News From 1864
The Vinton Eagle
Wednesday, February 17, 1864
From the Davenport Daily Gazette, Feb. 4th.
THE STATE BLIND ASYLUM.
Successful examination of pupils at the capital.
The following interesting letter, though addressed to us in our private capacity and not written for the public eye, well deserves a place in our columns and will be read with pleasure by all the readers of the Gazette:
Des Moines, Jan. 29, ‘64.
Among other matters requiring the care of the Legislature, and drawing largely upon the sympathies of the people of Iowa, is the institution for the Blind, situated at Vinton, in the county of Benton. The location may be considered, to say the least of it, inconvenient, but as soon as the State becomes covered with a net-work of railroads, the presumption is, this ground of objection will cease. The Legislature will be called upon to make an appropriation for the erection of work-shops, for furniture and implements adapted to the use of the inmates, and for the improvement of the grounds, and right cheerfully may what is necessary be voted. The Rev. Orlando Clarke has the institution in charge and his wife is the Matron. They have sixty-three blind persons, varying in age from six to thirty-five years, in charge.
In order that the members of the General Assembly might see for themselves what can be done in the way of improving the minds and promoting the comfort of these stricken ones, Mr. and Mrs. Clarke, accompanied by eighteen of their pupils, have paid a visit to Des Moines, and only to day have left us. At this season of the year, a journey involving about seventy miles of staging and some railraod traveling in the bargain, is no small feat a company of persons, nearly all deprived of sight and some quite young. Yet, it was accomplished successfully, and in fact joyously. A more cheerful and happy set, is not often seen, then were those same blind persons, at their first appearance a week ago. Notice was given that the Representatives’ Chamber they would appear on a certain evening, and the members of the Legislature were particularly invited to attend.— Every one was on the qui vive to witness what blind people could do. The hall was crowded, of course. The group of sightless ones was composed of fourteen males and four females, one of each sex being quite small, and a large portion from ten to twenty years of age. All were dressed neatly and warmly, and seemed to be fully aware of the novel position they were occupying. They were attended by Mr. and Mrs. Clarke and Miss Julia E. Hutchinson, a young lady of Iowa City, and a friend of the Matron’s. Other care, then those could bestow, they did not seem to need. Among the males there prevailed musical instruments of various kinds, violins, horns, &c. The Hon. Elijah Sells, of Vinton, our popupar ex-Secretary of State, was present, regulating and arranging preliminary matters with an air of satisfaction that convinced every one there was to be no failure in the exhibition about to take place. It was evident he knew exactly what material was on hand and what could be done with it. The first thing these blind people did was to give us a thrilling piece of instrumental music, all the males being engaged, under the direction of Professor Price, their teacher, he being sightless himself.— It was perfectly astonishing, and would have gratified the most gifted amateur.— Not a note out of place, not a ruffle on the Professor’s brow, nothing discordant, all perfect. Then came an examination of the class—and what think you? Arithmetic, grammar, geography, algebra, geometry and astronomy! To demonstrate that this was no picked or prepared affair, Mr. Clarke called upon any member of the Legislature present to conduct the examination himself and in his own way. Several tried it and in no instance were these pupils foiled. In fact, when the demonstration of the 47th proposition of the first book of Euclid was called for, it was proceeded with instantly, and performed rapidly and no doubt correctly, leaving the whole audience, learned and unlearned, in amaze. And, as for astronomy, they could answer questions correctly, that no one in the audience could begin to solve with any degree of certainty. All of us probably had read of the acquisitions of blind people, but never before had come to a realizing sense of what they could do. All this was interspersed with their delightful and stirring music, some of it being vocal (male and female), with piano accompaniment. Then specimens of their handiwork were exhibited. Brushes and brooms by the males, and bead-work by the females; and in these productions they appeared to be as perfect as in their mental operations. Numbers gathered round, after the performance was over, anxious to purchase these evidences of their skill in order preserve them as mementoes. It must not be omitted, that the reading qualities of two of the pupils, a very little girl and a larger boy, were tested by means of fingering raised print. More slowly do they proceed than we, who have visions vouchsafed us, but just as surely do they get the words correctly. How they get the ideas, is a mystery; yet they do, as is constantly shown by conversing with them. One of the pupils, Miss Josephine Porter who remembers not what it is to have seen light, although she can count twenty summers of existence, was sitting in the Senate Chamber, listening to a debate that was going on, a few days afterwards. Her inquiries as to the operation of a proposed law, and as to the why and the wherefore of certain propositions, showed that she had almost as keen a discrimination as any one in the chamber.
They had two concerts in the largest hall in Des Moines, and so much had the public mind become interested and excited that the first was attended by a crowd and the last was a perfect jam. Yet during both, although many had to stand for two full hours, the desire was unflagging to hear more of their delightful music.
These pupils, by way of recreation, and for the purpose of letting the people of Iowa know what the excellent conductors of the Blind Asylum are doing, and particularly what they can do, for this unfortunate class, should take a tour of our river towns during pleasant weather. Our friends, R. B. Hill could fill his splendid hall to overflowing more than once, were they to visit Davenport, and the result would be beneficial in more ways than one. Let us hope that this idea may be carried out at no distant period of time.