Perkins School

Anne Sullivan: Teaching the Mute to Speak

Perkins School for the Blind

Perkins Institute for the Blind 1893 South Boston Campus.

[Image courtesy of Perkins Institute]

Anne Sullivan attended the Perkins School for the Blind from 1880 to 1890 before she went to work with Helen Keller. 

"Although Sullivan was a brilliant and intuitive teacher who had moved well beyond earlier rigid prescriptive teaching methods, she continued to seek and receive support and advice from Anagnos and others at Perkins."

-- Perkins School for the Blind

Students in practice of feeling for Braille at Perkins

[Perkins Institute for the Blind]

"New England Institution for the Education of the Blind (later known as Perkins School for the Blind)" (Britannica) opened in 1829. Samuel Gridley Howe was the first director for the newly founded institute and created his own procedure to help blind and deafblind students read. "Howe was known particularly for his success in teaching the alphabet to Laura Bridgman, a student who was blind and deaf" (Britannica). Samuel called this technique "Braille" and it is still commonly used today.

Samual Gridley Howe - Founder of Perkins School for the Blind.

[Image from Britannica]

"The Perkins School for the Blind Mission Statement is to prepare children and young adults who are blind, deafblind, or visually impaired, including those who have additional disabilities, with education, confidence, and skills they need to realize their potential." 

-- Perkins School for the Blind

"Education for people with disabilities developed in an era shaped by the Civil War, abolition, and scientific discoveries. These events impacted education and the reformers who pushed for it. The reform of education for people with disabilities in the 1800s was a reaction to the absence of educational opportunities for these populations" (Disability History: Educational Reform).

The Tadoma Method and Fingerspelling were developed at Perkins but it was through Sullivan's genius of using these methods that Keller learned to speak.

"Although the Tadoma Method is very difficult and time-consuming to learn, it has proven successful, granting fluent Tadoma users the ability to comprehend up to forty words a minute" (Deaf Blind Tadoma Method).

 "Sophia Alcorn first taught this method to students Tad Chapman and Oma Simpson in the 1920’s... Tadoma became ‘the’ method of communication for the deafblind at the Perkins School for the Blind" (Deaf Blind Tadoma Method). 

Tad Chapman and Sophia Alcorn using Tadoma (1927). 

[Kentucky Women Civil Rights Era]

Tadoma was named after the first two students, Tad Chapman and Oma Simpson, who were taught with this method circa 1920 at Perkins."The domination of the Tadoma method began to subside in the 1950’s due to the difficulty in acquiring the skill of use of the method and often inaccuracy" (Deaf Blind Tadoma Method). 

       It was only when Helen was older that Anne taught her Tadoma, as she mostly depended on the reliability of fingerspelling. 

A teacher at Perkins using fingerspelling with a student (1894)

[Perkins School for the Blind]

Fingerspelling, also known as the manual alphabet, was originally developed in the 1500's by, "Pedro Ponce de Leon, a Spanish Benedictine monk... to help him educate deaf students in Spain" (History of Sign Language). It quickly traveled and eventually came to the United States in a newly modified version created by Charles-Michel de l'Eppe. 

The Fingerspelling method is still used today but is best known as the ASL alphabet. It is used as the main form of communication for the deaf populations.

"Today the Deafblind Program at Perkins employs a “Total Communication” philosophy, where any and all means of communication are developed and encouraged. Language is modeled throughout the day in the form of speech and tactile sign language, and students are encouraged to use any combination of communication methods that works best for them" (Perkins School for the Blind). 

Aerial view of Perkins campus on the Charles River in Watertown, Massachusettes today..

[Perkins School for the Blind]

"While the world has changed since Perkins’ founding, our fundamental beliefs have remained constant. Our Core Values guide and inspire our work every day.

Excellence in Education - We pursue excellence and innovation to enable all students to reach their full potential.​​​​​​​

Tradition - We look to our legacy to inform our future.

Empowerment - We work to ensure that every person has the opportunity to make their voice heard.

Integrity - We behave in a way that is honest and principled.

Accessibility - We strive to be a model of accessibility in our actions and attitudes, fostering and advocating for an environment of inclusion." 

[Perkins School for the Blind].

Created by: Yulianna Bullock, Mataya Pacheco, Emma Reynolds