1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Howe, Samuel Gridley
HOWE, SAMUEL GRIDLEY (1801–1876), American philanthropist, was born at Boston, Massachusetts, on the 10th of November 1801. His father, Joseph N. Howe, was a ship-owner and cordage manufacturer; and his mother, Patty Gridley, was one of the most beautiful women of her day. Young Howe was educated at Boston and at Brown University, Providence, and in 1821 began to study medicine in Boston. But fired by enthusiasm for the Greek revolution and by Byron’s example, he was no sooner qualified and admitted to practice than he abandoned these prospects and took ship for Greece, where he joined the army and spent six years of hardship amid scenes of warfare. Then, to raise funds for the cause, he returned to America; his fervid appeals enabled him to collect about $60,000, which he spent on provisions and clothing, and he established a relief depot near Aegina, where he started works for the refugees, the existing quay, or American Mole, being built in this way. He formed another colony of exiles on the Isthmus of Corinth. He wrote a History of the Greek Revolution, which was published in 1828, and in 1831 he returned to America. Here a new object of interest engaged him. Through his friend Dr John D. Fisher (d. 1850), a Boston physician who had started a movement there as early as 1826 for establishing a school for the blind, he had learnt of the similar school founded in Paris by Valentin Haüy, and it was proposed to Howe by a committee organized by Fisher that he should direct the establishment of a “New England Asylum for the Blind” at Boston. He took up the project with characteristic ardour, and set out at once for Europe to investigate the problem. There he was temporarily diverted from his task by becoming mixed up with the Polish revolt, and, in pursuit of a mission to carry American contributions across the Prussian frontier, he was arrested and imprisoned at Berlin, but was at last released through the intervention of the American minister at Paris. Returning to Boston in July 1832, he began receiving a few blind children at his father’s house in Pleasant Street, and thus sowed the seed which grew into the famous Perkins Institution. In January 1833 the funds available were all spent, but so much progress had been shown that the legislature voted $6000, later increased to $30,000 a year, to the institution on condition that it should educate gratuitously twenty poor blind from the state; money was also contributed from Salem, and from Boston, and Colonel Thomas H. Perkins, a prominent Bostonian, presented his mansion and grounds in Pearl Street for the school to be held there in perpetuity. This building being later found unsuitable, Colonel Perkins consented to its sale, and in 1839 the institution was moved to South Boston, to a large building which had previously been an hotel. It was henceforth known as the “Perkins Institution and Massachusetts Asylum (or, since 1877, School) for the Blind.” Howe was director, and the life and soul of the school; he opened a printing-office and organized a fund for printing for the blind—the first done in America; and he was unwearied in calling public attention to the work. The Institution, through him, became one of the intellectual centres of American philanthropy, and by degrees obtained more and more financial support. In 1837 Dr Howe went still further and brought the famous blind deaf-mute, Laura Bridgman (q.v.) to the school.
It must suffice here to chronicle the remaining more important facts in Dr Howe’s life, outside his regular work. In 1843 he married Julia Ward (see above), daughter of a New York banker, and they made a prolonged European trip, on which Dr Howe spent much time in visiting those public institutions which carried out the objects specially interesting to him. In Rome, in 1844, his eldest daughter, Julia Romana (afterwards the wife of Michael Anagnos, Dr Howe’s assistant and successor), was born, and in September the travellers returned to America, and Dr Howe resumed his activities. In 1846 he became interested in the condition and treatment of idiots, and particularly in the experiments of Dr Guggenbühl on the cretins of Switzerland. He became chairman of a state commission of inquiry into the number and condition of idiots in Massachusetts, and the report of this commission, presented in 1848, caused a profound sensation. An appropriation of $2500 per annum was made for training ten idiot children under Dr Howe’s supervision, and by degrees the value of his School for Idiotic and Feeble-minded Youths, which, starting in South Boston, was in 1890 removed to Waltham, was generally appreciated. It was the first of its kind in the United States. An enthusiastic humanitarian on all subjects, Dr Howe was an ardent abolitionist and a member of the Free Soil party, and had played a leading part at Boston in the movements which culminated in the Civil War. When it broke out he was an active member of the sanitary commission. In 1871 he was sent to Santo Domingo as a member of the commission appointed by President Grant to examine the condition of the island, the government of which desired annexation; and when that scheme was defeated through Sumner’s opposition he returned (1872) as the representative of the Samana Bay Company, which proposed to take a lease of the Samana peninsula; but though in 1874 he revisited the island, it was only to see the flag of the company hauled down. His health was then breaking and began soon after to fail rapidly, and on the 9th of January 1876 he died at Boston. The governor of the state sent a special message of grief to the legislature on his death, eulogies were delivered in the two houses, and a public memorial service was held, at which Dr O. W. Holmes read a poem. Whittier had in his lifetime commemorated him in his poem “The Hero,” in which he called him “the Cadmus of the blind”; and in 1901 a centennial celebration of his birth was held at Boston, at which, among other notable tributes, Senator Hoar spoke of Howe as “one of the great figures of American history.”
A Memoir of Dr Howe by his wife appeared in 1876. See also the Letters and Journals of S. G. Howe, edited by Laura E. Richards (1910). (H. Ch.)