1854 Report of the Principal


To the Overseers Gentlemen:  In presenting this Report, I do not conceive it necessary to give any arguments in favor of the establishment of institutions for the unfortunate, where such institutions have multiplied with such unparalleled rapidity, and have been fostered with such care, as they have in the United States.

     From the most remote antiquity there have been numerous examples of the blind who were distinguished for their various acquirements, yet the idea of rearing up institutions for the instruction of the blind is of recent origin. The Abbe Hauy has the honor of making the first attempt at any thing of the kind for the instruction of this unfortunate class of our fellow beings. This was in the year 1784. Six years later, his school was taken under the patronage of the French Government. Soon after this, schools were established in most of the European states. Preliminary steps were taken for the establishment of one by the citizens of Boston, in 1829; soon New York and Philadelphia followed in this benevolent enterprise. From those have sprung the different institutions for the instruction of the blind which are scattered throughout our happy country. There are now eighteen in the United States, and all but three or four of the States have made some provision for the education of their blind.

     This institution was opened on the fourth of April, A. D. 1853, and continued in session until June 24th, 1854, when, by your direction, it was closed to open again on the fourth of September, the commencement of the present session.

     In accordance with your instructions, I attended a convention of the teachers of the blind, held in the city of New York on the 16th, 17th, and 18th of August, 1853. Many topics of interest were discussed, particularly that of printing for the blind. The convention adjourned after appointing a committee to memorialize Congress for a grant of public lands to aid in the building up and support of institutions for the instruction of the blind in the different States and Territories in the United States.

     Probably this was the first convention of the kind ever convened, and certainly it was the first in this country. This convention was well attended, the Principals of fourteen institutions were present representing some twenty states.

     While in New York I obtained several donations of books for this institution, and made such purchases as you directed; yet we are in great need of more books, instruments, and other apparatus. The progress of the pupils is greatly retarded for the want of them, but I cannot urge their purchase without there being more means placed at your disposal.

     The course of instruction and division of time follows: The pupils rise at 5-½ o’clock, a.m., geography from 6 to 7 o’clock, breakfast and recess from 7 to 8 o’clock, arithmetic and algebra from 8 to 9 o’clock; recess ten minutes. One-hour vocal music, ten- minute recess, one-hour grammar and writing, ten-minute recess, one-hour instrumental music and reading raised print, dine 12-½ o’clock p.m., recess to 2 o’clock p.m., From 2 to 5 o’clock the pupils are engaged in some kind of work, the males in the manufacture of brooms, and the females in sewing, knitting, and bead work. Supper at 5-½ o’clock, recess to 7, from 7 to 8 o’clock, history. Younger pupils retire at 9 o’clock, the older ones at 10 o’clock p.m. In addition to the above course, the pupils receive instruction on the piano forte, and a small class in geometry. The news of the day is read to the entire class from the various papers sent to the institution gratis. The pupils evince a great interest in their different pursuits,and feel thankful that there is a place provided for their education.

     The discipline is mild, but firm, free from corporal punishment. The plan of instruction is oral. No sectarian views are taught, but a due reverence and respect for the Supreme Being is inculcated at all times in the institution.

     If the weather will permit, all the pupils are expected to attend church on the Lord’s Day. Gentlemen, our household has been healthy, not one of the members of the Institution has lost a day from school on account of sickness. This is a little remarkable, as the blind, from their sedentary habits are predisposed to diseases of various kinds. The number of pupils have not increased as fast as we could desire for several reasons. First, for the want of means to make the proper exertions to induce them to leave their homes. Secondly, the objection of parents to comply with the law; and, lastly, for the want of room to accommodate them.

     I would most respectfully suggest the propriety of changing the name of the Institution form “Asylum for the Blind,” to that of “Institution for the Instruction of the Blind,” for it is not an Asylum, and the repealing of Section 5, of the law establishing the Asylum, or so far as it makes a distinction between rich and poor, a distinction which is very prejudicial to the interests of any institution of learning.

     It is true there is not much to be feared from the above distinction at present, as it is not likely there is a single blind person in the State who is really able to defray the expenses attending an education. It is worse than useless to require the parents to produce a certificate of their inability to defray the expenses of educating their blind child, for all look upon this as a degradation, which some will not submit to, preferring to rear their children in ignorance, thereby adding to the misfortune of physical blindness that of mental darkness - Iowa stands alone among the Western States in this restriction. It is to be hoped that she will adopt as liberal a policy as that of her sister States, educating all her blind, deaf dumb free of charge.

     It is with pleasure that I can speak in the highest terms of praise in regard to the conduct of all under my charge.

     A. Keithley, Teacher of Mechanics, discontinued his connection with the Institution on the 16th of October last. His place has temporarily been supplied by C. M. Lee. The pupils have made fine progress under their Music Teacher, T. J. McGittigen, who bids fair to become a superior instructor in that branch.

     The duties of Matron and Housekeeper have been discharged by Mrs. Bacon since the opening of this school in this city. Some change should be made, for the duties to be performed by the Matron are so onerous that I would most respectfully recommend the appointment of an assistant Matron.

     As to the policy pursued in this Institution, I can only say that I have had but one object in view, and that is to elevate the condition of the blind, and thereby place them in their true character before the public, and in so doing, make them intelligent and useful citizens.

     It is confidently believed that the blind, with the proper instruction, will be able to maintain themselves free of charge from their friends of the State. There will be as few exceptions among this class, according to their numbers, as among those who have their sight.

     Many experiments will have to be made as the education of the blind is yet only in its infancy, but this institution has the experience of many others before it, and our endeavors shall be to avoid all the errors of the past; and if we should fail in our efforts, it will be a lack of judgment, and not of interest on our part.

     I can not close this report without respectfully urging upon you the necessity of the erection of a suitable building for the school. The one we now occupy is the largest that can be obtained in the city. It is now filled to its utmost capacity, even more than prudence would admit if we could do otherwise. If we should have a protracted case of sickness among our numbers, it would be impossible to attend to it in the house. It is utterly impossible to carry out the design of the Legislature in educating all the blind of Iowa, without a suitable building for the reception of scholars.

     In the erection of a building, I would, therefore, respectfully recommend the selection of some eligible in the city, and that the building be large enough to accommodate at least fifty pupils Probably this will be ample for several years, and when it becomes insufficient to supply the wants of the people, we will be able to erect more commodious and permanent buildings, which will do credit to our young and growing State, and locate the same to suit the convenience of our increasing population; and at that time the old buildings can be disposed of with but little loss to the State. If a contrary policy be pursued, it must be many years before the blind of our State can be received into school, and many of them will have passed the most important period of life before receiving instruction, and the evil, in many cases, will be irreparable; and to prevent this, the blind of Iowa most respectfully and earnestly call upon you, their legal guardians, to make an effort to increase the capacity of this institution to impart instruction to them.

     In conclusion, allow me, gentlemen, to express to you the hope that the good understanding and kindness which has marked your intercourse with me may be continued. All of which is respectfully submitted.

S. BACON, Principal