Today, the Watertown News features the second place essay in the Historical Society of Watertown’s essay contest.
The Historical Society looks for the best history essays each year, and students had their choice of four themes: an individual, ethnic group, landmark or historical event in Watertown and its significance to the town and region.
The 1st place winner received $300; the 2nd and 3rd place winners received $100 each. The winners of the Historical Society Awards were chosen by a panel of Historical Society Council members. The awards were presented in June in the high school lecture hall.
See the third place essay, “Watertown and WW2” by clicking here.
Here is the second place essay:
PERKINS SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND
Janaki Thangaraj Grade 9
One of Watertown’s most important landmarks is Perkins School for the Blind. It is located on 175 North Beacon Street, along the Charles River. Founded by Dr. John Dix Fisher in 1829, Perkins is the first school for the blind in the United States. Overall, it represents Watertown’s rich history of innovation and service to people in need.
Dr. Fisher is considered to be one of the most influential reformers of Boston in the 19th century. Dr. Fisher, with the help of William Prescott, a blind historian, Colonel Thomas H. Perkins, and others persuaded the Massachusetts legislature to sign a charter for the New England Asylum for the Blind. It was later renamed to its current name.
Perkins School for the Blind was originally located in a house in Boston. Due to overcrowding, the school moved onto a 38 acre plot of land in Watertown in 1912. While in Boston, many famous students attended, such as Helen Keller and Laura Bridgman. Charles Dickens wrote a story about Bridgman after using the school to print The Old Curiosity Shop. Keller went on to become an influential advocate for the rights of women and disabled people.
The Samuel P. Hayes research library was founded at Perkins in 1880. It was a landmark event for that time, holding recent non-medical data about the blind and deaf. It is still the biggest assortment of its kind in the world. Among the library’s widespread collection are books written about Helen Keller, as well as the one written by her.
The Braille and Talking Book Library was another addition to Perkins. It contains a series of books on tape or in Braille to help students read. The collection varies from the latest newspaper edition to classic novels. Overall, it has 500,000 recorded titles and magazines as well as 16,000 books.
A lot of groundbreaking research was made about blind and deaf people in Watertown. One example is the Hayes-Binet test. Created by Dr. Samuel P. Hayes in 1920, it was based off the Stanford-Binet test to test the intelligence of blind people. It was instrumental in showing that blind people do not have less intellect than those who can see.
Another big breakthrough was the invention of the Perkins Brailler, also called a braille typewriter. Braille helps blind people to read and write by using a series of dots on paper to represent letters. The Perkins Brailler was invented by David Abraham in 1951 after years of experimentation. By 1977, there were 100,000 Perkins Braillers for sale worldwide.
In the 1980’s, Perkins changed in two significant ways. First, in 1982, Perkins started accepting people with disabilities other than blindness. This made it possible for people of many disabilities to get a good education with all of the help that they need. Later, in 1988, Perkins expanded worldwide. A grant by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation made it possible to spread the school’s influence throughout the country and in 50 developing nations.
Helen Keller spoke very highly of Perkins. She said, “I joined the little blind children in their work and play, and talked continually. I was delighted to find that nearly all of my new friends could spell with their fingers. Oh, what happiness! To talk freely with other children! To feel at home in the great world!” (McGinnity, etc). Before Keller was taught, she lived years of her life feeling frustrated. Anne Sullivan, her mentor, and Perkins gave her the happiness she needed through education and the ability to interact with people who were struggling in similar ways. After leaving Perkins, she became a famous activist for the rights of women and people with disabilities. Keller would not have come close to achieving what she did without the assistance of Perkins.
In over 180 years of existence, Perkins has created a good future for hundreds of children who had a very difficult life ahead of them. When Perkins was the only school of its kind in the United States, blind people were struggling with tasks that other people could do with ease. Perkins helped people in the Watertown area, and eventually around the world, giving them hope and an education which they otherwise would not have had.
Currently, Perkins offers students the chance to study reading, writing, geography, math, science, music and sports. Their goal is to help people who are blind, or have other disabilities using innovative technology. They help over 115,000 individuals around the globe every year. They have schools in 60 countries other than the United States, and are continuing to expand. Perkins teaches people by educating them with traditional school topics as well as day to day activities and learning to navigate their environment. This results in increased opportunities of employment and supporting themselves.
Perkins School for the Blind represents Watertown as a place of great intelligence and innovation. Along with being the first school of its kind, it made many breakthroughs when it comes to educating people without sight and other disabilities. Perkins helped many blind and deafblind people who would have had difficulty in gaining self-sufficiency and independence. It is hard to imagine that a school with such a great impact worldwide could be based in our small town in Massachusetts.