shrink from enforcing some point of good manners” as they did for children who were sighted. In the same article, she proposed that parents and teachers needed to be aware of how much children who were sighted owed “to the marvelous imitative faculty of childhood, and that blind children must be carefully taught many things that their brothers and sisters seem to do by instinct.” Following the ensuing discussion, “it was unanimously resolved” that the paper should be “printed and circulated among the schools” (Outlook, 1911).
For the paper, “Training in the Requirements of Social Life at Home and in Society and the Best Methods for Securing It,” Lady Campbell surveyed superintendents and teachers at school for the blind as well as adults who were blind about the importance of social skills and the best way for them to be taught (Welsh). The research emphasized that children who are blind could not learn social skills and behaviors through casual observation, but rather must be explicitly taught (Welsh).
Lady Campbell went on to explain the important role that parents had in supporting and reinforcing the methods and techniques that were taught in schools, demonstrating the necessary partnership between parents and teachers (Welsh). In his article, “Sir Francis Joseph Campbell and his family,” Richard L. Welsh suggests that her recommendations “accurately anticipated the formal mobility instruction that emerged” decades after her research and “may be the first endorsement of systematically and scientifically training students in orientation and mobility.”
Lady Campbell also wrote about the work and methods of the Royal Normal College including an article titled “Hand Training at the Royal Normal College for the Blind.”
Lady and Sir Campbell retired together in 1912, with a large reunion featuring concerts, performances, and a grand presentation in their honor held from September 9 through 12. The event featured a dinner with speakers, including former students and board members of the Royal College who shared memories.
The September 1912 issue of Outlook for the Blind included an article about Sir Francis and Lady Campbell’s “well earned rest.” In summarizing the couple’s work, the author describes Lady Campbell as Sir Francis’ “right hand coadjutor and directoress throughout” who “played a prominent part, and like her husband is held in affectionate regard by both past and present students” (Outlook, 1912). The author continued that the couple had “endeared themselves to all workers for the blind and to all the blind with whom they had come in contact,” declaring the Royal Normal College “a lasting memorial of their work” (Outlook, 1912).
After Sir Campbell’s death in 1914, Lady Campbell returned to Massachusetts and lived in Watertown, near Charles, who lived in neighboring Cambridge. She frequently visited and spent time at Perkins.
The Boston Herald described Lady Campbell’s presence at Perkins in a 1929 article: “Those familiar with the Perkins Institution for the Blind at Watertown have probably noticed a little, wispy woman of 80 years, who spends most of her time there instructing the blind and catering to their wants. She has no official connection with the institution, but has spent most of her life helping the blind, and intends to continue as long as she is able.” She was also a lecturer in the Harvard Class in 1920 (Outlook, 1920) and attended all of the events of the 1932 Perkins Centennial (Outlook, 1932).
In addition to informally working with students at Perkins, she continued her advocacy work. In November 1924, she spoke at a Massachusetts State House Meeting comparing the treatment of people who are blind in England to those in Massachusetts. Specifically, she argued that the “system of workshops” in Massachusetts was a “great failure” and “criticized the people of this State for putting their blind in workshops and then thinking there nothing more for them to do” (Boston Globe). Her arguments reflected her continuing belief that people who were blind could be employed and active members of their communities with appropriate training and education.
Lady Campbell’s legacy was solidly established before her death on June 18, 1933. Just months before, in March, a letter to The Teacher’s Forum in Outlook for the Blind noted that “Though written over twenty years ago,” Lady Campbell’s paper from the 1911 Triennial Conference, “is applicable today and merits the attention of all educators of the blind” (Outlook, 1934).
Throughout her career and even after retirement, Lady Campbell was a firm believer in training people who were blind to be independent and participating members of their community. In a 1929 Boston Herald article, she explained that, “It is easier to educate the blind for self-maintenance, than to overcome the prejudice of the public against their employment.” She continued that “the ‘spite the blind’ attitude has prevailed so long it is hard to create a belief in the ability of the blind to take an active part in the world” (Boston Herald). Indeed, in her work at Perkins and the Royal Normal College, Lady Campbell emphasized the importance of her students doing things on their own, and challenged the prominent beliefs about how people who were sighted–especially teachers and parents–should interact with children who were blind. She advocated for her students, and all people who were blind, to become accepted as active participants in their communities.
Lady Campbell’s focus has continued into the present day work of education with the focus on transition to post-school activities, such as vocational training, as well as the Expanded Core Curriculum. The Expanded Core Curriculum empowers students with disabilities to access their education and make their own choices throughout life by teaching them skills such as orientation and mobility, social interaction skills, and self-determination.
Coit, Susanna. “Lady Campbell” Perkins Archives Blog, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown MA, May 19, 2023.