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Technical Training And Industrial Employment Of The Blind In The United States (1908)

The Technical Training And Industrial Employment Of The Blind In The United States

Superintendent of the Missouri School for the Blind: 1908

THE recognized end of the training given by the various institutions of the blind is capable citizenship.

One of the most important assets of the capable citizen is his ability to make a living for himself and those dependent upon him, and for that reason the technical training which may be applied to some breadwinning pursuits forms the most valuable part of the curriculum. ‘Tis a part of life to make a living. The blind man, as well as his seeing brother, may starve in five languages, may know the miseries of dependence even though he is also conversant with the beauties of Shakespeare, may have a Beethoven sonata at his fingers’ ends and not have the ability to teach the scale of “C.”

The purpose of the training given in the schools and institutions of the United States is to give an all-round development that will obviate these distressing situations, for these schools have most thorough academic courses for mental training, excellent gymnasia for physical development, industrial or manual training shops for teaching trades, and thorough courses of instruction in music for such as have talent in that direction.

Twenty-nine states have schools for the young blind, the usual age limits for admission being six to twenty years. In addition to these, ten states have dual schools which have the deaf taught in the same school with the blind, and under the same management. Training is given in the majority of these schools in broom making, mattress and mop making, piano tuning, recaning of chairs, wood-stayed basket making for the boys, and hand and machine sewing, knitting, crocheting, rug weaving, making of reed and raffia baskets for the girls. In eighteen states broom making is taught to boys. This occupation is more profitably followed in the Middle Western States, because the broom corn is a product of these states, and can be obtained at a low rate. In twelve states mattress making is taught.

The yearly appropriations for running these schools is $1,105,500; the shops and industrial schools, $120,000, making a total of $1,225,500 spent yearly in the United States for the instruction of the blind.

By the census of 1900, there were 64,763 (1) blind in the United States. Of these, 65 per cent were over 20 years of age. Direct and systematic efforts are made by these schools to secure the full number of the 35 per cent remaining eligible to their advantages. The million of dollars expended in their respective plants and the further millions required for their maintenance have procured a most excellent system of schools for the training and development of the young blind. There are 4,500 pupils and 500 teachers.

(1) Estimated by the New York Commission to be more nearly 100,000.

Of the adult blind, 25.3 per cent are from 20 to 40 years old, 13.2 per cent from 50 to 59, or of a possible working age, 48.2 per cent are 6o years old, or past working age, and .5 per cent are of unknown age.

The 38.5 per cent of working age gives 24,920, of whom 10,668 are women; 12,506 are engaged in profitable occupations; 891 are farmers, planters, and overseers; 766 are musicians and teachers of music; 206 are merchants and dealers, while 75 are teachers and professors in colleges; 545 are laborers, and 416 are agents.

For the adult blind, there are eight industrial homes and ten shops, with nearly 6oo workers. These institutions have annual state appropriations amounting to $120,000, and sales of over $305,000. (2)

(2) For full particulars regarding workshops for the blind in America, see Outlook for the Blind, Vol. II, No.2, July, 1908.

The oldest of these is the Perkins shop at Boston, founded in 1840, with earnings last year of $30,000. Next in age comes the Pennsylvania Working Home for Blind Men, founded in 1874 with earnings of $27,755.79, and appropriation of $22,500. The California Industrial Home has an appropriation of $25,000, with earnings of $27,141.78. The Indiana Shop for the Blind has earnings of $4,223.09. The Brooklyn Home, in New York, has earnings of $5,538.08. These first four establishments present the unusual condition of the earnings exceeding the expenses.

Other industrial homes are at Chicago, Mt. Healthy, Ohio, Hartford, Conn., and Saginaw, Mich.

Of the workshops for the blind, the Wisconsin workshop, in the city of Milwaukee, has specialized in the manufacture of willow baskets. The earnings for last year were $7,500, the weekly wages running from $2 to $16.32. The sales have steadily increased since the first year of opening the shop, due to the alert exploitation of its wares by the energetic superintendent, Mr. Oscar Kustermann, and the fact that willow is now obtained much cheaper, as several state institutions now raise it for the purpose of supplying the shop.

The Massachusetts Commission for the Blind maintains a shop for men, and one for women, at Cambridge, which are the latest additions to shops for the blind, being the outgrowth of the Experiment Station for the Trade Training of the Blind, founded in 1904 under the supervision of Mr. Charles F. F. Campbell, who has given efficient service to the cause of the blind by extending the limited field of the occupations open to the unsighted by placing the blind worker by the side of his seeing brother in the factory work. Stringing hairpins, cutting box corners in the box factory, stripping tobacco, other factory work, and the weaving of art fabrics in artistic patterns are the contributions due to Mr. Campbell’s energy. The weaving of artistic fabrics, rugs, portières, and draperies, as inaugurated by Mr. Campbell, has been adopted by the shops in Cincinnati and Cleveland, Ohio, and also at the Michigan Employment Institution.

The New York Association for the Blind was organized in 1905. Switchboard operating, making bead shades for electric light globes and opera glass bags, making wire hat frames and trimmings, and shampooing are the new occupations due to this Association’s efforts, which has a shop for men, and also a training shop for women (quite a distance apart, as are the shops at Cambridge). The New York Association is the development of the Committee on Tickets for the Blind formed by the Misses Edith and Winifred Holt, to whose generous, indefatigable efforts much of its success is due. The Association has performed a most valuable work, making a complete and accurate registration of the blind, which has been found to be 2,300 in the city of New York. The New York Commission for the Blind took up the work of making a census of the blind of the state, adopting the card used by the Association, giving age, birth, health, cause of blindness, earning capacity, family history, and conditions. The Massachusetts Commission has led the way in accurate statistical compilation, embracing complete information of every case. Their card is a model for all similar work. This excellent example should be followed by all the states of the Union, as full and accurate details concerning the condition of the blind must be known and individual needs learned before a wise course can be determined upon and proper action taken. Blindness has no specific for all its ills.

This beneficent work of increasing the practical breadwinning occupations open to the blind not only increases the confidence of the blind themselves, but has another most educative influence for the sighted public, in helping it to realize that the intelligent, alert, and capable blind person is not confined to the stereotyped occupations hitherto considered the blind man’s specialties, but may engage in other occupations where his individual capabilities may find expression in the normal relations of the business and industrial order.

The schools have performed a beneficent work, not only in training hundreds of young blind to industrial skill in accepted lines, but in developing a confidence and a resourcefulness which lead the young graduate to forge into new fields of endeavor. It is impossible to mention all the schools and their graduates who are doing good work. One of the most efficient of these is the Pennsylvania Institution for the Instruction of the Blind, at Overbrook. This magnificent plant is due to the wise planning and judicious forethought of Edward E. Allen, now director of the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind.

Out of ninety-seven graduates of the Overbrook school in the last twelve years, many of whom are successful as piano tuners, music and literary teachers, we find a cotton planter, politician, poultry raiser, evangelist, city missionary, custom laundress; seventy-five per cent are favorably accounted for. Among the ex-pupils, we find workers in box factory, tape factory, a phrenologist, a coal dealer, and a florist.

Among the occupations followed by pupils of the New York City school, we find the unusual ones of plumber’s helper, electrician helper, helper in printing office, iron foundry man, bookbinder, professional checker player, postmaster, truck driver, and tax collector.

For six years a graduate of the Missouri School for the Blind has had the entire control of the telephone exchange for a small town, and has performed all the work with the help of one assistant. Another totally unsighted graduate has assisted his father and brother in loading and unloading freight, and has also tended two teams. One man, in Fulton, Mo., has carried the loaded molds in a pipe and tiling factory.

The greatest success in broom making by pupils of the Missouri school has been made by those who went to small towns and started shops of their own, and obtained the custom of the entire community. Two brothers, leaving last year, have all they can do to supply the demand of their neighborhood. One boy has the trade of a town of 3,000 inhabitants, and is raising his own corn. One boy has made nearly $30 per month by selling brooms to factories. One graduate of the school is traveling salesman for a broom factory, making $85 a month and his expenses. Bookbinding is taught in this school, the pupils sewing, backing, and making the covers of the Braille books used in the school. Out of fifty-nine graduates in the last eighteen years, forty are supporting themselves and doing well.

One graduate of the Tennessee School for the Blind has accumulated a fortune of $80,000 in real estate. One from the Pittsburg school has made a fortune in the coal business. These examples, who have bravely ventured forth to make a place in the world, with the far greater number from the schools who have been successful in the more usual occupations of piano tuning and teaching, church organists, broom making, etc., make a roster of brave spirits, who have obtained from the schools not only the technical training which enables them to follow these pursuits, but also the courage and confidence which make them treat blindness as an accident of circumstance — an obstacle to overcome.

For the capable blind artisan, I favor the workshop instead of the industrial home. It enables him to work at his trade; to receive wages proportionate to his industry; to live in a community with seeing neighbors; to unite the duties and responsibilities of the citizen of the normal social fabric, instead of vegetating in restricted artificial life of an institution. The condition of the invalid, feeble-minded, or aged blind presents a different problem, which demands entirely different treatment.

A general wave of interest in the training and employment of the adult blind has spread throughout the United States in the last few years. The latest appropriation for state aid is $40,000, made by the Legislature of Maine for solving the industrial problem. Maryland has appropriated $1,500 for two years to aid a Commission of Five in solving the problem presented in this phase of the work. Delaware has spent $1,200 in the past year for similar work. Rhode Island has appropriated $2,500. Wisconsin’s latest appropriation was for $5,700, and Michigan $69,500. The Scotoic Aid Society of St. Louis, a private organization of sixty-five philanthropic citizens, is the latest society to aid the adult blind.

With Massachusetts spending $45,000 a year for training and placing the adult blind, Pennsylvania spending $20,000 a year for the last thirty years, California $25,000 a year for many years, Illinois $55,000 for the last four years; with all the wealth of material, equipment, and growing interest manifested from the Atlantic to the Pacific, we may believe that the time is near at hand for the solution of the many difficult and complex problems that invest this work of training the blind for self-support.

They require patient, persistent effort, but we hope that the United States of America, with her richness of benevolent achievement and multiplicity of industrial processes, will aid her sister nations in finding the answers to these vital questions, and will enlarge the opportunities of the blind and help them to attain to economic independence.

Source:   S.M. Green, “The Technical Training And Industrial Employment Of The Blind In The United States,” Outlook for the Blind, October 1908, Disability History Museum,


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