Annual Report Of The Trustees Of The New-England Institution For The Education Of The Blind, 1834

Introduction:  Annual reports to state legislatures were one of the key methods by which trustees and superintendents of schools for disabled children argued for additional government funding. In this report, the trustees of the New-England Institution for the Education of the Blind (previously known as the New England Asylum for the Blind and, after 1839, as the Perkins Institution for the Blind) tried to appeal to legislators’ sympathies by stating that the asylum served primarily poor children, documenting the school’s extensive public support, and describing the ways in which pupils were prepared to support themselves after graduation.

Editor’s Note:  This Is An Abridged Text

TO THE MEMBERS OF THE CORPORATION OF THE NEW-ENGLAND INSTITUTION FOR THE EDUCATION OF THE BLIND.

Gentlemen,

AT the return of your annual meeting it becomes the duty of us, to whom you entrusted the immediate direction of your Institution, to render you an account of our stewardship. Our task, however, is a most pleasant one, inasmuch as the history of the Institution for the past year has been an uninterrupted series of propitious events.

When, a twelvemonth ago, we undertook at your direction the management of its affairs, it was unknown to the public; a doubtful experiment on the feasibility of educating six poor blind children was in operation; the appropriation by the State was insufficient for their support; the subscriptions were nearly exhausted; and, within one month after our appointment, we found the Institution to be absolutely in debt. Now, however, the scene has entirely changed; the Institution has attracted public notice, and gained public favor; it is in the enjoyment of liberal patronage from this, and the surrounding States; it possesses a considerable funded property; its five-and-thirty happy inmates, inhabit a splendid and airy mansion, [View Annotation  – 1 »] with extensive grounds, and every thing necessary for their health, comfort, and education; and preparations are made for the reception of as many more.

For this pleasing change in the affairs of the Institution, we would take no credit to ourselves, but ascribe it to the liberal patronage of the State; to the generous interest of the public; and to the munificent spirit of individuals. [View Annotation – 2 »] We cannot but flatter ourselves, however, that all these advantages have been fully improved, and that the present state of our charge will show that the patronage so liberally bestowed, has not been unavailing.

Previous to detailing the present situation of the Institution, we will recapitulate briefly some of the principal events of its history: in July, 1832, the gentleman employed by us to procure the necessary information, apparatus and teachers in Europe, returned, and we determined to make a thorough trial of the feasibility of educating the blind, even although we should be obliged to expend the last dollar in the treasury; for we were confident that if we succeeded, we might rely fully upon a generous public for the means of establishing a suitable Institution. Accordingly we took six blind children, at random, from indigent families, [View Annotation – 3 »] and after having kept them under instruction for six months, made an exhibition of their acquirements before the Legislature of Massachusetts. The result of this was so satisfactory, — it proved so incontrovertibly the capacity of the Blind for receiving instruction, that the Legislature made at once an appropriation of $6,000 per annnm -sic- to the Institution, on the condition that it should receive and educate, free of cost, twenty poor blind persons from the State of Massachusetts.

Exhibitions were then made before the public, which produced considerable sensation, [View Annotation – 4 »] and awakened the community to the duty of providing a suitable establishment for the education of the Blind; and nothing can be more honorable to a community, or to human nature, than the spirit manifested by the inhabitants of Boston and its vicinity on this occasion. No sooner was it proved to the people, that the before neglected and ignorant blind were as capable as themselves of receiving a common education, and more in need of one, than it became a general and eager inquiry, “What shall we do for them?” The ladies, ever foremost in deeds of charity, immediately made an effort to raise a large sum of money; individual subscriptions and donations were offered on every side; Boston and Salem seemed to contend with each other in the race of benevolence; and different plans were suggested for turning to the advantage of the blind, the current of popular excitement; but nothing was decided upon, until, by an act so munificent as to excite astonishment and admiration even at the moment when all were generous, one of our citizens gave a particular and definite direction to the general effort. We allude to the proposition of Thomas H. Perkins, to give his mansion house in Pearl-street as a permanent residence for the Blind, provided a fund sufficient to ensure the perpetuity of the Institution could be raised; and we can pronounce no greater eulogium on the wisdom and foresight of the donor, or on the generosity of the public, than to state, that within one month, upwards of fifty thousand dollars were raised and placed to the credit of the Institution. [View Annotation – 5 »]

Nor ought we omit to mention, that the generous intentions of Mr. Perkins were made known to us, before they were communicated to the public; that we considered his proposal, from the first, as equivalent to an outright gift; and that the condition annexed, proved only that his generous heart was guided by sound judgement.

Exhibitions of the pupils were afterwards made to the large towns in the Commonwealth, and a general interest in the welfare of the Institution was excited. Nor was this confined to our own State; an exhibition was made before the Legislature of the State of Connecticut, and the appeal in favor of the poor blind of that State, was answered by a vote appropriating the sum of $1000 per annum, for twelve years, for the support of as many blind children at the Institution, as could be educated for that sum. Two pupils only have been received under that appropriation. The Legislature of New-Hampshire voted $500 and a temporary appropriation; and four pupils are now reaping the advantages of it. The Legislature of Vermont, at their last session, made the liberal appropriation of $1,200 for ten years; but no pupils have as yet been received under it.

In order to accommodate a large number of pupils, it was necessary to make some alterations in the disposition of the premises in Pearl-street; and the stables being of brick and built in the best manner, it was concluded to convert them into school-rooms and work-shops. It was also necessary to provide a large play ground; and the estate in the rear of the mansion house, and fronting on Atkinson-street, being fortunately for sale, it was purchased for the sum of $14,000; and thus the Institution became owners of the whole square from Pearl to Atkinson street. All the arrangements having been made, and the estate on Atkinson-street having been laid out as a play ground, the inmates took possession in September, and the Institution was advertised as ready for the reception of pupils from all parts of the country. Since that time, the number has gradually increased, and many more are expected: the whole number admitted has been thirty-eight; the actual number is thirty-four; one having left voluntarily, two having been discharged on account of illness, and one from a neighboring State, discharged for want of funds for his support.

There are now twenty-four from Massachusetts; four from New-Hampshire; two from Connecticut; one from Rhode-Island; one from New-York; one from Ohio; and one from Virginia. Three of the pupils from this State are beyond the age stipulated in the act of incorporation, at which the Governor may send pupils by his warrant; one of these pays her own expenses, the other two are at the charge of the Institution; as is also one from the State of Ohio. It will be seen that more pupils have been received from the State of Massachusetts than were strictly required by the terms of the grant; we have, however, considered it our duty rather to extend the advantages of the Institution to as many pupils as possible, than to accumulate funds.

Annotations

 1.     In 1833, Colonel Thomas Perkins, a well-to-do businessman and trustee, offered his mansion on Pearl Street in Boston as a permanent site for the asylum. In 1839, he sold the mansion in order to enable the asylum to move to a larger location in South Boston. In gratitude, the school’s trustees renamed the asylum after Perkins.

2.     During the asylum’s first few years, the trustees funded the school with a blend of public and private money. Sources of funding included state government support, donations by wealthy individuals, fundraising by women’s groups, tuition from wealthy pupils’ families, and proceeds from public exhibitions by students.

3.     Most of the six initial students were not from poor families; instead, their fathers were reasonably well-off artisans or farmers. By suggesting that the institution was training students solely from impoverished families, however, the trustees hoped to create sympathy among state legislators.

4.     Howe invited the governor and legislators to his first exhibition, which took place at Boston’s Masonic Temple. At this and other exhibitions, Howe had his students sing songs and recite poems about their desire for an education; pupils also demonstrated their ability to read maps, Scripture, and numbers from raised text, navigate nearby streets without help, and make baskets and mats.

5.     During exhibitions, Howe lectured on the sacred duty of the community to provide all children with a common education, regardless of the expense.

Source:  Perkins School for the Blind. Disability History Museum. http://www.disabilitymuseum.org/dhm/edu/detail.html?id=2435&annotations=75&paragraphs=1-11

 

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