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The Perkins School for the Blind has evolved and expanded in many ways since its incorporation 175 years ago. To start, the school was not always located on the lush Watertown campus it calls home today. There have been several Campus Locations over its 175-year history, including downtown Boston, Cohasset, South Boston, and Jamaica Plain.

Moreover, it wasn?t always called the Perkins School for the Blind. In 1829, when the school was incorporated, it was called The New England Asylum for the Blind. The Perkins name comes from Colonel Thomas Handasyd Perkins, a wealthy merchant on the school?s Board of Trustees. He donated his home on Pearl Street in Boston just a year after the school opened, so that it could accommodate more students. In 1839, Col. Perkins allowed his home to be sold so that the school could move to an even more spacious site in South Boston. The school has honored Col. Perkins? generosity by bearing his name ever since.

Ever since then the school has continued to grow. Not only in the number of students it serves, but in programs, too. Deafblind education began here at Perkins. Just five years after the school opened its doors, Samuel Gridley Howe, the school?s first director was eager to take on the challenge of educating a child who was deafblind. He traveled to New Hampshire to meet seven-year-old Laura Bridgman and convinced her parents that he could educate her?something that had never been accomplished with a person who was deafblind before. Howe?s success with teaching Laura set the standard for educating other students who were deafblind. Perkins graduate Anne Sullivan used Howe?s deafblind education methods and developed others as the teacher of Perkins? most famous student, Helen Keller.

In its earlier days, Perkins only accepted students who were between the ages of 9 and 19. Howe admitted a small number younger children for a few years, but that practice had to come to an unfortunate end when the school expanded its services for upper-level students. But the trustees and Howe?s predecessor, Michael Anagnos, were dedicated to establishing a Kindergarten for young children who were blind. In 1887, Perkins opened the first kindergarten for the blind in Jamaica Plain.

The origins of library services for people who are blind can be traced back to Howe, who considered literacy an educational right. He believed that readers everywhere who are blind?not just his students?should have access to books. It took nearly 100 years, but Howe?s dream was fulfilled with the U.S. Government?s establishment of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, which still thrives today. The Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library was one of the first to circulate books to patrons in New England who are blind. In addition, the Howe Press donated copies of all its publications to public libraries throughout the country so they, too, could offer services to their patrons who were blind.

By the beginning of the 20th century, both the upper-level South Boston campus and the Jamaica Plain kindergarten had outgrown their facilities. In 1913, the schools, library, and printing press relocated to a 38.5 acre wooded campus along the Charles River in Watertown, where everything stands today.

Gallery guides for the Perkins History Museum were prepared by Betsy L. McGinnity, Museum Curator, Jan Seymour-Ford, Research Librarian and Kathleen J. Andries, Volunteer.

Photograph. Photograph.  A formal portrait showing a child reading a raised print book with his fingers to three younger students standing at a table, ca. 1900.  Two boys and a girl standing next to science projects:  a plasticene chart of the solar system, a volcano, and dinosaurs and amphibians made of plasticene, ca. 1940.  Anne Sullivan fingerspelling into a young Helen Keller?s hand, ca. 1889.  Young men and boys with brass instruments, ca. 1860.
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175 North Beacon Street

Watertown, Massachusetts 02472

Fax 617-926-2027

Phone 617-924-3434