Our nation’s special education students are truly fortunate to have talented and dedicated teachers working tirelessly on their behalf. One such teacher was Genevieve Caulfield, a teacher for the blind who was, herself, visually challenged.
Genevieve was born on May 8, 1888, in Suffolk, Virginia. When she was only two months of age, she lost her sight when a doctor accidentally spilled a bottle of corrosive medicine over her eyes. A later operation restored some sight to her right eye, but for the rest of her life she saw only shades of gray. Despite her handicap, she taught herself to live like a sighted person, and to be independent and useful.
Genevieve was seventeen years old when an incident involving prejudice and a lack of cultural understanding prompted her to choose a career in teaching. She determined to learn about Japanese culture while helping the blind in their country. It took the persevering young lady fifteen years to achieve her goal. By then she qualified as a teacher of English, practiced teaching to the blind, and proved she could survive on her own and earn a living.
In 1923, Genevieve traveled to Japan, where she taught English and Braille to blind students. In 1938, after learning that in Thailand, blind children were considered throw-away children, she mastered the difficult Thai language, traveled to that country, and founded the Bangkok School for the Blind, an institution partially financed by her own savings. When World War II ended, the hardworking educator opted to remain in Bangkok and continue her work with her school. From 1956 to 1960, at the invitation of the government of VietNam, Genevieve organized a school for the blind in Saigon. This institution also served as a rehabilitation center for boys.
This chalkboard champion received several honors for her many dedicated years of service. In 1961, Genevieve was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding. On December 6, 1963, seventy-three-year-old Genevieve received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her work for the blind in Asia. The award was authorized by President John F. Kennedy, but due to the young president’s assassination, the honor was bestowed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1960, Genevieve published an autobiography about her achievements entitled The Kingdom Within.
This remarkable educator passed away on December 12, 1972.