[NFB-VT] Who Is the Perkins School for the Blind Named After?

Justin Salisbury PRESIDENT at alumni.ecu.edu
Wed Jun 28 19:49:41 UTC 2023

Hi everyone,

I have an idea for an advocacy initiative that Federationists could take on if we are interested. I am wondering if it is something that lots of members in Vermont would be interested in addressing.

Many of us are familiar with the Perkins School for the Blind, and Vermont occasionally sends some blind students to grow and learn at Perkins since it’s the local school for the blind. I bet most of us do not know who the school is named after. His name was Thomas Handasyd Perkins. Here is a Wikipedia article about him: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Handasyd_Perkins

I have not found a connection between this person and the Perkins family that promulgated eugenics in Vermont and throughout New England, but I’m looking.

According to the Wikipedia page about him, he was one of those rich boys who received lots of money from his grandfather and father-in-law, and then he found some really nice things to do with that money. According to the Wikipedia article, he became a slave trader and opium smuggler. According to the article, from these activities, he amassed a greater fortune and then used that to philanthropically support the Perkins School for the Blind, the Boston Museum of Fine Art, McLean Hospital, and Massachusetts General Hospital.

I imagine there are a lot of people who have appreciated some of the work of some of these institutions that he may have supported with donations. If we think about the Perkins School for the Blind today, though, there seems to be a real contradiction between being a school that is supposed to provide services to a diverse group of blind students and being named after a guy who got rich as a slave trader. Being a school named after a slave trader undermines the equal treatment of people of color at the Perkins School for the Blind and the blind community in New England more broadly because it is the residential school for the blind that serves New England. Quite frankly, I think it’s fair to say that continuing to celebrate Mr. Perkins by having a school named after him contributes to the ongoing marginalization of black and Indigenous people regardless of membership in the blind community, both of whom were enslaved in his day, in our region, and transported by ships like his.

Now, the question that can have multiple answers is this: Do we want to do anything about it?

I understand that we all have our priorities. Do we want to raise this conversation? Do we want to talk to the Perkins School for the Blind about renaming? Do we want to raise awareness throughout the blind community in Vermont about this context of the residential school where blind kids from Vermont are occasionally sent?

I think this would be a good thing to do, but I’m interested in taking the temperature of Federationists throughout New England before trying to do anything about it.

Thanks, everyone,


Justin MH Salisbury, MEd, NOMC, NCRTB (he/him)
Legislative Director
National Federation of the Blind of Vermont
Office: 802.585.3787
Mobile: 808.797.8606
Email: President at Alumni.ECU.edu<mailto:President at Alumni.ECU.edu>
Website: https://www.nfbvt.org/

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://nfbnet.org/pipermail/nfb-vt_nfbnet.org/attachments/20230628/ca92aa01/attachment.html>

More information about the NFB-VT mailing list