A remarkable man, forward looking thinker, and innovative educator, Edward Ellis Allen, former OSB principal and director (1890-1907), has been recognized by the Blindness Field Hall of Fame as a Leader and Legend of the Blindness Field.
The Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field is dedicated to preserving, honoring, and promoting the tradition of excellence manifested by the specific individuals inducted into the Hall of Fame and through the history of outstanding services provided to people who are blind or visually impaired.
Early in his career, Dr. Allen risked his teaching position at the Royal Normal College and Academy for the Blind in Upper Norwood (near London) by refusing a direct order to cane a student. For him, doing the right thing (although it was standard procedure for the time) was more important than job security. This was in 1888.
That same year, he relocated to Massachusetts, where he was welcomed by Perkins School for the Blind. Upon meeting him, Anne Sullivan Macy, Helen Keller’s famous teacher, said, “Everybody was talking about the new master. We heard that he was a brilliant scholar, that he had advanced ideas. One of them was that the student must do his own learning . . .” Dr. Allen came to our school in 1890 as acting principal. Having been hired because of his excellent education, work history, and references, at 29 years of age, he was thought too young to be called “principal.” Youth, however, was not an impediment to his professionalism and expertise, and having proved himself to everyone, he became principal a year later; and by 1901 he was named director.
While principal and director he tirelessly supported the braille code as the universal writing system for readers who are blind and introduced the first interlinear braille embossing equipment in the United States. He brought speech and physical therapy to the school, initiated early intervention activities for infants, and hired staff psychologists and social workers who worked closely with the children’s parents.
In 1902, Dr. Allen hired a special declamation teacher to encourage and reinforce in students “neatness of dress, confidence, and naturalness, together with upright and pleasing carriage and presence.” (Edward Ellis Allen by Katherine G. Allen, Riverside Press, 1940) He championed the idea that schools for the blind should not just educate their students but should also take some responsibility in helping them to find employment.
Dr. Allen oversaw the construction of our main building, the first of its kind in America built with an eye toward physical beauty as well as functionality. With its imposing and resplendent rotunda, the welcoming mission-style structure continues to serve students and staff well and to stand as a symbol to the caring nature of our school. It was formally opened on May 18, 1901. A new outdoor running track, also initiated and completed during Dr. Allen’s tenure, incorporated the Edinburg school’s idea for a handle and ring on a taut wire to guide runners who are blind. Dr. Allen then expanded on the idea by providing a handrail on the indoor running track as well.
In 1906, he added a swimming pool to the campus, a first for schools for the blind in America. Upon request for participation in the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, Dr. Allen sent a complete exhibit of photographs showing the buildings and life of the school. At the request of the U.S. Government, he also sent an award winning exhibit to the turn-of-the-century international Paris Exposition.
In 1907, Dr. Allen left Overbrook for Perkins School for the Blind, where he continued to educate, innovate, and build.
This plaque, honoring Dr. Allen’s time at OSB, is mounted on a wall of the rotunda balcony.