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 innovation

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

In the early 19th century, Dr. John Dix Fisher wanted to start a school for children who were blind in the United States. With help from founding Director Samuel Gridley Howe, and donor Thomas Handasyd Perkins, the school was able to serve a growing number of students.

Helen Keller and Alexander Graham Bell, 1902

Figures in Perkins history

There have been many figures in Perkins’ history that have touched the school in one way or another – from Amelia Earhart to Alexander Graham Bell. Discover how notable historic figures and Perkins staff and alumni made their mark on the school.

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