Braille Monitor                                                 December 2012

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Newel Perry and the California Council for the Blind

An Interview Conducted by Willa Baum

From the Editor: This is the fourth and last in our serialization of an interview of Newel Perry conducted by Willa Baum. More about her and the project she headed can be found in the July 2012 issue of the Braille Monitor. In this final segment Dr. Perry discusses his work as a teacher at the California School for the Blind, his work in the organized blind movement, and the people whose hearts and minds he helped to shape.

Included in the Braille Monitor audio edition is a recording of a speech given by Dr. Perry on the occasion of Kenneth Jernigan’s leaving California to head the Iowa Commission for the Blind—a piece of audio that provides the voice to fill out our picture of Perry and which at the same time complements the tribute to Mr. Jernigan that appears earlier in this issue.

In the three parts of this interview that were published in June, July, and October, 2012, we changed California Council for the Blind to California Council of the Blind, considering it an error by the interviewer. Research reveals that the Council used the word “for” from its founding in 1934 until sometime in 1956. One may speculate that the hosting of the national convention brought about the decision to change the name of the organization, but we have no way to be certain. We are able to say that the change occurred slowly, with stationery and other supplies being used until they were depleted. Now to the interview:

Perry’s Duties at the School

Baum: What were your duties at the School in 1912?
Perry: I was the head teacher of the blind. It was pretty difficult for awhile.
Baum: Were you an actual teacher or an administrator?
Perry: Both.
Baum: Were you head teacher for the blind at the School all this time?
Perry: I was the head teacher for the blind until I became very interested in advanced studies. From then on I mainly taught college preparatory classes. Mr. Chapman took over the administrative duties of the head teacher for the blind.
Baum: When did you become director of advanced studies?
Perry: Well I guess I was formally appointed director of advanced studies in about 1921 or 1922--Dr. French was superintendent then--but I was practically that already. I helped the boys to get through the high schools. We had to get money some way to help them get readers.
Baum: When they were in the high school?
Perry: Yes. When I first came there, I had a class of eight boys, and they struck me as bright boys, but none of them had the slightest thought of going to college. One day I asked them what they had been thinking about how they would make a living when they got out of school. They didn't have the slightest idea. They didn't believe they'd ever be able to make a living.
Baum: It was just as bad as in the days when you were a student.
Perry: It was a little worse. After I had been there a little while, I said to one of the teachers, "I've got eight boys in there, and every one of those boys should go to college." She waited awhile and then she said, "But Doctor, they're blind boys."
Baum: She must have known you'd gone to college.
Perry: I don't know how she figured that. But every one of those boys went to college. Three of those boys became attorneys and have done very well. They all became successful men.
Baum: A big part of your job was guiding boys through the high school.
Perry: Yes, and through college too.
Baum: You had a reader bill in California by then. That was passed in 1913.
Perry: When I first started sending students to college here, the boys who had been up here at the School said, “That would be fine. Get me a place to live. I'd like to live in the same house with so-and-so," another blind fellow. I'd always write back and say, "No, I don't want you to live in the same house with another blind boy. I want you to go out with the sighted people." It was quite a task to get them over that. It brings you back to the fact that sensitiveness is the greatest obstacle in the way of the blind. Some blind people are not sensitive at all about their blindness. They forget all about it; they don't talk about it much. I don't think I ever think about my blindness. But sighted people think blind people think about their blindness all the time. You see, the sighted man looks upon blindness with the thought, "How would I be if I went blind in the next two minutes?" There's nothing he can do for himself. It is that view that makes them so desperate.

One day I was talking to the legislature about a bill for the blind, and they were rather unwilling to see the need of something I was trying to put over. I said, "Why, you fellows don't seem to understand. These people that go blind, they are really in a terrible state. If you want to know what he's thinking about, he's probably thinking about committing suicide." Well they were going to give me the ha-ha. I said to them, "Within a distance of less than a hundred miles from where you gentlemen are sitting now, the man who held perhaps the highest educational position in California just committed suicide two days ago. He was told he was going blind." He was president of the University of California. I didn't mention that, but they ought to have known who I meant. President Campbell, who was the head of the Lick Observatory for many years, a very distinguished astronomer, jumped out of the top floor thinking to kill himself, and he lived a few days after that. He said at the time, why the thought of his wife waiting on him--he couldn't do anything. Why bother other people; he'd be a nuisance to others, so the only fair thing would be to get out. If he'd known some other blind people at the time, he might not have felt that way, but he didn't.

But most blind people are sensitive about their blindness. I had one boy, a Phi Beta Kappa here at college, a brilliant man. He studied law, started practicing with $1,000 worth of promissory notes to people who wanted to help him out. He now owns six buildings in Modesto, a lot of land that is being developed. A few days ago I said, "How much would it take for me to buy you out of everything you've got?" He said, "Oh, it would be between $50,000 and $60,000." He's very highly respected by all the attorneys in Modesto.
Baum: What was the name of that attorney in Modesto?
Perry: Leslie Schlingheyde. (Leslie Schlingheyde passed away March 1956.) This boy had this sensitive feeling. He was going to the Berkeley High School. I said to him, "When the school is over in the afternoon, what do you do?"

He said, "I go home."

I said, "Well, the other boys all go down there to the track, where they race. Why don't you go down there with them?"

"No, no. What would they say?"

I said, "I don't know. They'd talk to you like they talk to the other people," He would finally say that he'd try it once. In about two or three weeks he'd come down again and I'd ask him, "Well, have you gone down to the track?" No, he hadn't. And we'd have the argument again. That went on for months. He would promise to do it, he intended to do it, but he was afraid.

Finally he came up one day and said, "Do you know what I did? I went down to the track."

I said, "Did you have an embarrassing situation?"

He said, "No, everybody came up and said, `Hello, Schling, …’ and they'd joke with him. He had a wonderful time. But he thought it would be very different.

That sensitiveness makes blind people timid, and they don't want to go to a dance for fear they might do something wrong. It's too bad. If we could find some way of breaking the young blind of their sensitiveness, it would be a great boon and help them greatly. I don't know how to do it, except to go and take them with you, force it on them.
Baum: Were most of your students at the School boys?
Perry: There were more boys than girls. No, we had a good many girls who went to college, and we do still. The girls have positions. They become stenographers ... we've got to keep opening up opportunities for the blind to get positions. If you don't, you simply rob them of life.
Baum: Do you think the blind girls have as good an opportunity to get a job as the blind boys have?
Perry: Well...I think so. A girl could become a lawyer, I guess, become a writer, a typist. We have girls who are typists, wonderful typists.
Baum: Did you have as many girls make a success as your boys? Some of your boys were pretty outstanding.
Perry: Yes, I've done a better job with the boys than I have with the girls, in the long run. Girls, I don't think, have as many opportunities, but they are getting them now. We have girls employed as typists, working in X-ray darkrooms; we have a good many girls doing that.

The great difficulty is that the blind need someone to get them a job. We have no one who does that. We have a state Bureau of Rehabilitation. They don't like to do placement work. The law calls for it, but they don't like it. It's hard work. It's much easier to sit around in the office and write notes and copy something off, go through the motions of doing something and get a good salary for it. Of course a placement officer could get jobs for a hundred sighted people with no more effort than he would expend getting a job for one blind person. Now it's getting a little easier getting a job for a blind person because we're getting the public somewhat educated to the idea.

We need someone who is told by the Bureau of Rehabilitation that he is employed as a placement worker and instructed to confine himself to working for the placement of blind people in jobs. He can't do that by sitting in his office. He's got to go out and wear out his shoe leather going from one businessman to the next and keep it up. In a little while he'd get to know all these businessmen, and he could easily approach them. It would be slow and hard, but it would get easier and easier as time goes by. He would get to know all the employers and not have to wait to get in and see the boss. He walks in, calls him by his first name. If a man spent six hours a day walking around, his first three months he might only land one job, but inside of a year he'd very easily get jobs. In fact the employers would ring him up and say, "Have you got a blind man to do so and so? Send him around, and I'll give him a job." That's not how it starts, but it gets that way. That is the only solution.

Aid to Needy Blind Bill, 1928

Baum: I understand you were instrumental in getting the Aid to Needy Blind bill?
Perry: Yes, I wrote the bill to get pensions for the blind. It had to be voted on by the people because the legislature could not give money to an individual without a constitutional amendment. We got a senator to introduce the amendment I wrote giving the legislature the power to give financial aid to the blind. A lady assemblywoman from Berkeley did the same thing for the aged, put in a bill for the aged to have a pension, so we had two bills on the ballot, both amending the same section in the [California]constitution.
Baum: One was for the blind and one was for the aged. What about the deaf?
Perry: No, the deaf never had a bill. Mrs. Anna L. Saylor, the assemblywoman from Berkeley, wasn't particularly in favor of the act for the blind because I think she thought the public wasn't. She assumed we had a very small organization and took it as a joke. But she worked for the aged and the aged worked very hard too. Of course I only had a few blind boys to help me advertise, a few in college, and one in the high school. And I didn't have the time because I was teaching at the School all the time, but we did it. To the surprise of everybody, our measure passed way ahead of any measure ever proposed, so the joke was sort of on the other people. The bill for the aged passed too.

That only gave the legislature the authority to grant us a pension. That was passed by the voters in November 1928. When the legislature met in January 1929, Mr. Crowley, who was one of my blind boys, an attorney, introduced the first bill for the pension for the blind.
Baum: He was in the legislature by then?
Perry: I think he was in the legislature a little before that. He was in the legislature for twenty-six years, until he died several years ago. We got the bill through without any trouble. The governor a few days after the election said, "Well, we certainly have to do something for the blind." He meant we had gotten such a deep vote that it was a mandate. Governor Young signed it without any trouble.

Mrs. Saylor had been in the assembly. She and the governor were very good political friends, and he appointed her the head of the Department of Social Welfare. It was a political office then. She was a very popular lady, very much respected by everybody. She wanted her department to have all the power over the pensions. She was a little humiliated because here we blind people had put the pension for the blind over. She hadn't put in any bill for a pension for the blind. When we walked off with the big vote, it embarrassed her.

We also had a blind boy, Ernest Leslie, run for the legislature against Mrs. Saylor, and he made a wonderful showing. She just got in by the skin of her teeth, and for a woman who had been so popular politically as she had, it was an awful blow. She only got 800 votes more than Leslie. It hurt her political prestige. Ernest Leslie had just gotten through college. While he was defeated, it was a great victory because he almost defeated the most popular member of the legislature.

California Council for the Blind

Baum: I want to ask you about the founding of the California Council for the Blind. How did that come about?
Perry: The campaign for the pension showed us we needed more representation throughout the state. Through our propagandizing we naturally had gotten in touch with a great many more blind people than we had before. We thought we'd better have local clubs in different towns, and out of that grew the idea of the local organizations getting together to give a statewide expression to the blind of California so that we would be in a better position to influence the legislature.

Mrs. Anna L. Saylor had been appointed director of the Department of Social Welfare and, like the officials in many states, she planned to form some dummy organizations of the blind. The blind people in Los Angeles formed the Southern California Organization for the Blind, and Mrs. Saylor took that over.

In about 1929 a meeting was called in San Francisco. For some reason I couldn't go, but all my blind friends were there. (Dr. Perry telephoned Ernest Leslie during the interview to refresh his memory on this incident.) Mrs. Saylor came; Mr. Dodd of the rehabilitation bureau and his San Francisco assistant, Mr. Ballard, came. Mrs. Quinine of the San Francisco broom shop was there. Mrs. Saylor was simply going to take possession of the meeting. She got up and explained how she, in her position as head of the Department of Social Welfare, could do so much more for the blind than they could do for themselves. She wanted to be made president of the organization they formed, The Northern California Association for the Blind. Dr. Richard French, superintendent of the School for the Blind, was there with a big bouquet of flowers for the supposed president-to-be. Everyone listened carefully to what Mrs. Saylor had to say, and then they got up and nominated different officers, and they didn't nominate her at all. That hurt her feelings a good deal. She was taken completely by surprise. Ernest Leslie became the president.
Baum: Dr. Perry, I read that the California Council was organized in 1934 at Fresno and that the meeting was called by Mrs. Mary Carroll Scott LaFer and Mrs. Kathleen Michael Smale.
Perry: Mrs. Michael was the superintendent of Aid to the Needy Blind. (Mrs. Rheba Crawford Splivalo had replaced Mrs. Saylor as director of Social Welfare after Governor Rolph’s election.) She planned to be president of our new statewide organization and Mrs. Carroll planned to be secretary. Mrs. Michael was quite a politician. In a patronizing way the ladies suggested we ought to make Mrs. Michael president of the Council because she could do so much more for us. I was very surprised when Mr. William Groshell, an osteopath from Los Angeles, (Groshell passed away in 1956) got up and argued and protested and wouldn't let the thing stop. He wasn’t usually a leader or a man to say much, but he led the fight to make the Council a real blind man's club and not a tool of the social welfare ladies. They nominated me for president and I was elected; I don't remember if it was unanimous or not.

All that puzzled Mrs. Michael a lot, but still that lady was always on very good terms with us. I know every once in a while she'd have some trouble up in Sacramento about some pensioners, and she'd often want me to come up and help her. She wasn't as cultured and able a woman as Mrs. Saylor. After Merriam became governor, I went up to talk to him and ask him to keep Mrs. Michael, but he let me know he wasn't going to. He appointed Mrs. E. Clair Overholtzer as supervisor of Aid to the Needy Blind; she was a nicer lady than Mrs. Michael.

We propagandized around to get an organization started in San Francisco and one in Sacramento, and we tried to get one in Los Angeles, but they were a little slow about it. The people down there still don't seem to know what it's all about.

But we organized, got to work on a constitution, got committees, and away we went. It's been growing; different clubs are organized in different places, and they apply to the Council to take them in as a member. We now have twenty-eight or thirty member clubs. Each member club sends a blind delegate to represent them, and these representatives make up the California Council for the Blind.
Baum: One of the Council's first resolutions, Number 4, favored an assembly bill to grant blind persons and their guides reduced fares on streetcars.
Perry: That was a bill I wrote. It's a law now. I have it here. First it forbids any common carrier issuing any free or reduced fares to passengers within the state except to blind residents of California. Then it says, "All blind residents of California may be granted free transportation on all streetcars and may be permitted to travel on all other common carriers within the state for one-half the current fare, and when any blind person is accompanied by a guide, the combined fares of such blind person and his guide may be fixed at not to exceed the current fare for an individual."
Baum: When was that passed?
Perry: 1935. An interesting question is whether an airplane is a common carrier as the word is used in the statute. There is a federal interstate provision also which grants reduced rates to blind persons. Did you notice that the word "may" was used instead of "shall"?
Baum: Yes, I did.
Perry: I had to change the word from "shall" to "may" to get the thing through. I thought if it went through with "may" the people would demand it be permitted. You always have to go to court when it says "may" to find out what it means.
Baum: Didn't you have quite a bit of trouble with the Southern Pacific on that?
Perry: A little, but they finally came around. They now don't bother us. Of course we can use the federal act, but this is a more liberal act than the federal one if the railroad will recognize it. Under the federal act you can be made to travel on certain trains, and they are apt to sell you a ticket for half-fare, but require that you take a slow train. When people travel, as a rule they are in a hurry. The buses now let us go for reduced fare.
Baum: What was the idea behind this, that the blind have very little money?
Perry: Well, they have very little money, but many of the blind travel with a guide, and they have to pay two fares and also pay their guide for his time. So, if a blind man is peddling, he is whipped before he's started. The provision about free streetcar transportation has never been used. The blind do not get free transportation on streetcars, except in San Francisco.
Baum: You mean that the streetcars haven't permitted them to ride free?
Perry: That's right. Well, we haven't tested it out. I've thought once or twice I'd like to have a case and take it to court, but to get a good case some blind man would have to get on the streetcar and, when they demanded his fare, refuse to pay it, quoting this rule, then try to get them to put him off the car. If they just scold and quarrel and don't put him off, we haven't got a case. If they put him off, he can sue them for not carrying him on the grounds of this ruling, and then the judge will have to decide about that "may." We might get away with it.

There's only one way to find out, and that's take it to court, and I couldn't find anybody who was willing to take the brunt of the trouble. No one was willing to be put off the car.
Baum: In looking through the Council resolutions I notice year after year that you had resolutions trying to get the different agencies to employ blind persons to work with the blind.
Perry: Yes. We're still at it.
Baum: Did you have much luck?
Perry: They had some luck, yes. We created a bureau of home teachers for the blind who would travel around and visit in a certain district, to the homes of the blind people, and try to help adapt themselves, particularly the newly blind, to their new handicap. They used to sort of leave that to some sighted people to do. Now they put blind people on. I believe right now they have a staff of about twenty in different districts throughout the state.
Baum: Twenty blind persons?
Perry: Practically all blind. They help the blind, teach them how to get around by themselves, how to do a great many things that they did before they were blind. It's strange how a newly blind person thinks he can't do certain things when with a little instruction he finds he can go right ahead and do them. That's a good idea.
Baum: For a job like that a blind person can do better than a sighted person?
Perry: Yes. He can talk to the employers in placement work with more authority. In teaching these people in their homes, he can go right in and convince them right away by doing what he wants them to do. They say, "If you can do it, I guess I can."
Baum: Was that your main reason for trying to get blind people into these jobs--because they could work better with other blind people? Or did you think that maybe the public would be willing to see a blind man work with another blind man when he wouldn't employ them in a job with sighted people?
Perry: There are several reasons. One is that they would need that instruction for their living in their own home. A woman suddenly goes blind. Her husband, when he leaves in the morning, shows her to a chair and says, "Now you stay there till I come home. You might fall down the stairs if you walk around." All that kind of thing--horrible for her to sit and lose hope and be convinced that she can't go to the stove and cook dinner and keep house. Now, if a blind person comes in and says, "I'll do the cooking for you and show you how I do it," she's really not teaching the lady anything she doesn't know; the lady has been cooking all her life. But now her husband will come home one day, and she won't be sitting in her chair. She'll have dinner all ready. And it changes the atmosphere of the situation completely. She finds that she can do practically all the things that she did before.
Baum: And you felt it was important that a blind person should teach her this?
Perry: The sighted people wouldn't believe she could do it either. A sighted person wouldn't know how to teach her. The average sighted person would say to a blind person, "Don't go near the stove; don't turn on the gas; don't light a match; you'll burn your hair," and so on. Blind people can go ahead and take care of their homes, but you can't convince them by giving them a lecture. So, particularly for blind women who have to keep house, blind home teachers are a good idea.
Baum: It sounds as if the California Council, and you in particular, has had a great deal to do with California legislation concerning the blind.
Perry: Yes, and that was a bit of a problem for me because I was a state employee. I hesitated a great deal about taking the job because I was afraid all the agencies, the School for the Blind, the welfare people, would fight me, and they would have, I guess. In a sense they did, but they finally got more afraid of me than I was of them. I got the good will of the people in the legislature, but I was always running a risk. They could have fired me anytime, but they were afraid of the public reaction. They gave me opposition instead of cooperation in the hopes that we would die out in a little while. Instead of that the legislature cooperated with us very well.
Baum: With the California Council?
Perry: Yes. All those aid laws for the blind were written by the Council, most of them done personally by me. I went up to Sacramento and had the aid bill introduced by Ernest Crowley, and we got it through. A.B. 117 in 1929, if I remember correctly. The people in the administration object to individual people coming up and introducing bills because they want to set the policies. They at any time could have said that I had no business going up to the legislature, that I should be down at the School doing my school work and that I should be disciplined or fired. But they decided they'd better not.
Baum: You had too many friends?
Perry: They realized that, if they had done that, the Council would have gone out with a terrific attack, and we would have won. We could have easily shown the blind were in terrible need, and nobody was paying any attention to us. Administrators are all timid, you know. They want promotions, increases in salaries.
Baum: How did you go about getting a bill passed?
Perry: You have to get the good will of the legislators, which of course meant that I had to spend a lot of time in Sacramento. I've passed a lot of bills up there, pretty near a hundred of them by this time. Once in a while there's a real genuine argument, but a great deal of it is simply getting their good will and knowing them well enough so you won't call up your bill at the wrong time. If you have a man introduce your bill who's been in the legislature for some time, he knows all of these legislators and what their leanings are and how they feel about this, that, and the other thing. So, when his bill is called, he looks around the room, and he says, "I'll request you postpone mine until tomorrow," meaning that a lot of the people he knows are going to vote for him are not present, and a lot of the people who won't are present. So he puts it off. Of course a greenhorn doesn't know that. He doesn't know the man.

So it's a very good idea to get a man who knows his fellow legislators well, and he knows when to call it up. By using judgment that way, he can sometimes get a bill that won't have any argument about it at all; he introduces it and one, two, three, it goes through.

I had Ernest Crowley, a blind man in the legislature. One of the boys I had in school when I first came had become a lawyer, and then he got into the legislature, and he was there for twenty-six years, I think. He died a year or so ago. He was a great assistance to me. He was very popular in the legislature, and he was very devoted to me. Why, he'd get up when I'd be talking to the legislative committee and say, "That's my old teacher that's talking to you now."

Aid to Partially Self-Supporting Blind

Baum: I know you were largely responsible for the 1941 Aid to Partially Self-Supporting Blind bill. Could you tell me how you got that passed?
Perry: Just like the others. I sat down and wrote the bill, that's all.
Baum: Had you talked this over in the Council?
Perry: No. Oh, I might have with some of them, but at that time the Council was not very strong. They were just sitting back waiting for me to do something. I had introduced the bill a year or so earlier. It was a revolutionary bill.
Baum: Yes, it was.
Perry: There was nothing like it anywhere else. The pension bill, like the old age pension bill, gave the blind some money because they were poor, but no one ever gave any thought to trying to encourage the blind to earn a living. That seems absurd to most people. I wrote this bill to encourage the blind to work themselves off of the pension and become independent.
Baum: How did you get it through? The state didn't get federal aid on those aid payments.
Perry: No, but the number of people who take advantage of the bill is very limited. We have had up to three or four hundred in the state under Chapter Three, Aid to Partially Self-Supporting Blind, at one time, and of course most of those work themselves off in a little while. I got the legislature to be in favor of Chapter Three. The argument I gave them was that, if you don't give these people an opportunity to work themselves into freedom economically, you are going to keep paying this pension for each one's lifetime. If you put them on Chapter Three, in from three to fifteen years they will have established themselves and will be off the pension. Under Chapter Three, after a person earns over $1,000 a year, which he keeps, he keeps half of what he earns and the rest is paid back into the state treasury. So every time he earns a dollar over $1,000, the state is 50¢ better off and he is too. It encourages him more to go on earning. The pension now is $95 a month or $1,140 a year, so, when a person earns $3,280, he has paid back his pension entirely.

I remember going up there the last session of the legislature before adjournment, and the committee held a night session. They were not going to pass the bill, and I got excited and got up and made a speech. I don't remember what I said, but the boys can always tell me about it. I gave the legislature an awful stiff talk, and they switched and turned it out unanimously. Henri Bindt and Kingsley Price were there. Bindt is always talking about how I had him shedding tears when I made that speech. I had gotten to be friends with the legislature by that time, and it got so they would do almost anything for me.
Baum: But you had a real battle that time?
Perry: Yes, I did because there were two or three men in the senate who didn't know me very well. Oh, it is a wonderful law, but I rather think they are going to fight it this year.
Baum: Who is?
Perry: I'll give you an example. Last year the Assembly Interim Committee on Social Welfare had a committee consultant, Everett W. DuVall, who wanted to do away with Chapter Three. You see, the state gets matching funds from the federal government on Aid to Needy Blind, but not on Chapter Three payments. I told him it would be a terrible mistake. Then the committee held hearings around the state, and I guess they changed their minds and decided Chapter Three was pretty good. DuVall just wrote me that they want to strengthen Chapter Three now.
Baum: How about the Department of Social Welfare? They administer aid payments to the blind.
Perry: Well, I don't think the Welfare Department likes it.
Baum: Do they make it hard for blind people to get onto Aid to Partially Self-Supporting Blind?
Perry: They did when it started and, yes, many do still.
Baum: They'd rather keep them on Aid to Needy Blind?
Perry: Yes. And they have a new regulation too. A year or so ago the Welfare Department declared that a man earning over $1,500 a year would be taken off aid altogether, instead of keeping on with the 50¢ deal.
Baum: Then that would tend to cause a man to earn almost up to $1,500 a year and then quit earning.
Perry: Yes. It tends to discourage him.
Baum: I believe the Aid to Needy Blind pension was raised from $90 to $95 a month this year.
Perry: Yes, but I can't understand their position sometimes. Take a sighted man who is unemployed; he doesn't just get $90 a month. He gets around $150 a month unemployment compensation. Why wouldn't they assume a blind man gets just as hungry and needs as much as the sighted fellow, who can get employment easier too. Oh, they made a big fuss about raising the aid from $90 to $95 a month last year.
Baum: The Department of Social Welfare?
Perry: Yes, and the legislature too. Of course, they are influenced by the State Department of Finance, which wants to save money. But I should think they would give a blind man more than they give an unemployed sighted man, because the needs of the blind are much greater. A sighted man can do many things for himself and pick up money by little errands for his neighbors, things a blind man can't do as a rule. As for Chapter Three, that saves money for the state in the long run. Take tenBroek. He couldn't have gone to college without the pension and the reader bill, but now he is one of the leading members of the faculty, owns his own home, makes a good deal of money, raises his family very well, and does a tremendous amount of work for the blind also. That's an entirely different picture than the blind man who stands on the street corner trying to sell pencils. Do you see how Chapter Three saves money?
Baum: Yes, I see that, but I don't see why the Department of Social Welfare doesn't see that.
Perry: They do, but they don't give a darn.
Baum: Is it that they want to save a little this year, even though they have to keep paying it out every year?
Perry: Well, the Welfare is administered by the county governments and the boards of supervisors are elected people who like to brag about saving money for the state so as to get re-elected. Well, it really comes down to the point that they don't think blind people can make much money, and it's a waste of time trying all this. And it is very slow when you start out.

But things are changing now; a blind man can get a job. Take Kingsley Price, a very popular and highly respected faculty member at Johns Hopkins. He was never out of a job from the time he graduated. He has been totally blind since he was five or six years old. His parents brought him out here from Colorado after they heard what we were doing about the education of the blind.

National Federation of the Blind

Baum: You were speaking about Dr. tenBroek. I know he's president of the National Federation. I was wondering, did you have anything to do with the formation of that? Did the California Council have anything to do with that?
Perry: In a sense; our boys went to the meeting, and of course I propagandized for it and urged it, and so on and was the delegate to it from the Council for many years. But I'm sort of cutting that out a good deal now. Well, I guess I was at the last convention, too. Now we've gotten past the stage where one man has to do everything. We now have some able blind people around who are becoming interested themselves and are willing to give their time and work. TenBroek is one, but we have others.
Baum: Mr. Archibald is the executive secretary, isn't he?
Perry: Executive director of it.
Baum: Is he one of your boys?
Perry: Yes. And Kenneth Jernigan--do you know of him?
Baum: Oh, I did meet him once.
Perry: He's very enthusiastic, a very enthusiastic worker.
Baum: For the Federation?
Perry: Yes, he's on the board of the Federation. But he works for the blind generally. He is a very active member of the Council.
Baum: Did you work on the National Federation business much, or were you so busy with the California Council?
Perry: Well, I helped them and so forth, but I didn't want to give all my time to that, because it would weaken my work here, you see. My work here hadn't developed to the stage where I would have confidence enough in it to keep on running right without me. I thought I ought to devote my primary efforts here, and in fact it's a better idea, because you get a good law through in one place, you know, and then it's quite easy to duplicate it in another state. For instance, Washington State has our Chapter Three in its law.
Baum: I noticed in the 1940 minutes of the Council that you had given a certain amount of money, $100, to the National Federation from the Council. Do you remember that? I think it was when the Federation was just founded.
Perry: Yes. We wanted to get money to help the Federation. It wasn't ‘40, was it?
Baum: 1940 was when the Federation was founded.
Perry: Yes, but I don't know when we passed that ruling that we should contribute. We have a White Cane Week in which we make a public appeal for money, largely through mailing. Our agreement was that we should send half of what we collected, and we still do it. We spread this idea of the White Cane program so that practically all the states took it up and contributed half of what they collected to the Federation. But now the Federation has grown so that, while we contribute to them, they carry on this same propaganda every year for collecting money. I think they collected $75,000 last year. So they are quite independent. It used to be a very serious matter to send a man from the Federation to live in Washington, pay his hotel bills, secretary, and all those things; to propagandize to Congress takes lots of money. In the early days we had to do that, and largely we didn't have the money ourselves. Perhaps the man we sent paid a great deal of those expenses himself. It's gotten so now, I think, that we've passed that stage.
Baum: I understand you were sent by the National Federation to investigate the Idaho State School for the Blind and the Deaf this spring. (1956) Could you tell me a little about that work?
Perry: Yes. There had been many complaints by the parents of both the deaf children and the blind children in the school, and Frank Collins and his wife, of the Gem State Association of the Blind, and Don Pettingill of the Idaho Association of the Deaf, asked the National Federation to send a committee to investigate. Chick tenBroek appointed Mr. Durwood McDaniels, an attorney from Oklahoma City, chairman; Mr. Vernon Williams, an attorney from South Dakota; and myself. We went up there and found a committee from the American Foundation for the Blind already on the scene, composed of three sighted people: the superintendent of the newly established State School for the Deaf in Southern California; the superintendent of the College for the Deaf in Washington, D.C.; and a lady employee of the American Foundation. They looked over the school and issued a report that was more or less of a cover-up and very generous to the school and to the then-superintendent, whom they recommended be kept on since he had served so long. We thought there would be little value in going to the school, that they would not cooperate, so we talked mainly to alumni and parents of the children in there. The children were learning nothing, the teachers were not as well trained as they had to be in other schools, and they even had two totally deaf teachers to teach the blind children, a ridiculous situation. Some of the better teachers resigned in order to draw public attention to conditions there. The superintendent was a sick man; he couldn't handle the job.
Baum: Were you able to get any changes?
Perry: Not many yet. The State Board of Education was against doing anything and the governor was embarrassed and said all this agitation was not good for the children. But we stayed on and got a lot of favorable newspaper publicity, and we talked to the adult blind there and they can keep working on it. I think the Board of Education finally did publish the American Foundation report, and they removed the old superintendent and appointed a new young man who seems competent. They implied they would get some better teachers for the blind. So the struggle is still going on, but I think things will improve there.
Baum: Did your committee publish a report?
Perry: I don't know if it's written up yet. When it is, it will be turned in to the National Federation office, which is at Dr. tenBroek's home. They have lots of materials there, reports and minutes of the meetings and copies of speeches and all that sort of thing.


Baum: Dr. Perry, I'd like to ask you what effect you think the New Deal had on aid to the blind.
Perry: What do you mean by the New Deal?
Baum: I mean Democrats in the federal administration.
Perry: Oh, they've done a good deal for the blind.
Baum: Vocational rehabilitation came up then for the blind.
Perry: Yes, and the others too. It's a modern idea. It will eventually do a good deal for the blind, I think. You're naturally up against the same thing that the blind are always up against. It's assumed that there isn't anything that you can do for them.
Baum: You think the same thing is true in vocational rehabilitation?
Perry: Yes. The sighted people there don't know what blind people can do. When they read these stories about what they can do, they seem impossible to them.
Baum: You got the aid bill in California before the New Deal came in. Then you had a lot of trouble with the Social Security Administration. I wondered if you might think that things might have been better for the blind if the New Deal hadn't been elected? I mean, do you think they put things backward or forward as far as the blind were concerned?
Perry: They progressed. World's going to progress. I don't care whether you put Republicans or Democrats in, eventually they're going to progress. They're going to progress for the blind people slower because people don't understand them. The pension is the only good idea they've come up with. Things are better than they were. When I was a kid, I knew of one blind man who had a job; I didn't know of any others. Now loads of my former pupils are making a living.
Baum: Are you a Republican?
Perry: I have no particular feelings. I really don't know the difference between a Republican and a Democrat. I can't tell them apart, except to take their word. I think our country unfortunately--we're not divided into different philosophies. If you talk to a Republican now, he gives you the same song and dance that a Democrat gives you. So far as I can see, the country is divided into two kinds of people. Some people have a job and some people don't. I don't know why. Of course, they can't give jobs to all of them. I was raised as a Republican, and everyone who knows me around here says I'm a Republican. They say I'm an autocrat in everything except towards the blind, and for the blind, I'm a Socialist or something. People laugh about it, think it's quite a joke. I never can see that there is anything to that criticism. Of course my aim in life has always been to create opportunities for the blind, opportunities for becoming self-supporting and independent.
Baum: You think that is the key to everything?
Perry: Well, that's the key to the important things.
Baum: And you think college education is the best way for a blind person to fit himself for a job?
Perry: Oh yes. He's at less of a disadvantage. He can talk, he can communicate. Now, when it comes to thinking, a blind man can think just as well as the other fellow. So, if blind people will educate themselves, they have opportunities to work. They have difficulty in getting appointments, but that's temporary. I think that will pass eventually.
Baum: I imagine Miss Holt said that a lot of blind people don't have the ability to go to college, so handwork is better.
Perry: That's true, and you have to try to do something else with them, try to do what you can. I think a great many of them have the ability to go to college though who don't go because they don't see their way clear to do it. They've assumed from their early life that they couldn't do these things, and they don't even try them.
Baum: Someone told me that you had said that most of the work you did for the blind was not a part of your job, that you thought the most important things you did were things you weren't supposed to be doing.
Perry: Well, that's true.
Baum: What do you think was your most important work?
Perry: Oh, my most important work was my dragging the blind out of their sleep, stirring them up, putting some ambition into them, and then helping them. To say "go to college," they couldn't without money or readers. The thought of going to the legislature for money for readers sounded ridiculous to them. None of the schools had men who were revolutionary at all; they weren't big enough men.
Baum: Well, Dr. Perry, which would you think was the more important of your works, seeing that the blind student could go to college or organizing the blind into groups?
Perry: Oh, I think sending them to college was perhaps the most important thing I've done.
Baum: Why?
Perry: Because it puts a boy into a position where he believes that he can do things, and so he goes out and becomes somebody.

There you have the Perry interviews, and it is amazing to see how many of the programs we have today have sprung from what Newel Perry thought, did, and inspired in his students. He did not see his work as the be all and end all for the blind. He left the primary work of organizing and running the Federation to others and thought his biggest accomplishment was not the groups that he formed but enabling blind people to come to think of themselves as competent and assuming that the needed organization would come from their own initiative and good sense.

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