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To the Lake!: Camp Allen

Camp Allen, located on a small lake in New Hampshire, offered a summer full of activities and friends for girls who were blind or visually impaired.

Group portrait of campers and some of the staff, circa 1932.

When Perkins’ second director Edward E. Allen became a member of the Boston Lions Club International in 1920, he advised his fellow Lions not to contribute money to “some unimportant blind project which would soothe their consciences…” (Allen, 115). They asked him to suggest some projects that would be significantly beneficial to people who were blind and he did. One of his suggestions was “a summer camp for a few blind girls” (Allen, 115). 

On land donated by Dr. George S. Foster, a Lion from Manchester, New Hampshire, the Lions themselves cleared the site, drew the house plan, and painted the structure. But their involvement was not a “delegated affair, not something supported by absentee Lionism” (Allen, 115). A 1940 Boston Globe article described the camp’s facilities: “Camp Allen has a large and well constructed main building, combining a dormitory, living room, kitchen and a spacious porch, equipped with essential modern conveniences, pleasantly situated at the edge of a pine grove. In addition, there are two other cottages, a shower bath, garage and two cabins for staff use.” It notes that, “All around the camp are open woods and fields, ponds and streams which provide opportunities for hiking and picnics.” The Lions ran the camp with great assistance from Perkins teacher Cora L. Gleason. In honor of his work and dedication, the camp was named Camp Allen, for Edward E. Allen. 

The first campers arrived on Saturday, June 18, 1932. The group of about 20 girls were Perkins students, aged six through 18 years old. Some of the campers were totally blind, while others were visually impaired, but had some sight. An article in the Boston Globe on June 11, 1933 noted that some of the girls saw “well enough to get about with little trouble” (Lyons). Gleason “saw to it that there should be some who, because they had some sight, could help in guiding those who have no sight at all” (Lyons). The camp was “conducted like any other first class Summer camp,” wrote the Boston Globe in 1940.

Campers took part in excursions, including one to the Bedford Zoo, parties, and other “special treats.” The value of Camp Allen, was “not merely that it helps directly a few blind girls but that it indirectly helps the status of all blind people” (Allen, 116). Visitors to the camp were able to observe the campers participating in typical camp activity like swimming, crafts, campfires, and hiking. “The great problems for blind people,” Lyons wrote in his Boston Globe article, “is to surmount the barriers we sighted people raise against them–the barrier whereby we set them apart as different from the rest of us.”

In the summer of 1933, Camp Allen welcomed Kyriakie Nicolaou. The Boston Globe article tells her story: “When Kyrie was a little girl the Greek-Turkish difficulties burst forth and she with her family were driven from home in the great expulsion of foreigners from Turkish soil. In the disaster, Kyriakie’s father and mother were killed, and Kyrie joined in the weary march to Greek territory. …Somewhere along the line Kyriakie contracted a malady which robbed her of her sight.” Nicolaou came to the United States to attend school at Perkins with the support of Dr. Allen.

Camp Allen was not the first camp for children who were blind. Alice M. Lane, a teacher in the Perkins Kindergarten, conducted a small camp for girls who were blind from 1916 to 1926. Her camp was located on a small lake in Georgetown, Massachusetts and was funded by her friends and her own savings (Allen, 116). The Boston Committee on the Blind also made it possible for about twenty older male students from Perkins to spend a week at a summer camp run by the Boston Y.M.C.A. (Allen, 117). 

Works cited

Allen, Katherine G. (1940) Edward Ellis AllenAvailable on the Internet Archive.

Lyons, Leo J. (1933). “Camp for Blind Girls Opened by Lions Club”. The Boston Globe. Available on the Internet Archive.

Suggested citation

Coit, Susanna. “To the Lake!: Camp Allen.” Perkins Archives Blog, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown MA. August 19, 2020.

children playing on a playground

Isabel Greeley, Principal Matron of the Kindergarten 1887-1899

1966 Perkins Commencement Speaker, Robert Smithdas speaking at podium.

Dr. Robert Smithdas redefined deafblindness

Edith Thomas (standing) and Elizabeth Robin (seated) in front of ivy covered wall communicating via the manual alphabet.

Speaking with ‘flying fingers’