Braille Monitor                                                 July 2010

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Featured Book from the Jacobus tenBroek Library

A Handbook for the Blind and Their Friends by Winifred Holt. New York, Dutton, 1922

by Ed Morman

In this woodcut two blind students of the Royal Institute for Blind Youth, the Parisian school with which Louis Braille was associated, are depicted operating a printing press. Printing was one of the professions blind people in France were often trained in during the early nineteenth century.From the Editor: With some regularity we spotlight books in the tenBroek Library. Here is librarian Ed Morman's description of a recent acquisition:

Winifred Holt (1870-1945, also known by her married name Winifred Holt Mather), has been called the First Lady of the Lighthouse. As the founder of an agency and someone who had little or no contact with the organized blind, she might be expected to have had a patronizing attitude toward blind people. This book demonstrates that such condescension can coexist in a person of good will with an appreciation of the capabilities of blind people and recognition of the diversity of the blind population.

Although calling itself a handbook for the blind as well as their friends, the book’s preface reveals otherwise, when Holt explains why she extracted its contents from her longer work, The Light Which Cannot Fail: True Stories of Heroic Blind Men and Women.

This little handbook, which was originally included with the stories, has been separated from them in the hope that in its more concrete form it would be a more useful and accessible companion to Tiphlophiles, which, I am informed, means lovers of the blind. "As far as the blind themselves, if there is anything that any blind man, woman, or child wants to know about the blind, if they ask questions at Light House No. 1 . . .[in] New York . . . and do not get a satisfactory answer, I wish they would give me a chance . . . to do my best to supplement my sins of omission."

Holt should not be judged harshly. She was the daughter of the publisher, Henry Holt, and a skilled sculptor who could have lived off an inheritance and devoted herself to art. In no way was she a worker with the blind whose job and income depended on the pretense of being more expert than the blind themselves.

In the days before the NFB--when talented blind people like Newel Perry were struggling for recognition but failing to achieve success in their chosen fields--sighted philanthropists like Winifred Holt did accomplish some good for the blind. Whatever her motivation, she encouraged the use of Braille, refused to let blindness be an excuse for unsatisfactory work, urged blind people to engage in sports and athletics, and regarded generalizations about the blind as a sign of ignorance.

Surprisingly, neither the NLS catalog nor the Louis database of the American Printing House has an entry for accessible copies of the Handbook (or the larger work from which it was taken). However, since the copyright on this book has expired, the tenBroek Library will be able to include it in our digitization program. We hope to have a link to it from the library catalog within a year. In the meantime the NLS does have Holt’s biography in Braille. Written by her sister, Edith Holt Bloodgood, and her widower, Rufus Graves Mather, First Lady of the Lighthouse is a good place to learn more about this friend of the blind.

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