Dr. Richard S. French, since 1922 principal of the California School for the Blind, at Berkeley, has gained
a wide reputation because of the high type of service which he is rendering in this very exacting field of education.
Under his able supervision, the school has attained a place in the front rank of institutions for the sense defectives
of this country and is a source of justifiable pride to the people of this state. This School for the Blind is
not a home or custodial institution, but is purely educational in its aims and work.
The first efforts along this line in California were confined to a school which was started in San Francisco in
the late '50s, and which was a private institution, being established for the instruction of both the deaf and
the blind. In 1860 the state legislature made an appropriation for its maintenance, taking it over under the name
of the California Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind. One hundred and thirty two
acres of land were purchased at Berkeley and to this location the dual institution was removed in 1861, and has
since remained there. The first head of the school was Warring Wilkinson and the institutions had a steady growth.
Two large buildings were erected on the new site but some years later these were destroyed by fire, whereupon the
legislature made the necessary appropriations for new buildings. The first two of these were erected in 1878 and
several other buildings have since been added. The dual school buildings were completed in 1915 with the erection
of the gymnasium, making this one of the most completely equipped schools for the deaf and blind in the United
By an act of the legislature in 1921 a division of the school was ordered and from that time the California School
for the Deaf and the California School for the Blind have been separate institutions. The latter was formally organized
in 1922 and Dr. Richard S. French became its first principal, in which capacity he has served to the present time.
In 1923 the legislature made an appropriation for the building of a girls' dormitory, which was completed in 1924,
at a cost of sixty five thousand dollars. This building is up to date in all of its appointments and houses fifty
girls. In 1925 an appropriation was made for a school building, which is now only two thirds completed, as it is
planned to add another wing to it, at which time it will have twenty six class and practice rooms. The building
was dedicated in 1927 and is admirably adapted to the purpose for which it is used. Its total cost, with equipment
including an Estey pipe organ costing ten thousand dollars, was ninety thousand dollars. The last legislature also
made an appropriation for a boys' dormitory, which in design and arrangement will be in keeping with the other
two buildings A kindergarten building and shop facilities will be added later.
The course of study includes every grade from kindergarten through the high school in the academic department,
the design being to fit the students for college or university work if they desire it. There are also vocational
departments, including housekeeping, sewing and cooking, and typewriting for the girls, and chair caning, broom
making, piano tuning and typewriting for the boys, while the Braille system of reading is a fundamental subject
for all students. Particular attention is given to instruction in music, in which there are thorough courses in
both instrument and voice, and in orchestra and chorus the student's have an opportunity for practical experience,
as well as pleasure.
At the present time there are fifty girls and fifty six boys in the school, and there are ten full time instructors
and eight part time teachers. The pupils range in age from seven to twenty two years. A large proportion of them
eventually become self supporting and several graduates of this school have attained notable success in law and
as entertainers, as dietaphone operators and as salesmen, particularly of musical instruments and in life insurance
and investments. Dr. Newel Perry, totally blind, who is a graduate of this institution, is now a member of its
faculty, being director of advanced studies. He took his doctor's degree at the University of Munich and is widely
known for his attainments. Another of the well known graduates of this school is Miss Christine Labarraque, well
known as a concert singer, who is a successful and popular teacher of voice in San Francisco. Twenty six former
students in the California School for the Blind are now students in universities or colleges, a record which is
enjoyed by no other institution of the kind in the country. From one of the local papers we copy the following:
"For the purpose of providing scholarships to enable graduates of the California School for the Blind to carry
on their education in the lines for which they are the best fitted, a campaign is being launched to create a scholarship
endowment fund of approximately thirty thousand dollars. William Edwin Chamberlain is chairman of the endowment
committee and Professor Leon Richardson is acting trustee of the funds. Associated with them are a large number
of outstanding citizens of the bay cities. The School for the Bilnd now has a small endowment fund, which is insufficient
to assist the deserving students who wish to continue their educational work."
Richard S. French, principal of the school for six years, was born in San Bernardino, California, on the 23d day
of September, 1883, and is a son of William and Lydia (St. John) French, the former a farmer. He completed the
public and high school courses and entered the University of California, from which he was graduated in 1906, and
in 1919 he received from his alma mater the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. From 1919 to 1922 he served as assistant
professor of education in the University of California, and then was called to his present position as principal
of the California School for the Blind. Since 1922 he has also been a lecturer on Education in the University of
In 1909, at San Jose, California, Dr. French was married to Miss Alice Grace Stone, of that city. Dr. French has
shown a deep interest in the welfare of his city and is rendering effective service as a member of the city council,
to which body he was elected in 1927. He is a member of the Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce, and belongs
to the Phi Delta Kappa, the national educational fraternity. He is thoroughly devoted to the interest of the institution
of which he is the head and in the conduct of which he has achieved noteworthy success, and he holds a high place
among the educators of this section of the country.
History of Alameda County, California
BY: Frank Clinton Merritt
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.
Chicago, Ill 1928
Alameda County, CA
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