A young woman in cap and gown processes with a white cane through applauding adults.


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.

Featured history topics to explore

Perkins milestones

Perkins historical curriculum

Historical campus locations

Watertown campus history

A long history of leadership

Notable alumni

Laura Bridgman

Laura Bridgman

Before Helen Keller, there was Laura Bridgman. The first person who was deafblind to be formally educated, Bridgman came to Perkins in 1837 where her accomplishments earned her international fame.

Anne Sullivan

Anne Sullivan

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.

Helen Keller

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.

Leaders and notable figures

Samuel Gridley Howe Portrait

Perkins founders

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.

Figures in Perkins’ history

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.

International Teacher Trainees from the class of 1955 with a globe.
In 1920, we began expanding our work around the world, first by welcoming educators from different countries to come learn the best practices in teaching on our campus.

International leaders

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.

Helen Keller and Polly Thomson sit at a table with the Mayor of Hiroshima.  Polly is interpreting for Helen, as the Mayor speaks, while looking at a paper in his hands. Thomson and Keller have very somber expressions on their faces. A young woman in an Amerian military uniform stands behind Keller looking towards the mayor. An unidentified man sits next to Polly.
Helen Keller and Polly Thomson with the Mayor of Hiroshima in October 1948.

Who was Helen Keller?

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.

Learn more Perkins history and the Archives!

Explore Perkins history and collections