Report Of The Trustees – Augustus Thorndike, M.D.

(Dr. Thorndike’s report to the trustees appeared in the 1940 Annual Report of the Industrial School for Crippled and Deformed Children, later called Cotting School. This was Dr. Thorndike’s final report to the Trustees shortly before his death. Although Dr. Thorndike’s language is dated, he clearly captures the spirit of the school – at its founding in 1893, at the time of his report in 1940 and today. Dr. Thorndike is very selfeffacing. He deflects nearly all the credit concerning the school founding to Dr. Branford. From a careful review of the school’s documents, it is clear that both men were giants in the founding and ongoing development of the school. We are all indebted to these two men’s vision and wisdom. — David Manzo)

Fifty years ago nobody in New England had dreamed of special training for cripples, and, so far as I know, ours was the first School designed exclusively for this purpose. Although wonderful progress had been made by the previous generation in training the blind, the deaf, and the deafmutes, no one had thought of training the cripple. It seems proper to refresh our memories as to how this School came into existence.

Sometime in January, 1890, Dr. Edward H. Bradford called together a small group of Boston friends to tell them about the training for cripples in London, Copenhagen, and Berlin institutions of which he had learned at a Convent School for little children with rickets in Milan, Italy; stoutly asserting that we ought to have a special school here for training the crippled such as we had for the blind and the deaf.

“Why should not we have special training for cripples here in America where so much is done for the blind and the deaf? The need is urgent,” he said. “Just look at the wretched life-history of the average crippled child. He is hidden away, kept at home, deprived of school associations and is either neglected or spoiled by parents in order to shield him from other children’s incautious remarks. In consequence of isolation the child becomes morose, taciturn, friendless, crafty, and hard to manage. When he grows up and is thrown on his own resources, he lacks completely any ambition or desire to help himself or anyone else, and eventually becomes either a professional street beggar or an almshouse inmate; all of this could be prevented by special training in youth.”

It was easy enough for Dr. Bradford’s friends to realize that there was a crying need for special education and training for cripples, but how was a beginning to be made? Where was the money for a special school to come from? How could it be obtained? On all sides we were told that these were bad times and no money was to be had for the asking.

Dr. Bradford persevered; every few months he would call another meeting in spite of the fact that no progress was made. The School was incorporated, but it existed only on paper.

After each meeting one of Dr. Bradford’s friends, Mr. Clement, would print a little paragraph in his newspaper, the BOSTON EVENING TRANSCRIPT, telling of the projected school and the need of special education for cripples; and this went on for years without result. Finally in June, 1894, the paragraph in the TRANSCRIPT fell under the eye of some one who was really interested and wanted to help. Mr. Herman Fleischer of Christiania, Norway, who was traveling in this country, read it and wrote to ask for an interview. His two daughters had a special school for training cripples and he had brought with him samples of their pupils’ work. It was so remarkable that Queen Sophie had just built and endowed a schoolhouse for them – the Sophie’s Minde. Among many things made there I remember his showing a small flag embroidered in colored yarns by an armless girl who had learned to thread the needle and to guide it with her lips, teeth, and tongue, having first attached her work to a special sort of clamping device to hold it steady.

At Mr. Fleischer’s suggestion, a notice in the Boston newspapers invited the public to a meeting. About twenty people came to hear him, to see the articles made in the Norwegian school, and to learn of the projected school in Boston, which Mr. Fleischer asserted could only be attained by starting at once and without money. “For,” he said, “that will surely come.”

When he ceased, a clergyman arose to offer for the School rent-free the unused basement of his mission church; someone else moved that it be gratefully accepted and then moved that the School open the first Monday in October, which it did on October 1, 1894.

Such was the inception of a real work of faith which has spread all over the country. When our School opened it had to assume the payment of a teacher’s salary of a thousand dollars, of an indefinite sum for the daily transportation of pupils in hired coaches, for food, and for the wages of a cook and many things. To meet this there were twenty-nine dollars in the treasury. The public has been most generous. It has always paid the way, and from the time of this humble beginning there has never been a debt of any kind. Our beautiful buildings have been built and they, as well as the playground, are free of any mortgage or encumbrance.

Year by year receipts exceed expenses, but the margin grows less and more and more economies become necessary. Nevertheless, from the day of opening the School has relied on the generosity of the public which has never failed. The public has never neglected the cause of the cripple. Let us pray it never will.