A SCHOOL OR A CHARITY?-1896
An excerpt from the 1932 Centennial Yearbook of The NY Institute for the Education of the Blind
That The New York Institution for the Blind had the character of an institution of learning had been claimed by its sponsors through many years, progressively so since the 1870's with gradual curtailing of the efforts spent in the manufacturing department and the emphasis put increasingly on scholastic attainments of its pupils. The last vestige of this department was eradicated when in 1916 the mattress repair shop was closed. With something of consternation the Board of Managers received word in 1896 that the State Board of Charities had assumed control of the Institution. Legal action was taken in resistance to this control and the matter was thoroughly tested in the courts.
In this contention the New York Institution was engaged not only for itself alone, so it was felt, but for the other schools of the country whose status as educational or eleemosynary in the public view was quite as much at stake. Indignant protest against classifying pupils of a school for the blind as paupers was made and in the lower courts the contest against supervision by the charities department was won; Mr. William Bell Wait had devoted himself and with vigor to the fight and was filled with satisfaction over this outcome; however, the highest court in 1897 reversed the decisions secured and held that the school, though educational in character, is also "charitable," inasmuch as its expenses are not paid by the pupils or their parents.
Far-reaching in its effects, this astonishing decision has had repercussions in many states, invariably resulting in legislative action removing the control of such schools as this from the Boards of State Charities and making them subject to the State Departments of Education. In our own case the strictly educational character of the Institute has now been certified by legislative enactment, the State Department of Social Welfare's function being limited to inspection of the provisions for the physical care of the pupils.
In pursuance of the policy of affirming this educational status the Board of Managers in 1912 petitioned the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York for a change of name. The request was granted and thus was acquired the title "The New York Institute for the Education of the Blind". Some years before, the chief executive who had always been known as Superintendent was at his own motion thereafter referred to as Principal, a title more fitting the office of head of a school.