Chalkboard Champion William A. Hadley: The Blind Teaching the Blind

hadley1Many talented and dedicated educators have devoted their careers to working with handicapped students. Such is the case with William Allen Hadley, a hardworking educator who established a correspondence school for blind adults.

William Hadley was born in Moorsville, Indiana, in 1860. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Earlham College in 1881, and his master’s degree from the University of Minnesota.

After his college graduation, William taught school in Minnesota, and also served as the Superintendent of Schools in the small town of Wilmar, Minnesota. During the next year, the veteran teacher traveled to Germany to study at the University of Berlin. When he returned to the United States, he accepted a position at Marietta College in Ohio. Later he taught in public schools in Peoria, Illinois, and at a Chicago’s Lakeview High School for another fifteen years.

William was a family man. He married Jessie Henderson, a schoolteacher from Fox Lake, Illinois, and the couple had two daughters, Margaret and Emily. William’s favorite hobby was reading books in English, German, Latin, and Greek. He was described as a devout Quaker, a strong, quiet man with a capacity for courage, able to stand up to problems and adversities and enjoying intellectual adventures, and possessing a deep concern for human beings.

In 1915, at the age of 55, William was afflicted with a bad bout of influenza, and then he suffered a detached retina which resulted in his blindness. In order to pursue his academic life, William taught himself Braille. The hardworking educator soon discovered that there were few educational opportunities for blind adults, and he felt compelled to assist others to acquire communication skills. In 1920, the intrepid teacher established The Hadley School for the Blind, a correspondence school where blind students could be educated. His first student was a farmer’s wife from Kansas who, like William, had suddenly lost her vision and sought to regain her ability to read and write. Teaching most of the early courses himself, William began by converting each individual volume of textbooks to Braille by hand and personally answering lessons with letters of correction and encouragement. Within a year he was teaching about ninety students in the United States, Canada, and China. Among the courses offered were reading and writing in Braille, English grammar, business correspondence, and the Bible as literature. These courses were offered free of charge. William served as the Hadley School’s president for more than fifteen years and remained active on the Board of Trustees until his death.

William received an honorary Doctor of Laws in 1931 and a Doctor of Humanities in 1933 from Beloit College. The Bosma Industries for the Blind honored him as the 2004 recipient of the Hasbrook Award, given to a true pioneer in the blindness field.

In 1941, at the age of 101, this chalkboard champion passed away. He is buried in Moorsville, Indiana.