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machine was ante-dated only by one made by Bond for Laura Bridgman, with which to outline Roman letters for her touch.
A pocket tablet he also produced, which was an effective modification upon the French designs of a writing frame, whereby the blind could carry their writing machines with them. The bars on Mr. Smith's tablet marked off double lines to guide the hand, so that the blind writer could write eight lines without shifting the paper.
“The Unigraph”, another machine of Mr. Smith's invention for writing Braille, employs a movable one-letter cell, which advances along a ratchet bar, instead of using a continuous line of cells, thus avoiding the necessity of removing the stylus from the cell.
In January, 1891, a periodical called The Mentor was founded, which was the first magazine for the blind, ink-printed in America, There had been a magazine printed for the blind in Germany before this, not widely circulated, however, in this country. The influence of this little monthly paper, started and fostered by the alumni of Perkins Institution, largely through Mr. Smith, and later published and managed by him, is difficult to measure. It was world-wide in its reach. The account in The Mentor of the stereotype machine for blind literature led to the adoption of the machine in Japan, thus making possible the popularizing of the printed page among the blind of that empire.
One issue contained an account of the education of Ragnhild Kaata, a Norwegian girl (born in 1873), who was blind, deaf and consequently dumb. Her teacher, Elias H. Hofgaard, principal of the School for the Deaf at Hamar, using the oral method from the start, began to teach her to pronounce the consonants f, p, t, k, s, and the vowels o, o, u and ā. The letter s was the hardest to learn. The first word he taught her was "sofa". After eight days of patient struggle, it dawned upon her at last that there was a relation between the pronounced words and the objects touched. Thus her remarkable teacher taught her to speak Auently. To Helen Keller, then in Perkins Institution, each issue of The Mentor was read with regularity; and after the article upon Ragnhild Kaata she exclaimed in her sign-language of touch, "Why then, can I not learn to speak aloud also ?” This was Helen Keller's first incentive to accomplish the art of speaking, and her teacher, Miss Sullivan, once said that if The Mentor had done nothing else but stir this ambition in Helen Keller's heart, which has resulted so wonderfully, it would by that alone have justified its existence.
In this work Mr. Smith was assisted by Miss Martha W. Sawyer, a woman of great ability, who had been connected with Mr. Campbell in his work in London, with the Associated Charities of Boston, with Professor Asa Gray, Dr. S. G. Howe, and other distinguished workers. At one time when her right hand failed her through nerve-strain, she learned to write with her left hand. In 1887 she returned to Perkins, where she had been before from 1867 to 1873, and later became editor of The Mentor until her death in 1894. The May number of that year is largely devoted to her biography and memorials.
During these twenty years at Perkins one of Mr. Smith's practical services to the blind was the popularizing of piano-tuning by the blind. With great difficulty he at last secured a contract for having all the pianos in the city schools of Boston tuned by blind tuners, and so very satisfactory has this work proved to be that it is still being done by the pupils of the institution, while many other cities have followed the example of Boston. This marked an epoch in that branch of the trades for the blind, and when it was announced by Mr. Smith, to the convention of the American Association of Workers for the Blind, it was received with the greatest applause. This achievement did much to counteract the widespread but unfounded prejudice against blind tuners, in this country.
When Mr. Smith entered Perkins Institution in 1863 he attempted to learn to read by touching the embossed Roman letters of the old line type, then used in the literature of the blind. This process, he found, made his arm ache fearfully, as it affected the nerves as far as his shoulders. By a strange argument the directors of most of the English-speaking schools for the blind insisted upon having the difficult and altogether unsatisfactory Roman letters taught to the blind. They thought that the blind should not be taught an alphabet different from that printed for sighted persons, an alphabet that their teachers could not read (without special preparation), an alphabet that they feared might increase the already pitiable isolation of the blind. Indeed, when Mr. Smith complained to Dr. Howe, the superintendent of Perkins Institution, about the difficulty of the Roman letters, and urged the substitution of Braille, Dr. Howe replied, “I would as soon print in Choctaw as in Braille: for if we printed in Braille we would have to teach it to our teachers.” And this attitude on the part of many institutions seriously retarded the education of the blind for many years, until at last the Roman letters were largely superseded by a better principle,—the embossed points of Braille punctography
The successive steps from the beginning of embossed printing for the blind to the perfecting of punctography form an interesting chapter in the history of writing. The first great name in this story belongs to a Frenchman, Valentin Hauy (1745-1822), who was almost the first to teach the blind to read letters that are legible through touch. For this purpose he employed a French italic, teaching the blind to read with considerable success, and winning favorable recognition from the Academy of Sciences and the Philosophical Society of Paris. He was disappointed, however, in that the interest shown by King Louis XVI of France and Emperor Paul of Russia in his experiments did not produce the financial aid that he had expected.
But Hauy was an innovator, not a perfector, and a few years later several educators attempted to improve his system of embossed type. One of these was James Call, who published a type of Roman letters with angles instead of curves, more easily recognized by the touch on that account. In some places this was soon superseded by the series of Roman capitals adopted by Dr. Fry and Mr. Allston, a printer. Still other modifications of the Roman letter were adopted in Boston and Philadelphia. With these should be mentioned also the Lucas and Frerephonetic types for stenography by the blind, and the Moon alphabet, that is more easily read by older or less sensitive hands. But all of these systems have almost disappeared before the advance of the Braille principle, except the Moon type, which is still used, especially among older persons.
The first educator to apply embossed points for the blind reader was the Frenchman, M. Barbier. He constructed characters of twelve or less points, making his characters six points high upon a base of two points. This, of course, was unwieldy, and not easily grasped by the touch of the hand in quickly passing from left to right. Louis Braille, however, a teacher in the National Institution for Blind Young People in Paris, made this system practicable by making the letter-base consist of only half as many possible points--three points high and two points wide. This has been adopted, letter for letter, in the English Braille type and the German Braille, except of course for the accented letters. The greatest defect in Braille's French system has therefore inevitably crept into its English and German counterpart. M. Braille, more eager to perfect characters for the reading of music than of French, neglected to apply the simplest combinations to those letters of the alphabet which occur most frequently. His choice of pointed symbols for the alphabet was therefore not only arbitrary, but also haphazard.
Mr. Smith, recognizing this defect, adopted Braille's form of a letter-base of six points, three points high and two points wide, but applied to it the principle of the frequency of recurrence of the letters. Thus those letters that occur most frequently in writing English can be made most easily, and the more difficult signs are left for those letters that occur only rarely. This has made a vast saving in the energy of the reading or writing blind man, and also in his time as well. And anything is worth while that can make life and work easier for the blind, who are already so heavily handicapped in life's battle.
Thus Mr. Smith entirely remodelled the alphabet, thereby producing a type that could be more easily written and more quickly read by the blind. This system has come to be known as the American Improved Braille. The system at once appealed strongly to those who learned to use it, and from being a mere plaything developed into a language.
Today it is taught in more institutions for the blind in this country than any other alphabet, and no institution having once begun to teach it has ever abandoned the American Braille. A short time ago, when the Board of Education in New York City decided to place all blind pupils in the same classes as the sighted pupils in the public schools, it instituted a most searching investigation of the merits of the various systems with the result that the American Braille alphabet has been adopted as the official language of the blind in the New York City public schools. The influence of American Braille promises to widen as the years advance, and no one can now measure the extent to which it may ultimately reach.
JOEL WEST SMITH-AN APPRECIATION
EDWARD E. ALLEN
Director of Perkins Institution for the Blind
Although Joel West Smith, who recently died at *East Hampton, was in his 86th year, over sixty of these years were passed in physical blindness. During nearly all this time he had two homes -the Perkins Institution, Boston, for the school year, and East Hampton for the summer vacations.
Readers of Hartford and other nearby papers know of Mr. Smith as that blind man, who was so progressive and public spirited that his home town has long recognized him as leading citizen. What they do not know so well is that he was also leader among the blind of New England. Should the massed Perkins Institution alumni be asked to tell which of their teachers they regarded as their most potent friend, they would unhesitatingly name Mr. Smith.
The secret of his influence was personality-a personality of cheer, service and character-and achievement. But he was withal so modest that everybody who knew him both loved and respected him.
Dr. Howe, who was director when Mr. Smith came as pupil to the institution, soon promoted him to assistant, and eventually to one of his mainstays. Mr. Smith organized the school's department of piano tuning and early obtained for its certified graduates the contracts for keeping in tune and repair the public school pianos of the City of Boston, a contract which they have held ever since. When later his friend and fellow instructor, Mr., afterwards Sir Francis Campbell, was about to open a department of tuning at the
Although a resident of East Hampton, Mr. Smith's death occurred at the hospital in Middletown, Conn.