23.11.11

Edward Rushton's School

Wednesday, 11 October 1871 - Liverpool, England

Today I visited the Liverpool School for the Blind on Hope Street. This building was built in 1851, but the school itself dates back to 1791.

Liverpool School for the Blind built in 1851
This is the very first school for the blind in Great Britain and in the English speaking world. The only one older is the Institute for Blind Youth in Paris founded in 1784. However, Liverpool’s School for the blind is the first in the world to accept students of all ages.

Edward Rushton
The Liverpool school was founded by Edward Rushton, writer, poet and fighter for abolition. He knew that blind people could learn to work around their disability and become more than just beggars. After all, Rushton had.

Born in Liverpool in 1756, Edward Rushton enrolled in the Liverpool Free School when six years-old, until he was nine. At eleven he became a sailor with a local shipping firm. At 17 he found himself on a ship with a shocking cargo--slaves. Rushton was appalled at the conditions the poor captives were shackled in. He would sneak them down food and water. Unfortunately, opthalmia was running rampant through the prisoners. He caught it too and became blind.

Despite his disability, Rushton became a successful writer. Despite his abolitionist politics in a town that made money in the slave trade, he was able to collect enough to start the school for the blind.

Liverpool School for the Blind in 1812
The school now teaches everything from basic marketable skills like knitting, basket weaving and rope making, to classes on music, Braille and liberal arts. Many of the teachers are blind themselves. Perhaps the greatest thing taught here is confidence.

In 1807, a surgeon was able to return Edward Rushton’s sight to one eye. He was able to see Isabelle, his wife of twenty-three years, for the first time. She would die four years later. He would follow her three years later at the age of fifty-eight. Rushton’s school however outlived him and continued on for as long as it was needed, educating generations of blind people.

Before blind schools, the blind had to try to figure out how to manage in a sighted world all on their own. These schools taught them the skills they needed to make their own lives. I’m happy to say the Victorians have set up many more of these schools for both the blind and deaf, and are continually improving their teaching methods.

Victorian doctors are making strides in medicine to find cures to prevent these disabilities. It is thanks to the groundwork laid down by our 19th century ancestors, that blindness and deafness no longer exist in the 27th century. Just one more reason to love the Victorians.

Poems by Edward Rushton

Rushton’s letter to George Washington
criticizing him for owning slaves.

The Liverpool Royal School for the Blind

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