This spring, I began the process of digitizing and indexing the Kindergarten for the Blind Correspondence Collection. I am a graduate student at Simmons College completing an advanced internship as the final step toward earning my master’s degree. The Kindergarten Correspondence Collection consists of 39 volumes, spanning the years 1884-1921. Because the collection is so large, and each volume contains at least one year’s worth of correspondence, I was only able to begin the process, digitizing and indexing the first 11 volumes. Most of the correspondence relates to the administration of the Kindergarten and fundraising, as well as letters to and from parents, letters concerning admission to the school, and letters concerning the attendance and health of students. Many of the letters show the dedication of women in the community to helping the Kindergarten and its students.
The Kindergarten for the Blind, the first in the United States, was established in Jamaica Plain, MA in 1887. While the first class only consisted of 10 pupils, by 1895, over 70 children were enrolled. The purpose of the school is to educate blind children and assist them in gaining the skills they need to be successful and independent after they leave the school. In 1913, the Kindergarten for the Blind integrated into the Perkins School for the Blind when both relocated to their current campus in Watertown, MA, where it was renamed “the Lower School.”
While digitizing and indexing the Kindergarten Collection, I came across numerous letters of interest. Two such letters came from notable women who took an interest in the Kindergarten. One was received from the business manager of May French-Sheldon (Volume 2), American author and African explorer, the other from Isabel Barrows (Volume 6), the first female stenographer employed by the US State Department and Congress. Women’s support of the Kindergarten was quite important to its continuation, as many women gave donations and remembered the Kindergarten in their wills, as well as providing sponsorship for specific students in need. Many even opened their houses to students over vacations that had nowhere else to go.
These two impressive women are among the many supporters of the Kindergarten over the years. By providing donations, lending time and energy, sending funds for students, as well as providing special services for the school (such as stenography), women were instrumental in supporting the growth and continuation of the Kindergarten. I, as a history student with a particular fascination in women’s history, found the number of women offering support or contributing in some way to the Kindergarten for the Blind truly fascinating. It has also been a very interesting experience, learning more about the digitization process and the Kindergarten.