Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Woman Who Worked for the Blind


Laura Dewey Bridgman  | Mrs. Rebecca McManes Colfelt| Helen Adams Keller | Etta Josselyn Griffin

There are eighty public libraries which have embossed literature for circulation, and there are also many state commissions and associations for the welfare of the blind. The Misses Trader, of Cincinnati, Ohio, have accomplished wonders through their Library Society for the Blind and their Clover-nook Industrial Home for the Blind. (Miss Georgie Trader is without sight.)

Mrs. Andrew Cowan, of San Francisco, Cal., organized an auxiliary for the blind before the disastrous earthquake in that city, and had a delightful library, where books were circulated and entertainments and readings given by volunteers.

The work in Dayton and Cleveland, Ohio, was started by ladies, and the Women's Educational and Industrial Union, of Boston, began the work which is now done by the Massachusetts Commissioners. Mrs. Hadder, of Brookline, Massachusetts, did splendid work in this connection. Mrs. Fairchild and Miss Chamberlin and Miss Goldthwaite and Miss Trader, of the New York State Library, are well known in this work. Miss Bubier (blind) of the Lynn, Massachusetts, Library, and Beryl Ghuhac, of the Brookline Library (also blind), are among the well-known women workers. Matilda Zeigler, of New York City, spends more than $25,000 annually on the fine publication which she founded, with Mr. Walter G. Holmes as managing editor, for the benefit of the blind.

Miss Winifred and Miss Edith Holt, of the New York Association for the Blind, have done some particularly good work in the New York Association for the Blind, Department of Blind Home Teachers. Mrs. Laborio Delfino, formerly Miss Emma R. Neisser, is in charge of the Library for the Blind connected with the Free Library, of Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Home Teaching Society and Library for the Blind.

The Aid Association for the Blind of Washington, D. C, was organized about 1898 by Mrs. Hearst and Mrs. John Russell Young, the latter being its first president. At present Mrs. Charlotte Emerson Main is president.

Laura Dewey Bridgman
Miss Bridgman was born in Hanover, New Hampshire, December 21, 1829, and died in South Boston, Mass., May 24, 1889. When but three years of age she lost, through scarlet fever, her sight and hearing, becoming a blind deaf mute. In 1837 she was placed in the Institution for the Blind in Boston. Here Dr. S. G. Howe was director. He developed a special system of training for her, and in a short time she had acquired a considerable vocabulary, and so successful was the course of training used by Dr. Howe in her case that she became well known throughout the country, and this was successfully applied in the cases of other similarly unfortunate persons.

Mrs. Rebecca McManes Colfelt
Mrs. Rebecca McManes Colfelt and her late mother, Mrs. James McManes, have given large sums of money to pay the blind for copying books into English braille for the Library of Congress, and these ladies, by their generosity and interest in this work, made it possible for Miss Giffin, late librarian for the blind, Library of Congress, Washington, D. C, to be sent as a delegate to the International Congress held in Brussels in 1902; that held in Edinburgh, in 1905; at Manchester in 1908; Vienna in 19 10, and Cairo, Egypt, in 1911. During these various trips Miss Giffin has visited schools and institutions and libraries for the blind in all the principal cities of Great Britain, Europe, Oriental Europe and Egypt. Miss Giffin has aroused the interest of prominent people in Washington to the immediate necessity of rescuing this library from ultimate destruction. Mr. Thomas Nelson Page has been made president of an organization, and Miss Giffin the director, with the hope of interesting friends all over the country to aid in this splendid work. There are eighty thousand blind in the United States, 82 per cent, beyond the school age, and two-thirds of them are dependent for their sole recreation on books. This movement is American in its spirit, and thoroughly in accord with the practice of our government. We have always prided ourselves on recognizing the rights of every class of citizens, and no woman has done a greater and more needed work better and more unselfishly than has Miss Giffin.

Etta Josselyn Giffin
Librarian for the blind; formerly in the Library of Congress, Washington, D. C. In 1897 Miss Giffin was appointed assistant librarian in the Library of Congress by John Russell Young, librarian at that time. A number of blind citizens had made a personal appeal to the librarian for a reading room, which was granted, and Miss Giffin placed in charge. When the new building was opened to the public, October 1, 1897, a room for the blind was appropriated and everything done to adapt this room to the use of the blind. So much interest was immediately shown by all visitors to the new library that it was decided by Mr. Young to collect not only books, music, maps and periodicals, but also devices for reading tangible print, guides for keeping pencil and pen in straight lines, games and every device for instructing and entertaining the blind. One of the important things which was commenced by Mr. Young was the collection of the reports from schools and institutions for the blind in American and foreign countries, also books on the care of the eye and the prevention of blindness, and all books concerning the education and employment of the blind. The idea was to build up a special library on all subjects connected with the blind and that most important organ, the eye, which was and would have been in the future most helpful to the blind of the district and those all over the country, and even of international use. Unfortunately, Mr. Young could not be spared to carry out his splendid ideas. This collection has been removed by the present librarian, but the effort is now being made to have it returned to the Library of Congress, where it is more accessible and will be properly cared for and continued and enlarged. Miss Giffin is now actively at work endeavoring to accomplish this end. As the literature in tangible print is limited it was decided on the opening of the reading room in the new library to have oral readings by sighted volunteers for one hour daily, and Mr. Young invited Thomas Nelson Page, F. Hopkinson Smith, Henry Van Dyke, and many others of prominence to read, and, if possible, give an address to the blind. Miss Giffin was particularly active in bringing about and conducting these delightful entertainments.

Helen Adams Keller 1880 ~ 1968
Miss Keller was born at Tuscumbia, Alabama, June 27, 1880. She is the daughter of Captain Arthur H. and Kate Adams Keller, and is descended, on her father's side, from Alexander Spottswood, colonial governor of Virginia, and through her mother is related to the Adams and Everett families of New England. Helen Keller has been deaf and blind since the age of nineteen months, as a result of illness. She was educated by Miss Ann M. Sullivan (now Mrs. Macy) from the beginning of her education to the present time. She entered Radcliffe College in 1900, graduating with the degree of A. B. in 1904.

She was formerly a member of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, and is a member of advisory boards for the various societies for the blind and deaf. She has contributed articles in the Century Magazine, Youth's Companion, and has written "The Story of My Life" and "The World I Live In," etc.

Miss Keller stands forth as a shining example of overcoming almost insurmountable obstacles. Today she is a well-educated, keen-minded, cultured woman, equally enthusiastic over a walk in the woods or a sail on the water as over the treasures of Homer and Shakespeare. She converses in two or three languages, and writes as many more. She counts among her friends the most eminent contributors to the intellectual life of the day, and her own literary efforts compare favor-ably with those of women possessed of all their faculties.

In the face of what she has had to overcome Miss Keller's achievements are marvelous. She is one of the most remarkable American women of our day.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.


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