Education for the Blind:Women and Philanthropy, Anna Alexandrovna Adler

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The second half of the XVIII century is rightly considered the time of women’s philanthropy. Women, even those belonging to privileged circles, were denied the right to openly participate in politics. One of the few available ways to participate in such public life was through philanthropy.

Interestingly, at that time the main inspirers, or rather ideologues, of charity in the British and Russian empires, were the daughters of Queen Victoria and the wives of the Russian emperors. All of them helped other philanthropists in difficult situations. Their word, as in the case discussed here, was the decisive one.

The spread of the methodology for education of blind and visually impaired children in Russia, as well as the principles of education themselves, owe much to Anna Alexandrovna Adler, who, for the first time in Russian history, printed a textbook for students in Braille. What makes this work worthy of being mentioned is that Anna Alexandrovna, alongside a small group of her enthusiastic assistants, were more than just its inspirers: Anna Adler purchased the printing press and everything needed to print a book in Braille with her own money. She and her helpers spent a lot of their personal time working on the printing process.

The choice to participate in a particular charity is almost always influenced by something experienced by an individual during their childhood and adolescence, health problems, or even the desire to be useful and feel needed. This is exactly what happened to Anna Adler, a girl from a well-to-do noble family, the Moscow-born daughter of a Russian Imperial Army colonel.

Her childhood and youth passed in Kazan, where Anna studied at the gymnasium and then graduated with a silver medal, a distinction of great performance. At the age of seven, she became seriously ill and began to limp, despite the titanic efforts made to treat inflammation of the hip joint, which proved ineffective. After graduating from high school in 1874, she entered pedagogical courses in Kazan and received the title of a home tutor in 1875.

The title of a home tutor (we are talking about 1874) was the only available title even for those girls who graduated from a gymnasium, having received a systematic education, which was very different from home education. The Bestuzhev Courses, which became the first institution where women of the Russian Empire could get a higher education, would only be founded in 1878.

After graduating from Kazan Pedagogical Courses, Anna Alexandrovna began to participate in charity, helping peasants and invalids of the Russian-Turkish war, among whom were many blind people who had lost their sight due to illnesses and wounds. The idea of helping blind people get education, instead of leaving them to the mercy of charity and home care, hanged in the air by the 1880th.

Not only officials, such as the Governor-general of Moscow, Prince V. Dolgoruky, or the former governor of Samara Province, Konstantin Grotto, were engaged in the creation of educational institutions and establishments where the blind could gain independence and earn a decent living. Two Russian empresses — Maria Alexandrovna, wife of Alexander II, and Maria Fyodorovna, wife of Alexander III — provided enormous assistance.

The authority of both empresses proved decisive in starting the organization for education of the blind and visually impaired children. Maria Alexandrovna, with Konstantin Grotto’s participation, established the Trusteeship for the Blind, which played an important role in the founding of educational institutions for blind children. At the urgent recommendation of Maria Fyodorovna, the first book printed in Braille in Imperial Russia was included in the circulation of educational institutions at the expense and great personal efforts of Anna Adler.

The story of the first book for the blind printed in Braille begins in 1885, when Anna Alexandrovna Adler took the “printing machine” and its ancillary components from the customs office: plates for typesetting boards, font boxes, metal boards, font registers, and much more.

The process of printing a book in Braille deserves to be told as a separate story, as do the efforts of Anna Adler and her assistants. Here we will note that Anna Alexandrovna finished the work on the book at the end of 1885 and sent a copy to Empress Maria Fiodorovna early in 1886.

Having received the book and upon learning the history of its creation, Maria Fiodorovna sent it to the Council for the Blind with a proposal to consider the introduction of the book printed by Anna Adler into the educational process. As a consequence of the Empress’ proposal, the Trusteeship of St. Petersburg purchased 30 copies of the book for the education of blind children.

In 1887, Anna Adler began printing the second book in Braille, and some time later books printed by other publishers would follow.

Thanks to the efforts of A.A. Adler and her friends, as well as the intervention of Empress Maria Fyodorovna, the public opinion in the Russian Empire was reshaped, altering the state’s approach to educating the blind, guiding their professional orientation, and creating possibilities for self-realization.