Twenty-third in our series to appear on the first Friday of each month: Boston Firsts Fridays. #BostonFirsts
First Realty Management Corp. was founded in Boston over 50 years ago. We are proud to call this wonderful city our home, and call focus to some of the events & innovations that happened FIRST in Boston.
We’re winding down our two-year series on Boston Firsts. It’s been a great run but there are other projects we’d like to focus on. So for these last few articles we’ll likely group a number of firsts together – Boston has so many!
For our next to last Boston First Friday, we considered featuring the enterprising Frederic Tudor, the “Ice King”, who created the American ice trade in 1806 when he figured out how to ship New England ice halfway around the world for food preservation (and frosty drink) purposes. Such a notable feat is surely worthy of our attention, but with the winter Boston has had, it just didn’t seem appropriate to talk more about ice… (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_trade if you’re interested)
Instead, we’ve chosen a Boston First that is even better for this month, as March 2, 2015 marked the 186th anniversary of the incorporation of the Perkins School for the Blind.
BF#23 First American School for the Blind (1829) and other Accessibility Firsts
The Institut National des Jeunes Aveugles (National Institute for Blind Children) in Paris, the world’s first school for the blind, provided the inspiration for the Perkins school when Dr. John Dix Fisher of Needham visited earlier in the decade. Fisher and friends incorporated the New England Asylum for the Blind and obtained a charter from the Commonwealth. The school would open its doors in 1832. Well, actually, the doors that were opened that day belonged to director Samuel Gridley Howe’s father at 140 Pleasant Street in the Dorchester section of the city.
Six students began instruction at first. Within a year the school had moved on in student size and needed new facilities. Colonel Thomas Handasyd Perkins donated his mansion on Pearl Street, in what is now Post Office Square. By 1839, the school was doing so well it required another move to South Boston, made possible by the sale of the Colonel’s land. You can probably guess how they chose to recognize his philanthropy (renaming the school the Perkins Institution).
In 1887, Perkins became responsible for another first by opening the first kindergarten for the blind, in Jamaica Plain. 1880 saw the creation of what would come to be the largest library on blindness and deaf-blindness in the world.
Today the institute sits on a large campus in Watertown, where it has operated since 1912. A museum has joined earlier facilities, such as the library, press and Braille typewriters. Perkins continues to be at the forefront of education and research, and a Boston institution.
Boston’s innovations in accessibility are not limited to Perkins, wonderful institution though it certainly is. Further mention must be made of local public television station WGBH, who created two additional Boston Firsts with its broadcasting to visual and hearing impaired patrons.
- TV for the deaf (creation of close captioning) 1972
- TV for the blind (creation of video description broadcasting) 1990
The radio station started in 1951, with a television channel broadcasting for the first time 4 years later. Channel 2, as it was and probably always will be known in the area, carried public television broadcasts of high quality, many of which it produced. (The list of shows originated by GBH reads like a PBS hall of fame: NOVA, Masterpiece, Frontline, American Experience, Arthur and many more.)
But it was with one of its most popular shows, The French Chef, starring Julia Child, where they made history by providing captions in 1972. Up until that point, hearing impaired viewers were missing half of the information delivered by television programs and left completely out of largely spoken broadcasts such as the news. The addition of captions to the already successful show brought in even more viewers. As the station continued to push the technology to nightly news and later live broadcasts, captioning took on new life as a wonderful tool – not only for deaf or hard of hearing individuals, but those learning the language, those with learning disabilities, children learning to read and more.
In 1990 WGBH again created a new communication medium by introducing the Descriptive Video Service, wherein the action on screen was narrated during breaks in the dialogue. Now visually impaired viewers could enjoy the programming as well.
One of the more notable beneficiaries of the school’s teachings, Helen Keller, may not have ever known about the school had her mother not read about the work that was going on at Perkins in a book called American Notes, author Charles Dickens…
Fun fact #2:
The call letters GBH stand for Great Blue Hill, the highest elevation in the Greater Boston area. Great Blue is in nearby Milton and was home to WGBH TV’s transmitter for many years (the radio’s transmitter is still located there).
Sources / For More:
Boston Firsts, Lynda Morgenroth, Beacon Press, Boston