In this undated photo, Edward J. Waterhouse presents Helen Keller with the gift of a Perkins Brailler. Prior to becoming Perkins' fifth director, Waterhouse served as manager of the Howe Press and was instrumental in the development and ultimate success of the new mechanical braille writer.
connecting the dots
Helen Keller (1880–1968) came to Perkins when many competing systems for reading and writing for the blind were being used, invented, reinvented and eventually standardized. These systems included embossed Roman alphabets, namely Samuel Gridley Howe's Boston Line Type, dot systems including English Braille, American Braille, and New York Point, and a system that utilized abstracted Roman letter forms called Moon Type.
Although Louis Braille published his writing system in 1829, it wasn't until 1918 that Standard braille was adopted as the official system in the United States. As a 1904 graduate of Radcliffe, Keller became the first person who was deafblind to earn a Bachelor's degree, and she had to read fluently in all of these systems for her studies. In a letter to William Wade written in 1901, Keller remarks: "There is nothing more absurd, I think, than to have five or six different prints for the blind."
Even though Howe's Boston Line Type remained the official printing system at Perkins until 1908, braille was so popular for personal use that the school offered braille slates for sale as early as 1869. By the 1930s, Perkins had designed and manufactured several models of mechanical braille writers. Like other braille writers of the time, the early Perkins models required frequent repair in addition to being noisy and expensive to produce.
When Gabriel Farrell became director of Perkins in 1931, he resolved to develop a superior braille writer that would solve the earlier design problems. Unveiled to the public in 1951, the new Perkins Brailler® was tough and hard to break, with a touch so light it could be used by young children and those who lacked finger strength. Thanks to the work of director Farrell and designer David Abraham, braille was not only the standard reading and writing system for the blind, it was also easy and fast to produce.
In 2012, Perkins Products, formerly the Howe Press, introduced the Perkins SMART Brailler®—a new learning technology that offers an intuitive way for individuals, both sighted and blind, to communicate, teach and learn braille together. Now teachers can see what their students are brailling, sighted parents can help their visually impaired children with homework and students can take the lead in their own braille education.
Wow, one would think those love letters would be destroyed! But then, it's hard to throw away something close to the heart like that!
Interesting articles on the Braille story, Lynn. I look at Helen Keller with such amazement. The door to that brilliant mind was opened by that amazing woman (teacher) and the world benefitted along with Helen!
Thanks so much for these. I will keep my eyes open for interesting tidbits!