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First Annual Report Of The Massachusetts Commission For The Blind

Creator: n/a
Date: 1908
Publisher: Wright & Potter, Boston
Source: Mount Holyoke College Library

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We shall test the question whether they can profitably operate hand looms in their homes. If they can, a notable addition will be made to the resources of blind women who are now struggling to eke out their slender means by doing plain sewing, knitting and crocheting for our salesrooms in Boston.


At the close of 1907 the total number of blind employees receiving wages in our shops was 27, besides 15 pupils and apprentices, most of whom were receiving aid towards their living expenses during their pupilage. We have paid the school fees, including board, in schools for the blind, of three young men who stood in especial need of the training which can be had at present only in a school for the blind. As these young men were all above twenty years of age, and therefore could not be admitted to the Perkins Institution at South Boston, 1 was sent to the Connecticut Institute and Industrial Home for the Blind at Hartford, and the other 2 to the Halifax School for the Blind in Nova Scotia.


The industries now conducted by the commission in Cambridge are rug, mop and broom making and cobbling (as a home industry) for the men, and art fabric weaving and telephone operating for the women; and in Pittsfield chair caning and mattress renovating for men.


Three-fourths of the upper floor of the men's shop, which is 70 by 50 feet in area, are devoted to rug making. In the Boston shop there were but three rug looms and no space for storage. In the new quarters there are nine single looms and one double width loom, upon which rugs up to 10 feet in width can be made. There is a large finishing and stock room also. The rugs are woven by hand, upon the principle of the old-time rag-carpet weaving. In the place of rags new materials are used, and a definite design with selected colors is worked out in each rug. The blind men are helped to arrange the figures accurately in the rugs by seeing persons. For special orders both designs and colors are made to harmonize with the furnishings in the house in which the rugs are to be used. The designs are made by seeing persons who have had special professional training.


In Boston it was practicable to give employment to only 2 blind rug makers. Since the transfer to Cambridge in April, 1907, 6 additional men have been taken into the shop, and others will be admitted as the business increases.


We make a specialty of the "Wundermop," which was invented by one of our workmen, and a patent secured upon it by the Massachusetts Association for the Blind. It is easy for blind men to make mops, and if raw material can be secured at advantageous prices, the industry ought to prove of value to the blind. Three men have been employed in the manufacture and 2 in the selling of mops, for which there is a growing demand.


How to secure remunerative employment for blind women is one of the most difficult problems confronting those endeavoring to aid the sightless. When hand weaving was undertaken by the Massachusetts Association, it was in the hope of enlarging the opportunities of blind women and elevating the standard of their workmanship. No attempt is made to compete with the product of power looms. Their work is somewhat akin to hand embroidery. As the women weave the cloth, they are able to work out the designs with a small amount of seeing supervision. Articles woven by the blind in our shops have been exhibited side by side with the best examples of similar arts and crafts products made by the seeing, and have been sold on their intrinsic merit. The women have shown marked ability not only in workmanship but also in creating designs. Eight of the 12 blind women weavers have originated motives of such merit that they could be utilized to advantage in salable articles.


The commission sent to the Jamestown Exposition a considerable exhibit of rugs and art fabrics in linen, which had been produced in the Cambridge shops. In two rooms of the Massachusetts exhibit the window hangings were woven to order in the women's shop from special designs.


The frontispiece of this report is introduced to give an idea of the skill attained by the blind weavers in the employ of the commission.


As was to be expected, the applications made to the commission for aid or information have been varied and numerous, and our meetings have been largely taken up in considering the needs and circumstances of individuals. Our study of the situation and the results of the investigations instituted through our agents, who, be it said, are to be highly commended for their assiduity, energy and intelligence in meeting the demands of an essentially novel situation, have raised some important and interesting questions. It is the part of wisdom, for the present, to admit the lack of adequate and decisive evidence for settling such questions as (1) What proportion of the unoccupied and necessitous blind are handicapped by other ailments and defects than loss of sight? (2) What are the reasons for the apparently high death-rate of the blind as a class? (3) To what extent is the dependent condition of so many of the blind attributable to preventable or remediable causes?

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