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Dr. Brown Found "Light" in Blindness

This article appeared in the Journal Herald on July 22, 1964

Dr. Brown Found “Light” In Blindness

By Mary Ellen Wolfe

Journal Herald Staff Writer


     Dr. Eleanor G. Brown, 75, retired Dayton teacher and author whose imagination and courage enabled her to find corridors of light despite total blindness, will be buried Friday at 2 p.m.

     It was Dr. Brown who said, “You sighted people think blindness is more than it really is. It’s not a dark feeling for me at all – more of a soft brightness. Even at night it doesn’t seem dark.
     The beloved philosopher of the Biltmore hotel, where she had lived since 1932, died at 2 p.m. yesterday at Kettering Memorial hospital. She had been a patient there since June 3.

     She underwent gastric surgery June 11 in which a large part of her stomach was removed. The cause of death was cancer.

     Dr. Brown died without survivors other than her seeing-eye dog, Gillie, which had been at her beside at the hospital.

     Gillie was put to death by a veterinarian shortly after the death of his beloved mistress and was buried at the Narrows pet cemetery on Frederick road. This was at the request of Dr. Brown in her will so Gillie wouldn’t grieve.

     Friends of Dr. Brown attended the ceremony, placing a wreath on the grave.

     Another friend contributed a cemetery lot for Dr. Brown at Memorial Park cemetery.

     And it was decided to start an Eleanor Brown Scholarship Fund for the Blind to aid blind children in obtaining special education. Friends request that flowers be omitted and contributions made to the fund in care of the Biltmore hotel.

     Dr. Brown was nationally known and had achieved many honors.

     In May, Ohio State university paid tribute to her as the first blind woman to graduate there.

     In 1962, she was cited by Otterbein college as “an outstanding educator, lecturer and author.”

     In 1960, she was named outstanding woman of the year by Dayton Federation of Women’s clubs.

     She also had the distinction of being the first woman to graduate from Ohio School for the Blind in Columbus and the first blind woman to earn a Ph. D. at Columbia university.

     Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote this of Dr. Brown in her autobiography, “Corridors of Light”:

     “Here is a gifted woman, blind from her early infancy, beset by unpromising circumstances and financial limitation, who lives a long and radiant life, rich in public service as a teacher, a lecturer, and an author . . .”

     “Corridors of Light” was started by Dr. Brown, incidentally, in 1943 after she returned from another bout in the hospital.

     “I heard the doctor say I might die, so I decided I’d better get it written,” she explained.

     The book was one of three she wrote. The others were “Into the Light,” a volume of poems, and “Milton’s Blindness,” the subject she chose for her doctoral dissertation.

     Dr. Brown taught for 35 years at old Steele high school and then Wilbur Wright high school.

     She dedicated the book, “Into the Light” to “my students, without whom my life would have been void of rich experience, friendship and purpose.”

     “I think perhaps I was a better teacher because I was blind,” she said. “I was able to teach children how important an education is.”

     Even though blind, Dr. Brown was a firm disciplinarian. Many a student who had to get rid of his gum wondered how she knew. Confidentially Dr. Brown told her secret: “They always smack so loud when they chew I can hear it! I can smell it too.”

     Dr. Brown memorized the rooms and corridors at school and had a remarkable memory which enabled her to quote readily and at length from material she read.

     So convincing was she that one student reportedly was in her class for a week before he realized she was sightless.

     This was before she acquired her first seeing-eye dog, Topsy, in 1938. The dog was the first in Dayton. When he died in 1948, she acquired Miss Effie. And in 1961 at the age of 73, Dr. Brown went to Morristown, N.J. to train Gillie.

     The dogs brought new freedom to Dr. Brown who became a familiar figure downtown as she walked the dogs or took them with her to concerts, church, lectures, theaters.

     Dr. Brown often laughed at the remark she overheard on the street, “Oh, there goes the lady and her blind dog.”

     When the little white-haired lady with the sky-blue eyes returned, she said in her letter of resignation: “May I express my appreciation for the change you have afforded me. I have steadfastly endeavored to keep the trust which you have placed in me. I am much indebted to you for a full and happy life, and I thank you.”

     Born in Osborn (now Fairborn) on Aug. 28, 1888, Dr. Brown was afflicted with blindness at six. From then until she was 11, she could barely distinguish colors. The last color she saw was the cerise of a hair ribbon given her by her mother.

     Dr. Brown attended Ohio School for the Blind in Columbus from 1893 to 1908, completing her high school education.

     It was there she learned to read, sometimes smuggling books to bed with her and spending half the night finishing an exciting story. Sometimes she read until her fingers bled.

     At 16, she had an opportunity to live and work at Clovernook, a home for blind women near Cincinnati. By that time her mother was dead and her sister unable to help her. A job meant security. But Dr. Brown chose to finish school.

     After graduation, she came to Dayton to work in a paper box factory, but the more hat-boxes she folded the more she thought of continuing her education.

     By 1911 she had $93 saved and persuaded the administration at Ohio State to admit her. They were doubtful, but the hard-working young blind girl completed her baccalaureate course in 3 ½ years and became the first blind person to graduate from Ohio State – 50 years ago.

     Dr. Brown then returned to Dayton and began teaching German, Latin, world history and American history at old Steele high. She was on the staff there until the building was condemned for school purposes in 1940. Then she transferred to Wilbur Wright high school.

     In 1922, she took a leave of absence and earned her master’s degree at Columbia university. A decade later she returned and earned her Ph. D. degree, the first blind person to do it.

     There were thousands of students who went to school to Dr. Brown and were inspired by her. Some of the better known ones are Earl Blaik, Howard Kany, Frank Stanton, Chad Dunham, and former U.S. Congressman Harry Jeffrey.

     Dr. Brown’s face was a happy face. She was generally smiling. But sometimes the thoughts that were buried deep came through, as in this verse from a poem “Fettered”:


          “Today we stood together in the crowd,

          And all who would might catch your smile but me;

          I could not treasure it within my hand,

          And so, sometime, I wish that I might see.”


     Dr. Brown traveled throughout much of the U.S., read both Braille and what is known as the New York point system, and could type, knit and cook.

     This is what she said of religion:

          “My religion has always been a source of strength and comfort in every need, a fountain of joy from day to day. Without it, life would be barren indeed.
          “I have always felt the presence of God in my life, and attribute any success I may have achieved to His unfailing guidance and love.

          “The challenge of a handicap draws me closer to the Infinite, and my dependence upon it has increased my faith.

          “My religion has shown me my obligation to society, and has helped me to look up and laugh and love and lift.”

     Funeral services will be help at 2 p.m. Friday at Otterbein EUB church, of which Dr. Brown was a member. Rev. Harvey Hahn, who spoke at Gillie’s funeral yesterday, will conduct Dr. Brown’s service.

     Friends may call at Whitmer Brothers funeral home tomorrow from 3 to 5 and 7 to 9 p.m. and Friday from noon until the time of the services.