Braille Monitor                                                 July 2011

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A Glimpse at the Adolescent Jacobus TenBroek

by the tenBroek Library Staff
NFB Jernigan Institute

Members of the Jacobus tenBroek Library staff: left to right, Kim Dalton, Anna Kresmer, Ed Morman, Lou Ann Blake, and Carolyn BaronFrom the Editor: The letters in this article are reproduced exactly as the young Chick tenBroek wrote them.

Among the treasures donated to the tenBroek Library by Dr. tenBroek's son Dutch are three short letters tenBroek wrote while a student at the California School for the Blind and the University of California at Berkeley. Known later in life for his charm and wit—in addition to his hard work, perseverance, and intellectual brilliance—tenBroek revealed his developing sense of humor in these letters. Sometimes, though, it is hard to tell whether he was being serious.

He wrote the first two letters when he was sixteen, living at the California School for the Blind but attending classes at University High School. Newel Perry, director of advanced studies at the school, had arranged for the brightest of the blind students to complete their high school work at University High as preparation for admission to UC-Berkeley. Hence tenBroek's reference to “the outside going high school students.” Apparently he had had a long-distance telephone conversation with his family a few days before he wrote the first letter while taking advantage of the privilege accorded to “Dr. Perry’s boys” of spending Saturday morning sitting around in their underwear. (The tenBroeks lived in Hanford, California, in the southern San Joaquin Valley, about two hundred miles from Berkeley.)

From the first letter it appears that his parents had recently sent Jacobus $25, in response to an earlier fifty-word request. Perhaps this is the reason for the seemingly formal closing, which tenBroek certainly meant only in fun.

School for the Blind
Berkeley, Calif.
February 29, 1928

Dear Folks:

I got the cake and five bucks last [week?] and have enjoyed the valor of their integrity. I had Lincoln’s and Washington’s [birthdays] off and am only sorry that they have passed. I recently wrote a twelve hundred and fifty word composition on organic medicines the studying for which has taken considerable time. On Saturday and Sunday morning the outside going high school students are allowed to ly in and sleep. So Saturday morning I was sitting in my B. V. Ds. on this end of the telephone line. As my papers are worth fifty cents a word, which is proved by my getting twenty five dollars for fifty words, I guess I better not use them too freely or else I will never get payed up. Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Respectfully submitted
Jacobus tenBroek

The second letter, written just a few days later, must have included a copy of a newspaper published by the students at the School for the Blind (to which tenBroek seems to have been a prolific contributor). The “high going system” refers to the opportunity for some students at the School for the Blind to go to University High School. The closing of this letter confirms that his earlier formality was meant as a joke.

School for the Blind
Berkeley, Calif.
March 4, 1928

Dear Folks:

You requested that I send you the essay which I wrote for the contest but I have no copy of it and as my memory is poor it is impossible for me to send it. I got the twenty five dolars and have undergone the ravages dillusive of some good meals.

I am sending you our first paper and all the articles with my initials are mine. I also wrote the one signed vox discipulorum and another one that is not signed about the present high going system. Vox discipulorum mean the voice of the students in latin.

I will send the next issue on the first of April

I am well and busy as ever. Almost half the school term is gone and, of course, that causes me great sorrow.

With love,
Jacobus tenBroek

Close readers of this letter might be glad that tenBroek translated the Latin for us. On the other hand, they might be wondering just what he meant by the word “dillusive.” So are we. It’s not in the Oxford English Dictionary!

Dr. tenBroek’s college yearbook photographTwo years later the eighteen-year-old future leader of the blind was a student at Cal, living a block from the main entrance to the campus. This letter, addressed specifically to his mother (whom he calls “Maw”) deals with cuisine and couture. The “Bob” referred to is probably Robert Campbell, then a close friend of tenBroek's, later a bitter adversary in the civil war that led to a split in the NFB.

2322, Telegraph Ave.
Berkeley, Calif.
Jan. 28, 1931

Dear Maw:

I got my laundry and the cake some time ago; the latter is eaten and former is dirtied. Now, in the mornings when we have time and something to eat, we fix our own breakfast. As a result of this condition, we ate most of the pound cake at this time. However, Bob does not care much for this particular species of the culinary art and so I thought to intercede with you for an alteration. Perhaps you could send us just as well a cake of another kind.

Behold my cords! Brand new cords these. While in science, I had the misfortune of getting acid on them and a certain portion, commonly called the seat, has succumbed to disintegration. [The next few words are obscured by a fold] ...especially devastating and they must be particularly sewed in order to remain so. Some spots are not quite through yet but soon will be if a stitch in time does not save nine.

I am considerably occupied of late and presently shall be inured in the vigorous onslaught of the mid-terms. In spite of this everything seems to be progressing fairly well. College life suits me to perfection, at least so far.                 

This letter has no closing, either respectful or loving, but something is scrawled on the bottom of the sheet, perhaps tenBroek's signature, perhaps something else. In any case, it’s clear that the young Jacobus tenBroek was continuing to enjoy life and develop his talents as a freshman at one of the country’s finest public universities.

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