Perkins School for the Blind, founded in 1829, was the first school for the blind in the United States. Even 175 years ago, our founders were committed to opening the doors to education, literacy and independence for people who are blind, visually impaired and deafblind.
Education and advocacy
With its rich legacy in specialized education, Perkins has played an important role in the history of education in the United States. More than a century ago, Perkins’ founders were committed to creating equal opportunities for people with visual impairments.
Anne Sullivan was a student at Perkins before becoming Helen Keller’s teacher. She came to Perkins at the age of 14 with no education, eventually graduating valedictorian and becoming the top choice to teach Helen Keller.
After Helen Keller’s communication breakthrough in Tuscumbia, Alabama, Anne Sullivan brought her to study at Perkins where she would drastically change the world’s perception of people with disabilities.
Dr. John Dix Fisher, an influential reformer of 19th century Boston, returned after visiting the Paris school for the blind with the intent to start a similar school. The school’s first director, Samuel Gridley Howe, implemented innovative strategies and tools that allowed him to serve a population of students who had previously been excluded from education in the United States. Today, we celebrate Howe’s innovation with the Howe Innovation Center.
Many people have shaped the history of Perkins since 1829, from well-known writers like Louisa May Alcott and Charles Dickens to numerous Perkins staff and alumni like Anne Sullivan, David Abraham, and Robert Smithdas.
Recognizing a growing need for professional training in the field, in 1920 Perkins began the Teacher Training program in collaboration with Harvard University. International teachers were key participants from the beginning, and now the Educational Leadership Program continues to train educators from around the world in how to teach children with visual impairments and complex disabilities. Many graduates from this program have become leaders in their field.
Throughout her life, Keller devoted her energy to advocating for economic justice and the rights of women and of people with disabilities. She asserted her right “to feel at home in the great world” and, through her eloquence and tireless activism, fought for the same right for all people.