Stephen Blaisdell often remarked that he would have liked to have “had ten cents in his pocket” while he was a student at Perkins (Boston Transcript, 11/13/1901). He wanted to make sure that “those following after him might at least once a year feel the jingle of money in their pockets” (Daily Advertiser, 2/13/1902). With this desire in mind, Blaisdell left his fortune to the students of Perkins in his Will, with some very specific instructions.
Stephen Blaisdell came to Perkins from Maine in 1844 when he was nine years old. Seven years later, he moved to the Perkins Workshop where mattresses and mats were manufactured and continued working there until 1869. An article in the Boston Transcript in November 1901 explained that Blaisdell would buy second-hand pianos and rent them to people. He also sold pianos and sewing machines. He was, according to the article, “a natural mechanic, and would take a sewing machine to pieces and put it together again without assistance from anyone. He could do the same thing with a piano.” He shared his knowledge about music by giving piano lessons. “He used to go around from place to place and was quite successful,” the Boston Transcript reported. The Bath Maine Times (11/19/1901) said that he “would drive a close bargain but was not tricky.”
Blaisdell never forgot about Perkins, though, as Michael Anagnos remembered that he “visited the institution a number of times” and was “much interested in the work of the institution and would always ask questions about it” (Boston Journal, 11/14/1901).
As a talented musician and skilled mechanic, Blaisdell had accumulated about $12,000 in savings by the time he died at the age of 66 in 1901. Blaisdell had named Charles E. Bourne, Frank H. Kilbourne, and Dennis A. Reardon as the executors and trustees of his estate.
Blaisdell’s Will reads, in part:
They [the trustees] are to pay each pupil of the Perkins Institution for the Blind, and the kindergarten connected with the same, $1 on or before the 12th of February of each year, the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, and in commemoration of his freeing the slaves and preserving the Union, and this is to be called the Blaisdell fund.
If the amount of money warrant it and the trustees deem it advisable, I also direct that they pay a like sum to each of said pupils on or before July 4 on each year. If the trustees consider it best instead of the last payment, they may pay to the graduates each year from $10 to $15.
In 1902, the first 244 dollars from the Blaisdell fund were distributed along with some sound advice in the assembly hall on February 12 by Dennis Reardon. An article in the Daily Advertiser (2/13/1902) noted that the dollar is “unconditionally the property of the youngster, and each one will be allowed to keep it in his or her possession, but,” they add, “there is a string to it.” Michael Anagnos, who was the director of Perkins at the time, said that he believed “it to have been the intention of [Blaisdell]…that the children should spend it wisely…. That does not mean that they may buy candy with it as most of them probably would.” Trustee F.H. Kilborne, however, acknowledged that “the officers of the Institution will have a care that the children do not foolishly make themselves ill” and that while they may “advise them to save it or spend it wisely,…they will not demand that they do.”
In 1934, 279 bills were distributed on February 12 as the Boston Massachusetts Post (2/11/1934) reported that the students at Perkins “will break out their happiest smile tomorrow” when they receive the “crisp, new dollar in their hands.” In 1952, 264 students found their dollar bills on the breakfast table on Lincoln’s birthday (Lewiston Journal Magazine, 3/15/1952). The 1985 Perkins Annual Report reported that there was about $200,000 in the Blaisdell Fund.
While the process has evolved over the years, Perkins students still receive Blaisdell Dollars today. Funds are distributed to the cottages annually for holiday celebrations and are also provided to students upon graduation. It has been over 100 years since Perkins students first received funds from the Blaisdell fund and, as was written in the Lantern in 1964, “there can be few people who are remembered…with such real appreciation by hundreds” of Perkins students as Stephen Blaisdell.
Work cited and resources
(November 13, 1901) “To Help the Blind Celebrate.” Boston, MA. Boston Transcript. Available on the Internet Archive.
(November 14, 1901) “Pay $1 to Each Pupil.” Boston, MA. Boston Journal. Available on the Internet Archive.
(November 19, 1901) [No title] Bath, ME. Bath Maine Times. Available on the Internet Archive.
(February 13, 1902) “For Necessaries Only.” Boston, MA. Boston Daily Advertiser. Available on the Internet Archive.
(February 11, 1934) “Blind Students To Get Dollar Gifts.” Boston, MA. Boston Post. Available on the Internet Archive.
(March 15, 1952) “Maine Man’s Bequest Brings Happiness At Perkins Institution.” Lewiston, ME. Lewiston Journal Magazine Section. Available on the Internet Archive.
(June 1964) “The Stephen Blaisdell Story” Watertown, MA. The Lantern. Available on the Internet Archive.
Extract from the Will of Stephen J. Blaisdell of Boston. Available on the Internet Archive.
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Coit, Susanna. “Ten cents in his pocket.” Perkins Archives Blog, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown MA. December 16, 2020.
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