In 1901, Isabel Greeley, a kindergarten teacher for the Perkins School for the Blind, saw the value of early training for blind children. In order to begin work with visually handicapped children who were preschool age or younger, she established the Boston Nursery for Blind Babies. By 1909, the need for services had increased to such an extent that interested individuals and families purchased property on the Jamaica Way for a new boarding school for blind children. In 1910 the Nursery opened with a capacity for 25 residents.
In 1934, the staff established a day nursery school program to help children begin work on specific development tasks. By 1945 teachers and social workers at the Nursery had begun to visit the homes of children with multiple handicaps to help parents work with their infants.
In the 1950s, the Nursery admitted several children who were victims of a new eye condition called retrolental fibroplasias, which caused blindness along with other severe handicaps in an alarming number of premature babies. Several of these children were treated by the Nursery both in their homes as infants and later in the residence and treatment program.
Photos from the early 1960s courtesy of Sandy, a former staff member.
The Nursery changed its name to the Boston Center for Blind Children (BCBC) in 1964, and in 1966, it became a member of the Child Welfare League of America. BCBC was also licensed as a group care facility by the Massachusetts Office for Children, approved as a private 766 school, and licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Education.
Dwindling financial support, a steadily declining enrollment, and a shift in contracting policies favoring that students remain in their own public school or be placed in a facility equipped with a more sophisticated array of services contributed to BCBC closing its doors in September of 1995.
In order to embark on its new mission, which no longer included operating a school, BCBC petitioned the Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in October of 1997 to allow it “to engage in charitable activities as defined in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, including awarding grants and providing space and support to other charitable organizations that provide care and treatment to blind, visually impaired, or otherwise disabled children as well as other children and families in need, and engaging in programs to provide care and treatment to blind, visually impaired, or otherwise disabled children as well as other children and families in need.”
As BCBC looks forward and plans for the future, its long-standing mission of assisting the less fortunate will continue to hold fast. Whenever a chapter in its history has closed and a new one has begun, BCBC has always been able to link them with a recurring theme: the spirit of giving.
The vision of Isabel Greeley will continue to guide BCBC in the fulfillment of its mission.