Education for the Blind: Konstantin Karlovich Grot — an Outstanding Official

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Konstantin Karlovich Grot was the creator of a well-organized and thorough system of care for the blind in the Russian Empire. A typical but at the same time extraordinary representative of the imperial ruling class, he represented a frequent phenomenon in the 19th-century Europe.

Konstantin Grot was born in 1815 into the family of Karl Grot, a fellow student of Emperor Alexander I, which largely determined his successful career as an official under three subsequent rulers: Nicholas I, Alexander II, and Alexander III.

Graduating in 1835 from Alexander’s Tsarskoselsky Lyceum as a young man with the rank of titular counselor, he did not face any noticeable obstacles securing a court job in the department that was put in charge of movable property in St. Petersburg’s royal palaces. 3 years later, in 1838, he went to work in the Ministry of State Property, assuming the post of Assistant Stolonachalnik, what we today would call an assistant to a chairman of a central or local government agency.

Konstantin Grot enjoyed a successful and rapid career growth. In 1853, when the man was 38 years old, he was appointed governor of the newly formed Samara Province. After 170 years, he is still revered in modern-day Samara Region for his services both to the city and the area as a whole, and his work and contributions are greatly appreciated. Coming to Samara, you are sure to hear about this outstanding official who was very different from most of his colleagues.

But the main calling of Konstantin Karlovich Grot’s life was the care for the blind. He and his assistants devoted themselves to caring for blind people of all ages and social groups across the Russian Empire. In a short period of time, they did a great deal for those who faced vision loss. In fact, their work in the final third of the 19th century laid a foundation for the help to the blind, which remains stable and reliable even at the beginning of the 21st century.

Thanks to K.K. Grot’s efforts, the foundations of pedagogy and vocational education found their way into Russia, the printing of books in Braille began, and the first libraries for the blind were created. In short, all this helped to establish a stable communication between the world of the blind and the world of the seeing, opening new opportunities for education, as well as cultural and social integration.

In the 1870s, war, as it often happens in history, became the occasion to solve various social issues, including those related to blindness and limited vision. The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 left many returning soldiers and officers blind or with severely damaged vision due to their wounds.

The problem was so acute that the Trust for the Blind was established at the behest of Empress Maria Alexandrovna, wife of Alexander II. It was created “…for the benefit of the blind in general, both military and civilian, of all classes and ages.” Konstantin Karlovich was appointed Chairman of the Board of the Trust, and his management skills were relied upon by two empresses — first Maria Alexandrovna, and then Maria Feodorovna.

In K.K. Grot’s opinion, the Trusteeship’s tasks should include not only the care for improving the blind’s literacy rate and teaching them various professions, but also the development of measures to prevent blindness. According to statistics, the number of blind people in the Russian Empire in the final third of the 19th century was high and this, according to Konstantin Grot, created serious social problems.

Konstantin Grot considered the organization of systematic assistance to the blind to be the most important of his achievements. During the last years of his life, he devoted himself to the creation of general and vocational schools for the blind, engaged in training pedagogical staff for these facilities, and devoted much time to the development of teaching aids for the visually impaired. Thanks to his efforts, Anna Alexandrovna Adler’s endeavors to print books for the blind in Braille met with success.

Konstantin Karlovich Grot understood that the creation of a brush workshop for the blind was only the first step, and it was also necessary to ensure the sale of what was produced in said workshop. He also believed that it was necessary to “patronize the infirm and the old” who were, as we say nowadays, in a difficult situation, whether for material or social reasons. Konstantin Grot emphasized all aspects of blind people’s lives, regardless of the reasons for their loss of sight. He realized that many cases of blindness could be prevented with timely medical assistance, so he paid much attention to organizing “flying squads” of doctors providing the necessary help.

Konstantin Karlovich Grot made a huge contribution to the welfare of blind people, and his work continues to amaze with its scope and success even at the present time. His charitable work was incredibly successful and encompassed both material and social support.

Twenty-one schools for blind children, several craft institutions and workshops for adults, as well as two asylums for the aged blind individuals, and three eye hospitals were established under his leadership. He also displayed exceptional organizational skills in managing the finances of the Trust for the Blind.

If you ever find yourself in St. Petersburg, be sure to get to Shaumyan Avenue, where there is a monument in honor of Konstantin Karlovich Grot, sculpted by Mark Antokolsky. There is also the building of the first Russian Alexandrov-Mariinsky School for blind children.

The history of education for the blind in the Russian Empire of the 19th century owes much to such outstanding personalities as Anna Adler, Heinrich von Dickhoff, and Konstantin Grot. Their efforts and endeavors helped not only to persuade officials to pay attention to the education for the blind, but also to involve Russian society in the work to improve the blind people’s situation across the empire.