BY-WAYS -6/5/41 - Champion of the Blind

In the little magazine, the Catholic Digest, which Dell McQuiston Harmon so kindly sent me some time ago, is a splendid article called, "Champion of the Blind," marked by Mrs. Harmon as one of special interest. It is condensed from the St. Francis Home Journal - January issue for this year, and written by Neil Ames. Since there seems to be no restrictions against quoting from this digest, I would like to quote the first paragraph verbatim: "For 27 years Hazel Hurst has lived in the dark, yet she is one of the sunniest persons one could ever hope to meet. The answer is simple. She serves others. The writer goes on to tell of his interest with this remarkable young woman in the business office of the Hazel Hurst foundation for the Blind. Thanks to her efforts, industrialists and business leaders of the country employ sightless persons. Thanks to her, many blind people have rehabilitated their lives and are now happy, industrious members of society. Her work will expand and grow in importance as she places in the business world more of the trained blind workers, graduates of her free school. Back of every remarkable blind person is usually to be found a remarkable parent, who allowed no self-pity on the part of the afflicted one. So it was with Miss Hurst. She was raised like other children. No pampering; no favoritism. Her mother could not "reach" her sightless infant with brightly colored toys, so she placed crumpled newspapers in the bottom of the child's crib. "The rustle of the papers aroused my curiosity, and, as Mother put it, 'brought me out of myself'." Miss Hurst was six before she knew she was sightless. Her mother's way of revealing the fact was unique. She told the child that everyone in the family had some sort of handicap. For instance, one had a terrible temper, another stuttered, and she enumerated a long list of faults. Then she told her blind child her particular problem. "I was so busy being sorry for the others that I wasn't a bit sorry for myself," laughed Miss Hurst. "In fact, I felt I had the edge on them. 'Don't they have ten eyes like I do?" I asked her, for of course I thought everyone else 'saw' with their fingers like myself." That same sort of wise guidance sent her through parochial school in her home town of Ogdensburg, N.Y., and into the capable hands of teaching nuns. In 18 months the sightless girl absorbed a four-year high school course, at the end of which she was graduated as valedictorian. And all this, mind you, in spite of the fact that at the age of ten she had slipped and fallen, injuring her spine so badly that it was seven years before she could leave her wheel chair. Her valiant efforts to overcome every handicap attracted the attention of the late Bishop Joseph Conroy, who interested the Rotary International in her. They, in turn, sent her to Columbia University for special courses, and bought for her a guide dog, trained by the famous "Seeing Eye" school at Morristown, N.J. Under the protection of "Babe," her companion, Hazel began her public life.

Together they have traveled 250,000 miles, awakening public interest in behalf of the sightless. Everywhere her theme has been, "don't give a sightless person pity. Give him work instead." Around that motto Hazel Hurst has built her life. In the short period of a year and a half Miss Hurst has built and paid for out of private subscription a $28,000 establishment near the foothills of the Sierra Madre range. This is the only institution for the blind in the U.S. which helps find jobs for the sightless, and gives them guide dogs without charging one penny. Hazel Hurst has convinced the hard-boiled business man that the sightless person in some cases is superior to the normal one. Jobs depending upon sense of touch rather than sight, such as sorting tiny springs that go into certain typewriters, sorting pins in laundries, are but two jobs in which the blind excel. A national salve company, and a chocolate bar company, with factories from coast to coast, are but two that employ blind persons to pack their products. The Ford Motor Co., the nation's largest employer of the sightless, finds them extremely useful in sorting tiny parts. The one job for which the sightless are in constant demand, is the wrapping of camera films on their metal spools. Since this must be done in a dark room, the blind are obviously better suited to this job. Miss Hurst says that blind persons make good dictaphone operators, insurance salesmen and teachers. There is even a braille shorthand system that opens the field of stenography to the sightless. One of the important jobs of this new "school" is the training in child psychology for the parents of blind children. It is so easy for little children, so handicapped, to get a wrong start, a wrong attitude in life. The right training means the difference between success and failure. ***

There is not much space left to tell of the most remarkable blind woman within my acquaintance. She is more wonderful than Mother Taylor only in that she get out and earns her own living, inspiring every human being whom she touches. It was my great privilege to work with Mrs. Josephine Enever ten years ago - in the capacity of secretary and guide. Last Wednesday I went down to read her annual report, prepared for the large corps of transcribers taught and trained by her to do books in braille for the blind. Every year - for ten years - I have been reading that report. To be with her is almost like visiting a sacred shrine. I always come away with a full heart. This sweet, attractive woman (in her late fifties, I should judge - but it doesn't matter) lost her sight through a family operation, when she was fourteen. She, too must have had a most wise mother, who gave her a good musical education. She still sings like an angel, but can only be persuaded to sing in the privacy of the home. She used to journey by the old inter-urban car to nearby villages and towns, to teach piano. She learned to be utterly self-reliant; and yet she has never lost her sweet femininity. While attending the Ohio School for the Blind in Columbus she met Mr. Enever, who is also totally blind. He was a piano tuner for years. After he was forced to give that up, he has kept the home fires burning - for this remarkable household; his lovely wife, a brother-in-law, bereft of his wife many years ago, and this man's son, Billy, whom Mrs. Enever has mothered since his mother's death - 24 years ago. Billy is now 26. I can't believe that there is ever a cross word uttered in that household. I want you to know that Mrs. Enever can operate the electric washing machine, can iron, can cook - well, no seeing person can outdo her. When I was with her, she traveled all over the city, teaching the sightless how to read the braille, how to type, and how to write braille, if they wanted to. She also taught them how to sew (the women, I mean). That was my bug-bear, for very few women had either her skill or patience, and they turned in some bad work. Now the transcribing class has grown so that she devotes her entire day to teaching that, and has inspired a large group of volunteer workers to dedicate their very lives to helping the blind. Oh, I could write volumes about the various cases, where she has brought hope and courage and a sense of usefulness to those who walk in darkness. But I must close. Some day I would like to devote a whole column to her.

Florence B. Taylor.

Publisher's Notice - We regret that owing to heavy demands on our space that the weekly letter of Mrs. Florence B. Taylor, South Euclid, Ohio, has been discontinued for a month, and we beg the indulgence of her many readers and friends. Here is a parting thought from Mrs. Taylor as she enters her vacation period - exhausted - with "too many irons in the fire," she writes. Almira Lytle, in a letter from Washington, tells of a symphony orchestra giving a concert on a large barge along the Potomac. From 80 to 100 canoeists were idling near the barge, revelling in the sweet music. Suddenly a storm came up. The canoeists scurried under the Lincoln Memorial bridge. By holding together, the canoeists were perfectly safe - even in those choppy waters. In these troubled times, aren't we Americans all safe if we seek refuge "in the shadow of His wings" - and ALL HOLD TOGETHER?

Next - 7/3/41- By-Ways Resumed