Braille Monitor                                                 July 2012

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A Vote of Confidence for Isabelle Grant, Blind Teacher

by Anna Kresmer

From the Editor: The following is another in our series of historical documents in the Jacobus tenBroek Library.

Dr. Isabelle Grant works on Braille with a student in a Pakistani classroom.We are pleased to announce that the processing of the Isabelle Grant Collection has been completed and that the collection is now open to researchers. As Braille Monitor readers may recall, Dr. Grant (1896 to 1977) was the first blind person to work as a teacher in the California public schools, as well as an early leader in both the NFB and the International Federation of the Blind. Grant had lost her sight to acute glaucoma in 1948 while working as vice principal for girls at Belvedere Junior High School in Los Angeles. Told that her blindness required that she take an early disability retirement, she refused to give in and turned to the NFB for help. With the strong backing of the Federation she convinced the Los Angeles City School system to retain her. She subsequently served for thirteen years as a blindness resource teacher.

Grant was an early champion of mainstreaming blind children in classrooms with their sighted peers, working tirelessly to promote this idea both in the United States and in developing countries. Between 1960 and her death she made several trips overseas, twice supported by Fulbright-Hayes grants that sent her to developing nations in Asia and Africa, and generally traveling unaccompanied. On these trips abroad she assisted in the formation of organizations of the blind, helped to establish libraries for the blind, and served as an advisor to educators of the blind. She was honored many times for her work, including a nomination for the 1972 Nobel Peace Prize.

While readying the Isabelle Grant Collection for use by researchers and interested Federationists, the library staff made a pleasant discovery. In January 1949, as Dr. Grant and the NFB were fighting for her job, the entire faculty of Belvedere Junior High sent an appeal on her behalf to the assistant superintendent. Detailing the reasons why blindness did not diminish her value to the school and the district, the letter is accompanied by the signatures of over sixty faculty members. It was displays of support like this—along with the efforts of the NFB—that resulted in Grant's continued employment until her retirement in 1962. Both the letter and the signatures are preserved in the Isabelle Grant Collection at the tenBroek Library. Here is what her colleagues said in support of her effort to keep her job:

January 26, 1949

Miss Elizabeth Sands
Assistant Superintendent
Junior High Education Division

Miss Sands:

The Belvedere Junior High School faculty has just learned that Dr. Isabelle Grant may not return as Girls' Vice-Principal to our school.

The faculty, while fully aware of Dr. Grant's physical condition, unanimously asks that she be returned to Belvedere because:

(1) Dr. Grant's outstanding contribution to the school and community, through her sympathetic understanding of problems involved in our school and her deep affection for the Mexican-American, is invaluable.

(2) Dr. Grant possesses a rare ability to solve the teacher-pupil-parent problems to the satisfaction of all concerned.

Shown here are the men and women who believed enough in Isabelle Grant to publicly support her retention and promotion.(3) Dr. Grant's ability to speak and think in Spanish is a prime requisite in Belvedere Junior High School with its 85% Spanish-speaking enrollment.

(4) Our girls, in particular, need the guidance that Dr. Grant, with her wide experience, can give.

(5) Since the war, the tendency in industry has been to provide maximum opportunity within that industry for one becoming handicapped during his service there. (We are confident that the Los Angeles school system will do no less.)

(6) Belvedere Junior High School and the entire Los Angeles City School system would suffer a severe loss should her services be denied. However, our faculty would be very much pleased if Dr. Grant were to receive the promotion which her ability warrants.

(7) Our schools have placed special emphasis on rehabilitation—at home and abroad. Could there be a more practical application than to rehabilitate one whose twenty years of undeniably superior work have proved her unrivaled in success?

In view of all this, we request that five representative members of our faculty be granted an immediate interview with you to discuss the matter since Dr. Grant's illness leave expires January 28.

Respectfully yours,

Belvedere Junior High School Faculty Club
(Signatures on attached sheet)

Identical letter to Dr. Stoddard

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