Richard Chapman came to Perkins in 1950 as a kindergartener and graduated in 1964. While at Perkins he was part of the chorus and was on the wrestling team for four years. In his senior year, Chapman served as track captain and president of the Perkins Athletic Association. In the photo above, he is pictured in a Perkins track uniform, running a road race in 1965 with Claude Ellis, the Director of Athletics and Assistant Principal. After graduating from Perkins, Chapman earned a B.A. from American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts before doing graduate work in Spanish literature at Syracuse University. He taught at CETA, the Comprehensive Employment Training Act program in the Milton High School, and in 1987, he began working at the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. His roles included consumer advocate out of the Office of Information and before that, he ran the nursing home program.
In this oral history, Chapman shares memories of his time at Perkins and some of his most memorable teachers, including Mollie Cambridge, Henry [Hank] Santos, Eileen McNamara, and Patricia Carle. He also discusses the 1952 and 1960 elections and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
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This interview is a digitized copy of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Perkins School for the Blind. The interview was conducted on October 19, 2023, by Susanna Coit. The audio and transcript are provided unedited.
This oral history transcript may be quoted if cited. A preferred citation is provided. The interview may not be published in full except with the permission of the Perkins School for the Blind. For permission please contact [email protected].
Chapman, Richard. “Richard Chapman oral history interview conducted by Susanna Coit,” 2023-10-19, Perkins Archives Oral History Project, AG176-2023-01, Perkins School for the Blind Archives.
Recording of the oral history of Richard Chapman.
Richard Chapman [Chapman]: All righty. [Inaudible]. All righty.
Susanna Coit [Coit]: OK. Today is October 19, 2023. This is Susanna Coit. I’m here with Richard Chapman. We’re conducting this oral history virtually on Zoom. Richard, are you OK with me recording our conversation today?
Coit: Great. So to get started, can you tell me what years were at Perkins?
Chapman: From 1950, my graduation year was 1964.
Coit: OK. And how did you come to Perkins?
Chapman: We had a carpool of the– I think was– my family and I lived in Quincy at the time and we carpooled with another family who lived in Cohasset. So one parent would take myself and another boy to Perkins. And the other parent would take us all home at the end of the week.
Coit: And what brought you to Perkins when you first came to Perkins? What made you come to Perkins?
Chapman: To be honest with you, my parents had been in touch and I don’t remember all the details because I was about six years old at the time. What I do remember, my mother, especially, was in touch with a Carl Davis who was a long-time guidance counselor and that’s all I remember about that association. But as far as how long – well, I think my father was, however, involved a little bit with Perkins.
He was a pre-med student at Harvard in 1948. And he believed that there should be a parent’s group. That – with people with like minded problems, for example, with children at Perkins, what was in store for the children? What was their future going to be like? What would they be learning? And the parent-teacher groups that are now in-thing today, as they should be, was not the thing back in 1948.
I think there was more of a trust of — well, you trust the professionals. They know what’s best. You deal with them. Deal with the professionals. Deal with Perkins. Deal with the Mass Eye and Ear and a local ophthalmologist or whatever. But that was the thinking back then. And it just wasn’t really accepted back in 1948. So this was before I started attending Perkins. So I remember my father having an association with the school at the time.
So I do suspect that both my father and my mother had dealings, more of an informational thing with Perkins prior to my entry in 1950.
Coit: And how did your father — what was his relationship with Perkins? How did he get involved with Perkins before you were even a student?
Chapman: Well, that was the only thing that I remember. But I do suspect that — I remember hearing that when I was little, my father did a lot of investigating as to what did blind people do for work. Because we’ve always been a thinking – a forward-thinking family. I’m the oldest of seven. And it’s always been plan for the future, of course, with jobs and everything, or even education.
Of course, my parents kept it age appropriate. But even so, it was, well, there’s a future. This is what people do in the future. They go to college. They plan careers and anything we wanted to be. I think it was more encouraged even if it — again, age appropriate. Anything we wanted to be, we would investigate or find out — well, if I wanted to be a ditch digger at age four, for example, I’m sure my father would, well, let’s go see what a ditch digger does, or let’s do this or that and the next time.
My father never discouraged — I remember a time, and this is when I was in kindergarten at Perkins. I remember one cold Saturday night. Why I remember this, I don’t know. But I was sitting on a sofa, and my parents are out in the kitchen. I went out and said, “when I grow up. I want to be a doctor.” Well, of course, many families — and I’ve heard this from other people — were discouraged. They didn’t know, oh my God, what can this kid of mine do? But my father– and I still remember this to this day — he said, “well, doc, I’m going to give you two things that no doctor should be without.” He reached into his medical bag. He pulled out one of those pen flashlights and a stethoscope. And I was playing with them and I felt pretty big. It was–
Coit: That’s wonderful.
Chapman: –a lot of fun. A lot of fun.
Chapman: So I think it’s always been where my father did investigate, all right, what’s out there for my son? I was to be treated like anyone else in the family. I was expected to be — and blindness has nothing to do with this. But I was expected to be always a good example. And that is the curse of any oldest child if you’ve ever known people who’ve been the first in the family who’s always been told, you’ve got to be a good example your younger siblings can look up to.
That was hard for me. And being blind had nothing to do with it. In fact, I was proud to share with a lot of things with my brothers and sisters, things that I did at Perkins. But I think just being the oldest child was– for any child, and there was a large family, that was rough.
Coit: Absolutely. So how did your family feel about your coming to Perkins as a student?
Chapman: Well, it was I think at the time, the thing to do that it was like a separate — I don’t want to say separate, but equal. But I don’t know, that’s the only way I can put it. That this was we were to meet standards and so forth. But it was just Perkins was the where all and be all as it was for educating blind persons. And I think that’s pretty much what they felt.
You asked about a director, I unfortunately had — well, not unfortunately, but I had to deal with or dealt with or I knew of two directors, the first one was only for a year — Gabriel Farrell, the fourth director of Perkins. I remember my father liked him very, very much. I only heard him once talking when we were in kindergarten. It was during the first week. I don’t remember what he said, but I remember that deep voice. And I thought to myself, that sounds like Santa Claus!
And that to me was Dr. Farrell. That jolly voice, and I liked him. But most of my time with the directors that I knew was, of course, Dr. Waterhouse, Edward J. Waterhouse, who succeeded Dr. Farrell.
Coit: Yes. And do you have any memories of Dr. Waterhouse?
Chapman: The memories, I think, more were of his involvement with traveling and accepting and welcoming teacher trainees from other countries to Perkins. And I’ll be honest with you, even with a lot of students– and I know this is bouncing to another question, but as I got into high school, a lot of the students from different countries taught me a great deal.
There were times in the year when our running team, the Two Mile Team, we’d get up and practice at 6 o’clock in the morning. So that meant that any work I had to do – planning papers, doing research, doing daily assignments – I would do after school from 4:30 to 6:00. And often times that I would be in a classroom or down in what they call the Boys Study Hall at the time, and the students who were there with me were students from other countries.
They knew the value of an education at Perkins because it was – as bad as sometimes we think we have it with attitudes of people towards blindness, it’s worse in other countries. And that was one of — again, jumping to another question – that was one of the lessons I learned, is for not only the students, but many of the teachers at Perkins who were from other countries.
And Dr. Waterhouse, oftentimes when we used to have chapel exercises, Dr. Waterhouse would speak about trips to other countries. And that’s the thing I think I especially enjoyed about Dr. Waterhouse. A lot of people found him a bit jaded. I think it was more like rules or rules we’re not changing a thing, although we can get to changes later that we’re beginning to come about.
But I felt that I learned a lot and learned to respect what other people, blind or learning to teach the blind in other countries, had to go through. And that was one of, I think, the thing to me that I found was outstanding about Dr. Waterhouse.
Coit: So going off of that, what were some of the lessons that you learned while you were at Perkins that have stayed with you?
Chapman: That is the one to value work, to value hard work I think is the one that stays with me. The other lesson I’ve learned is to really appreciate and be patient with students who are fellow students who had problems other than blindness. And there were a few. I’m proud to say that one of my favorite young ladies at Perkins, and her family appreciated, was a girl named Carolyn, who was legally blind, who had some vision but also had cerebral palsy.
And sadly, she had problem academically. But I liked her very much. And I felt that she deserved to be treated like anybody else. I had roommates who were that way, who were not academic problems, who had other problems besides blindness. One of them really looked up to me. And I just don’t know why, but he did. And we’d get along very nicely.
And I remember one time we were listening to an election result. And I remember this boy, his name was John. And we turned off our radios at the time at 9:30 for junior high. And he said to me, “well, looks like” — there was a candidate for governor. And he goes, “well, I guess he lost a lot of money in that election.” And I laughed. And I remember laughing. And I said, “John, that’s the way politics”– and I said it with a grin on my face. I said, “John, that’s the way politics goes.” But he would say that in his own way, observations of things. And I think I learned that lesson because there was a tradition that I did not approve of. That older kids were – would pick on younger kids, seventh graders. And I got picked on a lot.
I don’t really want to go into detail, but seventh grade was really one of my worst years at Perkins. And I think because of that, I learned to appreciate what seventh graders are going through. That’s an awkward time. And I’m proud to say that also when I was in high school — this is another lesson I learned — I befriended several seventh graders, even when I was in high school. And I’m proud of that. And I’m glad I did that. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat
Coit: That’s great. I mean, it is. It’s a tough year.
Chapman: Yeah, it is.
Coit: So you mentioned that there were some memorable teachers. Can you tell me about who were some of your most memorable teachers?
Chapman: In the lower grades, I had two memorable teachers. Why they’re memorable is I think both of them had a — their desire was to make sure that we broadened our minds as well as learned. The first one was a Miss Carle. I liked her a lot. And she was my third grade teacher. And I think what I liked about her, but she went about teaching– she was always, always very, very pleasant. But still you learn. You’ve got to learn. You’ve got to learn to broaden your minds.
And there were things like every morning, we had to recite 30 Days Have September and so forth and so on. But I think besides being an aca — it felt very academically patient.
Miss Carle did something for me one time that I’ll never forget. And I’d come back from a tragedy that had occurred in my family with the death of a relative, and someone that was really near and dear to me. And I had to take some time off from — a few days, but when I came back, Miss Carle said to me– of course, she called me Ricky. Everybody did back then. Some people still do. I wish they wouldn’t, but that’s another story. Anyway, she said, “Ricky, sorry about the loss of that particular family member.” And all I did was go, “thank you!” Because that really meant a lot to me that someone noticed it. I didn’t expect the kids to appreciate it because, gee, after all, we were 9 and 10 at the time. And if somebody had a tragedy in their family, I probably would have done the same thing and not said anything or not said, gee, I’m sorry to hear. Because we were just kids. But this teacher noticed it.
The second memorable teacher was my fourth and fifth grade teacher. She could be fun, but she kept it age appropriate and she would challenge us to learn. But she had an Irish – and black was black, and white was white. There were no shades of gray. You did it right or else. The rules were rules. But we had to really study and learn. And she was the first teacher that gave us homework over the weekend. But I liked her a lot. Even though she could be tough, but she could also be fun.
I remember, one time — she had a friend. Every eight weeks, she’d come in with these huge candy bars for the class. And Friday afternoon, she’d pass them out. But she could be a little tough. But I really appreciate it, and I felt I learned a lot. I felt I grew a lot with Miss McNamara.
And I remember at the end of my fourth grade year, my father had a green thumb. And I thought, I’m going to do this – see if I can do this. I’m like, “dad, can I have a bunch of roses to give Miss McNamara?” And he went, “sure!” And he went out and cut a bunch of roses. And my father walked into the classroom with me. We presented them to Miss McNamara. She didn’t say a thing. And I don’t know. I thought, why isn’t she saying anything? I think I know why now, because I think that — and I think it saved me a lot of grief because people don’t have families or families who have green thumbs. Many people don’t.
I think they think they would have been hurt. I think they would have been– and I would have been the brunt of many a – abuse. So I can see where Miss McNamara was very smart and very just not saying anything. I don’t know if she kept them. I don’t know what she said to my father. But this is something I wanted to do for her. I, in the worst way, get her something.
Miss McNamara took her job to heart because she was legally blind. My next favorite teacher was a math teacher when I was in high school. Very kind on the outside. But in class, it was very regimented. You learned, and you studied. You wanted extra help, go get it. Her name was — I think her given name was Mildred, but her name, everyone knew her as Mollie Cambridge.
But she herself was legally blind. And I was not a great math student, but she was very patient with me. And I found out later that we had the same interest in music. And long after that when I stayed in touch with Miss Cambridge, I told her stories of how – all the things we used to say behind her back to the students in the class — to the class —
Coit: Oh dear.
Chapman: –one example was — yeah. Well, one example was — I don’t know if you’ve ever been an old time radio fan. But there was a comedy show with a husband and wife pair of actors called “Fibber McGee and Molly.” I mean, if you’ve ever heard of “Fibber McGee’s closet,” where the door opens and everything falls out. That’s where that expression came from, “Fibber McGee’s closet” from that radio show.
Coit: All right.
Chapman: And so we would talk about what we had in class. And years later, I said to Miss Cambridge, well, I got to tell you this. I said that we talk about our schedule for a day and I said, “well, fourth period, I have geometry with Fibber McGee and Mollie C.” And I told that to Miss Cambridge, who had the nickname of Mollie. And I said — and she couldn’t stop laughing.
She was just — she was just amazing. She loved her students, the students she stayed in touch with. We were always called her lads. And in fact, one student, she was so fond of, and he was far from a brilliant math person and never went to college but somehow they stayed in touch. And I remember that student said to me, “when I talked to Miss Cambridge one time, she said” – his name was Tim and she said, “would you do me a favor, Tim? Would you please call me your Aunt Mollie?” And I thought that was so Miss Cambridge outside as a very, very warm person.
And one thing she’d always say to me — and this was because I found out later she only had one cousin that was all in her family who had nothing to do with her. And she would always say to me or even to other students, but she would say it to me, “I hope you’re not — are you lonely? I hope you’re not lonely.”
She was a very kind person outside of class, but boy in class, it was all business, or else. And she took her — I think she knew of some attitudes of some teachers who maybe had their first introduction to blind people. But she really felt that there were attitudes that some teachers had that were not healthy. But that’s maybe why she took her job to heart – well, that she felt were not healthy. I’m not saying that they were not healthy, but that was her attitude. But she took her job to heart. And I really, really respected her for it, and still do.
Coit: She sounds wonderful. These all sound like absolutely wonderful teachers.
Chapman: They were. I think – I have often said, Susanna, that I have briefly taught in public school. And I have often said to people that the teachers of Perkins, many of them could really shine and could really be the caliber and higher caliber than many teachers in public school. I was brave enough to even say that. And I really meant it because many of them were good.
I think teachers are going to be teachers no matter where you go. But I think that some of the teachers at Perkins really had their students at heart. They took their jobs at heart. And many of them wanted to see a lot of things changed at Perkins as well. Like updating scholastic aptitude tests in braille. I mean, we took the PSATs and the SATs that were brailled in 1940. And this was like in the mid ’60s. I remember Miss Cambridge telling me that she was after guidance and Dr. Waterhouse, “You’ve got to update these exams!” And they never were. Why, I don’t know. But this was the constant fight. Because again, these teachers, many of them, had our welfare at heart. And they took their jobs to heart as well.
Coit: That’s wonderful.
Chapman: God bless them for it. God bless them for it.
Coit: Yep. So I know you were only 6 at the time, but did you — do you have any memories from your first days at Perkins? What do you remember from your first —
Chapman: Oh God.
Coit: –days? Oh dear. [Laughs]
Chapman: I got into mischief!
Chapman: I got into mischief. We had a playroom – May Cottage. We had to have two kindergartens, May Cottage and Oliver Cottage were kindergartens. I rode a tricycle around the room and yelled, “beep, beep, beep, beep” for people to get out of my way. I remember wrestling around with a guy and I decided I’m going to sit on his head. And so I sat on his head. The house – well they call the houseparent or whatever, housemothers at the time. And so anyway, I was reprimanded. My father was told this. He just told me to cool it.
But I remember one night, I don’t know if she was a volunteer or a teacher trainee. And I thought I’d be funny. And I was at the bottom of a flight of stairs. And I remember this to this day. And she went, “OK, it’s time to go upstairs.” And I went, “no!” And she grabbed my arm and yanked it. And I had to get up and go upstairs. She meant business. She wasn’t in the mood to play around with me.
So I was trying to be funny. And she didn’t see it that way. I remember that was — and I used to pretend — I remember I used to pretend that those first few days I’m not in kindergarten. I’m in college.
Chapman: It was weird. What was weird, I was never home sick in kindergarten. I absolutely loved kindergarten!
Coit: Kindergarten is great.
Chapman: Yeah, I absolutely loved it. So I was mischievous. And that, of course, would be the first week that I heard Dr. Farrell and loved that jolly voice, who sounded like Santa Claus.
Coit: And again, I know you were–
Chapman: I did.
Coit: I know you were 6. Did you have any expectations before you came to Perkins of Perkins?
Chapman: No, I didn’t. I don’t recall any — I don’t remember having any expectations of Perkins. I’m sure that I heard about Perkins. And I was going to be going to school or something, but I don’t really remember any expectations before then or any explanations about Perkins. I might have had them, but I don’t remember them.
Coit: I think that that makes sense. I mean, you were only 6.
Coit: So do you have a most memorable experience at Perkins? Something that sort of sticks out?
Chapman: We’d be here all day if I had told you all my memorable experiences. But I want to tell you of one that I was–
Chapman: I think one of the ones that really sticks out in my mind is by the time we were — and again, this was kept age appropriate. Perkins taught us what it was like to live in a democracy and voting. And I’m old enough to remember, first of all, the 1952 election. And I was only about 8, and just things I didn’t — I don’t know why, I just was a slow learner and all of that.
And the candidates were Dwight Eisenhower, who became President, and a senator from Illinois Adlai Stevenson. So we would be on Bradley Playground, and there’d be the Eisenhower supporters. I knew my parents liked Eisenhower. They liked Ike. And I remember on one side were the Eisenhower supporters, and then there were the Stevenson supporters. And I remember what the kids used to sing on Bradley. I remember this to this day.
Cigarette commercials were on radio and TV back then. And there was a one for Lucky Strikes Cigarettes and it went — [Singing] Luckies taste smoother, cleaner, fresher, smoother, something like that.
But the Stevenson, the kids would sing– [Singing] Luckies taste sour just like Eisenhower.
Coit: Oh wow.
Chapman: And then the Eisenhower — then the kids Eisenhower, we would sing —
[Singing] Hail, hail, Stevenson’s in jail. Hail, hail, Stevenson’s in jail.
And so that was all I remember about the 1952 election. But from then on, with every four years, we would have a mock election. We would have — it was just something. But the one I remember the most was the 1960 election.
And Perkins had a policy of, instead of the curfew, keep your radios on a half hour later so maybe you can start to hear the election returns. “This is what happens when your vote is counted.” That was the attitude and it was a wonderful attitude. And we had a thing where my roommate and I, and we had in a small room next to ours in, what they called an alcove, the way the cottages were constructed, two other roommates.
And the four of us decided which room would try to keep the radio on the longest. And I remember the housemaster said, “I’m going to look the other way. I know this is an exciting election, but I want you guys to keep your radios down because of the kids, whether they’re older or younger, they want to sleep. But I’m not going to say a thing, just keep the radios down.”
My roommate and I wimped out. We wimped out at 11:30. The other two, Bob and Casey, kept their radios on long enough to hear Nixon’s concession speech and Kennedy’s victory speech. And that was at 1:30 in the morning. So that was something, but the other thing I’ll always remember: the Kennedys, in some way, shape, or form, were involved with Perkins. I don’t remember if it was the Corporation, if there were family members in the Corporation.
But I remember January 20, snowing, Dr. Waterhouse announced — we had four periods a day. The fourth period was from 11:15 to noon and then after an hour and 15 minutes, the fifth period would start. In chapel that morning, Dr. Waterhouse announced that all classes for the rest of the day will be canceled from 11:15 for the rest of the day.
And I’ll never forget it. We were in the dining rooms, every cottage had a radio in the dining room, we all heard Mr. Kennedy being sworn in – I think it was Chief Justice Earl Warren swore him in. And then we heard his speech. We heard Cardinal Cushing. We heard — it was — I wasn’t a big Kennedy supporter, but I must admit, the whole afternoon, it was amazing. It really was! And I think that’s one of the things that stands out in my mind about that.
Sadly, another thing, of course, was the assassination of President Kennedy. Never forget that. And I can recall being told — I wasn’t told anything. I had a piano lesson in the fifth period with a music teacher, who was also a roommate in college with Martin Luther King, Jr. And his name was Hank Santos. Oh I’ll tell you that story some other day, that was something.
So we were right in the middle of the lesson. It was around quarter to 2:00. Another teacher knocked on the door. And he opened it up and stepped out and heard [murmuring] in the background. I didn’t know what they were saying. So Mr. Santos goes, “off you go and practice. I’ll see you next week.” And he went tearing down the hall.
Well, we had a major class called Problems of Democracy the next period. I’ll never forget. The boy’s name was Joe Del Favero. He came in. He was crying. I could tell that he was crying and choking back the tears. He said, quote, “Well, there’s another nut in this world.” And then he said, referring to President Kennedy, “The president’s just been shot.”
And this was the first time I heard it. And I went, “No, you’ve got to be kidding!” And they said, “I’m not kidding.” Well, long story short, I think the teachers had a system that didn’t have a PA system. And I remember then it was Miss Cambridge was in charge of the floor, where the classrooms were to inform the teachers of any updates.
2:15 she knocked on the door. The teacher opened up the door. His name was Mr. Kennard. All Miss Cambridge said was, “The President is dead” and gently closed the door. How we all stayed working and how the teachers stayed teaching the rest of that day, I’ll never know how they did it. I give us all a lot of credit. I know that was a sad memory, but that’s another memory that stands out.
Coit: Thank you for sharing, because that – it is definitely a moment in history for sure. So it’s very interesting to hear your experience that day. So you just sort of glossed over there that Mr. Santos was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s roommate. Can you tell me a little bit more about him?
Chapman: Mr. Santos was — I had him for piano. I was not a good piano student, but it was like he would — I’d be trying to play measures. And he’d go, “no, Ricky, play it this way.” He would go — if you were one of his students, he’d go, “no, Susanna! No, no, look at how I move my hands across the piano.” [vocalizes] He was a perfectionist, even with his wife.
But what I remember, I had him was a piano teacher in the lower school. And how I got to really begin to like classical music was how I would try to rack up brownie points with him. So I’d listen to WCRB, at the time, at night. And I would say, well, I heard this piece the other day and talk about the pieces that I heard. And he was very much approved.
And I said — of course, there were still children’s programs on the radio, of course, in that time. We’re talking 1954. And I remember asking Mr. Santos, “Mr. Santos, I listen to this program at 7 o’clock. At 7:30, I have this program I listen to called the Adventures of the Lone Ranger. Can I still hear the Adventures of the Lone Ranger?” And he goes, “Yes, you may.”
But when we got into upper school, I was still not a good piano student. We parted on good company. I would ask him about different pieces in music, and we’d talk about them. And there is a piece. I was in a good mood one day, and I’d been to a Boston Symphony concert the Saturday before. And they performed this piece called “Bolero,” which is a lot of repetition. It was written by Maurice Ravel. It was early ’20s. It was used in a film called “Fantasia.”
And I walked in, “Mr. Santos!” He goes, “Hi, Ricky.” And, “Mr. Santos! Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ is the most useless piece of music ever written.” And he said, “Ricky, why do you say that?” And I said, “Because — and all it goes is [vocalizing] and just keeps repeating the same thing all over again.” And he said, “Ricky, calm down.” And it was so funny. And he explained to me that that was how the piece was written.
But my memories of Mr. Santos go even beyond college. I went my sophomore year at American International College in Springfield. And one Sunday morning in my sophomore year, I was coming back from breakfast since the cafeterias were closed. And I was walking past a building. And all of a sudden, much to my surprise, I just– “Ricky Chapman, it’s Hank Santos.” Wow. Wow. I didn’t know what he was doing.
He said, “Look, I’m performing in Springfield today. I need to get into a building where you have a piano. Can you help me? The building is locked! I need to practice!” Well, I was dating a young lady at the time who was a couple years ahead of me. And the girls’ dorm was open. And I went into the front desk and she happened to be a front desk – at the front desk. And I said, “Chris, there is a man named Hank Santos.”
I explained the situation. She got security to open up the Campus Center so that Mr. Santos could go and practice. Well, he promised me two tickets to the show where he was performing. I forget where it was now. And we got to attend a reception. So Chris was available in the afternoon. We both went. And this very proper young lady said, “Mr. Chapman, I have been advised that you will be attending the concert. You and your date are guests of Mr. Santos. You are not being charged for the ticket. Go and enjoy the concert.” Never forgot that.
Coit: What a treat.
Chapman: Yeah, it was — I really grew to like Mr. Santos a lot. And I saw him on occasion, at different school events. But I remember even in school, I would ask him about different composers. And I said, “What do you think of this composer?” And I remember listening to a lot of concert programs because my interest really grew. So one morning he asked me, “What is your wildest dream? What is this wildest dream?”
And he said, “You’re such a dedicated student. I want my daughter to be just like you.” And I thought to myself, oh my God, please don’t. Come on. So he said, “What is your wildest dream?” And I said, “My wildest dream is I would love to start a classical music FM station.” And I explained how I wanted to promote new music and living composers, as well as all the standards. And he goes, “Would you make me your music director?” And I said, “Definitely, yes.”
So he went over to a piano that was in his room in his classroom, and he started playing these jazz chords. And then he stopped. And I said, “Mr. Santos, I will thank you to keep your jazz output to your own program on Saturday nights.” He started to laugh. I started to laugh. We couldn’t stop laughing. It was something unreal. But really, I think of all the music teachers at Perkins, he was my favorite. He really was my favorite.
Coit: That’s great. That sounds like another great teacher. Was it–
Chapman: He was — oh go ahead.
Coit: You hinted at this earlier, but what were some big changes at Perkins while you were a student?
Chapman: Some of the changes were slow to get started and would accelerate long after I graduated. One of them, of course, was that– and this was because of people like Mr. Ellis and a long-time English teacher named Anthony Ackerman and Miss Cambridge, who was involved somewhat. But they felt that we should have more contact through dances and stuff with other students, with girls.
For many years, girls and boys were never to meet. In fact, for many years in Perkins’ history, the boys had separate teachers. The girls had separate teachers. But I remember they would have a junior high social and a senior high social. There’d be the senior high boys and girls would meet maybe once a month in one cottage. And then there would be others that– the junior high, the same thing.
But that wasn’t enough. We started having dances and get-togethers with girls, and the same with boys, who — I mean, the same with the girls side, where they would have dances and get together with people of the opposite sex from different schools, not just schools for the blind or but with schools for sighted in the Boston area. And there would be dances and events like that.
And those were the changes that started in the mid ’60s. There was also what they call the Supper Exchanges. The way that worked, and again, there would be the junior high or senior high Supper Exchanges. For example, I was in Eliott Cottage. And let’s say Eliott Cottage seniors would eat with the senior girls in, let’s say, Brooks Cottage.
And of course, vice versa, the junior boys in Eliot would, say, eat with the junior girls and the staff in, let’s say, Fisher Cottage. That’s how the Supper Exchange worked. So that was another thing that was started. Another thing that there was a tradition we all hated. It was called Dish Crew. Each cottage, they didn’t have dishwashers back then. And this was a change that kids tried to start.
It was where each week the Dish Crew in each cottage would have three or four members. And they would wash and dry the dishes. Each cottage had a kitchen staff, a cook, and a maid. The maid would be doing the cleaning and would be helping to clean the dishes and so forth. We had to do the washing. We had to do the drying. Every cottage had this. We hated it. We absolutely hated it.
In fact, some on the student– oh the other change was a more involved student council. And so there was a student council meeting where one student council member said to Dr. Waterhouse, “We’d like to get dishwashers for the cottages.” Dr. Waterhouse said no. And he really was adamant about it. This is training. This is your training. And this is what you’re going to be trained.
Well, even though the student failed, I thought everybody on the boys’ side was going to carry him around the boys’ side on their backs because he really got an applaud. But I think because of what happened afterwards — I don’t know the whole story. So I won’t tell it because I’m sure there’s some things that have been made up, but the cottages had to get dishwashers. And so Dish Crew was eliminated. Thank the good Lord. And I wish it had been eliminated while we were there.
What did it train us to do? I don’t know, but that was the feeling back then that another change is — but there are more changes, a lot more changes that came around after I left. And one of those when Mr. Smith, who was the principal, became the director. He allowed co-ed gym classes when appropriate. He also allowed boys and girls to go see each other at different days, evenings of the week.
But the way it worked was if a girl came over to visit a boy in a boys’ cottage — and again, just in the common area — no rooms or anything like that, but in a common area. Then you walk the girl back to the cottage, to her cottage. The girl did not walk you back to the boy’s cottage. And that was only right. So that was a change, even though it came after I left. These were things that Mr. Smith, who is more class involvement when appropriate with gym.
I mean you could do things like square dancing and things like that. And that was what was involved with gym. So the changes accelerated long after I left. But there were some changes that started when I was there. And I felt it was important to include some of those because those were more major than when I was there.
Coit: I’m sure, yes. And it’s interesting that they started when you were there and then sort of continued until after you had left.
Chapman: That’s right, exactly.
Coit: And so is there anything– those are all the questions I have. Is there anything that I haven’t asked or that you think that you want to share?
Chapman: I think that this has nothing to do with me. And I think that this is something– and I thought about this that I wanted to include. Many alums have often– I do a lot of nursing home visits. And these are people I know, of course. And I’ve visited nursing homes, where people from Perkins sadly are in long-term. And not only them, but other students feel Perkins isn’t the same anymore.
Perkins has had to change. It isn’t all Perkins is doing. Laws have been changed in Massachusetts. Chapter 766, which encouraged students who were able to academically compete with students of their peers who are sighted were encouraged and in fact, finally mandated to attend public schools. I think this is why Perkins has changed a lot. But there will always be a need for Perkins. And we’ve always seen this right from the beginning.
There are groups of students that come to Perkins, and I think that this is even true today, where students from public schools come. And they learn activities of daily living. We were never taught activities of daily living. They were taught how to– there’s a thing that goes on at Perkins now. Not just the Perkins students, but people who are blind are also encouraged to come to Perkins.
And I think from what Mr. Power told me one time, that they come to Perkins to learn how to do a job search, how to write a resume, how to dress, how to apply for a job, how to research a job, how to research a company. There will always be a need for Perkins like that. There will always be a need for students to come together who go to different schools and share experiences – well, this is what I’ve done, this the way this problem’s been solved.
Teachers need to come to Perkins to learn. All right, you educate a blind student the way you educate anybody else. And I think there will always be a need for Perkins for– and I think that this is more important than any more experience that I can share. Because I keep getting asked this question, “what do you think of Perkins now?” It is what it is. It’s the way the world is working. This is not all Perkins is doing.
Federal laws, state laws, the whole nine yards, but there will always be a need for Perkins. And I think this is very important to put in into this oral history. Not just the history, but there will always be a need for Perkins as conditions change, just like all the buildings change to fit the people who are in wheelchairs or other issues. And it’s like everything else– life goes on.
Coit: Absolutely. I completely agree. So thank you so much. I’m going to stop the recording so that we can finish up. But just thank you so much.