Sabra Oulton graduated from Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind (now Perkins School for the Blind) in 1939, when she earned a certificate from the manual training department along with her diploma. In the photo above, she is photographed with other female members of the class of 1939. She is likely the first person on the right in the back row, wearing a dark skirt and light long sleeve blouse. While she was at Perkins, she was particularly fond of woodworking. She also had special memories of Christmas and hanging her stocking in the hallway of May Cottage. She was a member of the Harmonica Club. After Perkins, she worked on farms and for the Red Cross, as a typist. She died in 2008.
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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 June 11, 2004, by Kevin Hartigan. This transcript is 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 The interview may not be published in full except with the permission of the Perkins School for the Blind.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].
Oulton, Sabra. “Sabra Oulton oral history interview conducted by Kevin Hartigan,” 2004-06-11, Perkins Oral History Project, AG195-2004-11, Perkins School for the Blind Archives.
Kevin Hardigan: This is an oral history for Perkins School for the Blind. The date is June 11, 2004. The interviewer is Kevin Hartigan. The interviewee is Sabra Oulton. Hi, could you state your name and spell it for me?
Sabra Oulton: Yeah, my first name is Sabra, S-A-B-R-A. My last name is Oulton, O-U-L-T-O-N.
Hartigan: Great. And could you give me your date of birth and place of birth?
Oulton: Mm-hmm. I was born on the day after Christmas, 12/26/19.
Hartigan: And where?
Oulton: And I was born in Providence.
Hartigan: Great, thank you. When did you come to Perkins? And what were your expectations when you first came to Perkins?
Oulton: Well, when I came, I was 12 going on 13. And I hadn’t seen any of it. So all I know is what my mother came home and she really raved and thought it was most wonderful thing in the world. So I assumed she thought so anyway. I don’t know whether I was too impressed about leaving home. I remember minding that, particularly.
Hartigan: Where did you go to school before you came here?
Oulton: Public school, Rumford, Rhode Island. Because of that time, we moved to Rumford.
Hartigan: Were you happy in public schools? Did you like your school?
Oulton: Well, it would have been all right. But the kids are mean. They tease you like the devil. In those days, they did. I don’t know, maybe they do it now. But when you wore glasses, which I did then, you were called four eyes. And only certain people bothered with you. It was kind of a lonely existence.
Hartigan: Did you have any friends in school, down in Rhode Island?
Oulton: Well, I think there were a couple. Usually, what happened was that people who didn’t have many other friends would gravitate to other persons with a handicap. That seemed to be pretty general. So I got a lot of that too. They were nice kids.
Hartigan: So when you did come to Perkins, what classes did you like?
Oulton: Oh, I got a chance to learn about, woodworking. That was my favorite of the whole business. Not that I hated any of the classes, that I can remember. I’m sure there were some that I liked better than others, but could accept anyway. But that woodworking bit, I had always wanted to know how you did things with tools. And then I finally had a chance to find out. And nobody said ha-ha, what are you doing that for, you’re a woman. So that was good too.
Hartigan: What type of things do you remember making in woodworking?
Oulton: Oh, I made an end table. And I made a bookcase with drawers in the bottom. And I made a box. Start out in life making a box. So you make a box. And that was a good one. Still got it.
Hartigan: You still have the–
Oulton: I’ve got the other things too.
Hartigan: That’s great. What was your favorite thing at Perkins? The greatest joy? I mean, maybe outside of classes?
Oulton: Well, Christmas, I think was something that probably everybody remembers.
Hartigan: Tell me.
Oulton: I don’t know much about it, but it was special.
Hartigan: What kind of special things happened at Perkins at Christmastime.
Oulton: Of course, you heard them singing the carols, practicing and all that, for a couple of months beforehand. And that was always nice to hear, and to look forward to Christmas and everything.
Hartigan: Were the cottages all decorated?
Hartigan: Did you help decorate?
Oulton: No, never did.
Hartigan: The staff did it all?
Oulton: We had– I hung my stocking out in the hall of May Cottage. And we all hung stockings. And we collected a variety of things. Some of them funny, you know, jokes. This, of course, was Depression, so nobody got any ermine wraps or anything. But it was kind of different for me every day. And we had a Christmas dinner. They also had a Thanksgiving dinner. Then, it was a couple years, and I stayed for Thanksgiving, stayed through. That was like a vacation in itself. But they had another Thanksgiving dinner. I also thought that was something for that cook, to have to do two Thanksgiving dinners.
Hartigan: Any specific teachers or staff that you remember fondly that were influences on you?
Oulton: Of course, we all had some we liked better than others. I was probably turned more toward the young teachers than I did the people who got older, like I did.
Hartigan: How about free time? What did you like to do in your free time?
Oulton: Used to play games, card games, in the living room. Used to read. The talking books had just come out about then. And we had one copy for each side. In other words, the girls had one copy to use for the whole school and the boys had their copy to use for the whole school. So we [inaudible] actually would do their reading. Of course, we could read braille. But it was quicker to listen to it.
Hartigan: Right. Any clubs or hobbies while you were at Perkins?
Oulton: Somehow I got into– which everybody laughed, because I wasn’t musical– but we had a harmonica club. And we used to gather and make noise, you might say. That was about it. That was fun.
Hartigan: How about any significant historical event that you remember happening while you were here?
Oulton: I remember the centennial too.
Hartigan: What do you remember about the centennial?
Oulton: Well, serious things, they were in Symphony Hall, in my memory. And I was in my lower school at that time. And we sang the Christmas Carol that was [INAUDIBLE]. And the funny thing that I remember was when we were learning– when we were coming down from the balcony– I think it was the second balcony that we were in. We all tramped down the stairs to go home. And somebody in the group, for some reason, thought of the poem about Mr. [? Maherphee, ?] Mad Hatter, [INAUDIBLE], when he was double jointed. He tried to make him dance a jig, but he was disappointed. That was silly, because it was that time of night, and everybody was silly. That’s what I remember mostly about being in that. Besides the fact that it rained for two days.
Hartigan: Great. All right, if you were giving a grade, you get to mark Perkins, how would you– what mark would you give Perkins– A, B, C?
Oulton: As far as I’m concerned, A. It’s way up in there.
Hartigan: You were happy here.
Hartigan: Now do you feel that it prepared you for your life later?
Oulton: Yeah, I do.
Hartigan: What did you do after you left Perkins?
Oulton: Well, I started out by working on different farms and doing chores, all that sort of thing. And I ended up at Red Cross, running a typewriter of all things. I always said I’ll never work in an office, but I did, and I came to it. But it was all right. I’m not doing it now.
Hartigan: Since today is graduation day, is there any advice you would give to the graduating class of 2004?
Oulton: Well, probably try the best you can and do what you can. You sometimes going to have to take something that you don’t want to do, but it’s a job, and you have to. So that’s how it is, and you do it. But you can maybe get to something better, if you stick at it long enough. I don’t think I’m awfully encouraged about that. But that’s probably what I’d say.
Hartigan: That’s great. OK, I’m on all out of questions. So the last one is, is there anything I didn’t ask that you’d like to tell us about your memories of your years at Perkins.
Oulton: Well, of course, it was a different here on campus of that time. We had a horse. We used the horse for dragging the cart around and moving dirt and stuff. And we had hens, had a garden, all kinds of things that they don’t have anymore. Probably the zoning law came along. But I thought it was great. Like a little bit of the country out in the middle of the city.
Hartigan: It sounds great. Now what year did you graduate?
Hartigan: ’39. All right, that’s great. Thank you.