First pictorial record of the Industrial Home for the Blind
100 Years of Miracles
This history of Helen Keller Services for the Blind was written in 1993 for our Centennial.
On November 2, 1883, 17 year old Eben Porter Morford went to a local apothecary in the Hills section of Brooklyn to run an errand. Two young men were behind a counter joking and one of them said, “Let’s see how close I can come without hitting him.” A gun was fired and the last thing he saw was the store clock that said five minutes before six. Total blindness resulted and Eben Morford went for training at The New York Institute for the Education of the Blind. A few years passed and he completed his studies. There were almost no opportunities for employment for blind people. He reasoned that “Blindness was physical; vision was mental and spiritual. Blindness need not destroy patience, fortitude, ingenuity, courage, and the will to win.”
In 1886, he gathered a small group of blind men and women together at the Baptist Home on Throop and Greene Avenues in Brooklyn. The society was the Mizpah Circle. As noted in the IHB first Annual Report, “Their purpose was for advancing socially and financially those less fortunate than themselves.” IHB was modeled after an established Home in Philadelphia and decided “an institution of an industrial nature having a home in connection offered the best opportunity for carrying out their desires.” They rented a frame house on 96 Lexington Avenue, and on October 1, 1893, the Industrial Home for Blind Men, under the auspices of the Mizpah Circle, opened its doors. Eben Morford acted as superintendent and by 1894 seventeen blind men lived in the Home. Ten were employed producing 416 cane seats, 28 hair mattresses, and 4,500 brooms. In the first annual report Eben Morford said, `The growth of the institution has ever since been a steady healthful nature and there has been nothing spasmodical in its advancement.’”
Selling wares from Light Buoy Industries
Within two years, on April 25, 1895, “The Industrial Home for the Blind of the City of Brooklyn” (IHB) was incorporated. The goal was “to teach a trade to the blind that they may earn their own living and become self-supporting.” William Berri, the first President of the Board of Trustees, originated the phrase “Helping the Blind to Help Themselves.”
The non-sectarian, non-denominational, and all embracing scope of activities was immediately established. Over the years hundreds of people from varied religions and backgrounds were employed. The reputation of Light Buoy Industries grew. The Light Buoy was “symbolic of the spirit of the Industrial Home for the Blind. It was a ray of light to pierce the dark of sightlessness-a beacon to lead the blind to safe waters and a firm anchorage in life.”
In 1904 John G. Jenkins, President of the Board of Trustees, stated in a later annual report “The IHB had been started in faith and has been so maintained.” With understanding and wisdom, Mr. Morford spent 30 years directing the destinies of the Home. In 1906 he participated in a study of the needs of people who were blind who lived in New York State. This helped inaugurate the New York State Commission for the Blind. In 1917 services for people who were deaf-blind were established. Also that year Mr. Morford employed young Peter J. Salmon, who was legally blind. Eben Morford died January 27, 1928. That year over 600 people who were blind or deaf-blind were served by IHB.
Among other trades, men at the Industrial Home for the Blind learned how to cane chairs
A new residence and a building for Light Buoy Industries were erected on Gates Avenue in Brooklyn. World War II helped the public realize that people who were blind had a very significant contribution to make to the economy. The IHB received the Army-Navy “E” Pennant for exceptional performance, high production of goods and low absenteeism. In 1943 Helen Keller visited the IHB and stated the “E” award had been accorded “not out of charity but because of their special skill. True celebration will be the continued progress of the Brooklyn Industrial Home. When it has opened all doors for the blind to health, happiness, and integration into normal society, its mission of restoring love and constructive faith will be fulfilled.”
For 50 years the IHB confined itself to services to blind men. The Brooklyn Bureau of Social Services and The Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor were offering service to blind women. When these services were diminished IHB began to serve women.
The programs flourished as a result of the personal commitment of Dr. Peter J. Salmon. In the post war years a formal program for people who are deaf-blind was started. The agency shifted from the single focus of employment to a more comprehensive program of education and rehabilitation.
IHB established the first low vision clinic in 1953 to provide diagnostic services, specialized low vision aids and glasses for individuals who had functional residual vision.
During the 1950’s, services were established in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Burrwod, a residence for senior citizens who were blind and deaf-blind, was established on Long Island. Under the leadership of Elizabeth Maloney IHB founded a nursery school for blind children. In 1952 IHB established a Braille and Large Print Library to make sure that textbooks were available for children who were blind and mainstreamed within their local schools. In 1953 a summer day camp was opened to encourage participation in sports, music and drama.
IHB initiated a major blindness prevention program in 1967 for pre-school children on Long Island. With the assistance of volunteers, IHB staff identified children who needed immediate medical intervention in order to prevent vision loss.
Helen Keller toured HKSB on our 50th anniversary
During the 1960’s, under the leadership of Louis J. Bettica, IHB initiated the federally funded Anne Sullivan Macy Service for people who were deaf-blind. IHB received the grant based on its long-standing commitment to this special population. Soon after, Dr. Peter J. Salmon, Bettica and others advocated for a national center to serve all Americans who were deaf-blind. In 1967 the Helen Keller National Center (HKNC) was established by a unanimous act of Congress and IHB was chosen to operate the program which provided comprehensive rehabilitation training for people with a severe dual sensory loss or impairment. Temporary training facilities were created in New Hyde Park and in 1976 HKNC’s new headquarters opened a 25 acre site in Sands Point, Long Island. The Center’s national services expanded to include several Regional offices, Affiliate agencies, and later a National Training Team, Technical Assistance Center, National Parent Network, and Services for Older Adults.
In 1983, IHB established a day treatment program for adults who are developmentally disabled and who were also blind or deaf-blind. In 1985, the Board of Trustees decided to change the name of The Industrial Home for the Blind (IHB) to Helen Keller Services for the Blind (HKSB). The Parent/Infant Program, established in 1988 in Brooklyn, provided intensive therapeutic and educational services for pre-schoolers and infants who are blind. That same year, HKSB established Supported Employment services to provide ongoing individualized long-term support at the job sight.
For the first 50 years, the Industrial Home for the Blind served only men, but then opened programs and services to women as well. In this 1950s photo, a client learns everyday living skills.
The IHB Industries (formerly Light Buoy Industries) provided employment for hundreds of men and women who are blind and deaf-blind from its inception until 1991. At that time competitive and supported employment became a more appropriate and realistic option.
Over the years program and facility changes have been made, as needed, to reflect the needs of a diverse population of persons who were living in the New York City Metropolitan Area.
The ability of this agency to respond to changing needs over the past 100 years has sustained its viability as an important resource. HKSB is well prepared and positioned to move into its second century maintaining a commitment to the mission of enabling people of all ages who are visually impaired, blind or deaf-blind to lead as independent a life as possible within their own communities.