The guiding purposes of National Braille Press are to promote the literacy of blind children through braille and to provide access to information that empowers blind people to actively engage in work, family, and community affairs.
"He who looks over his shoulder cannot see that which lies ahead."
-- National Braille Press founder, Francis B. Ierardi
In 1927, a blind Italian immigrant founded National Braille Press. It began as "a seedlet of a dream" that blind people should be able to read the newspaper. Here is his story, including a retelling in his own words.
Francis B. Ierardi was born in Armento, Italy on September 1, 1886 and migrated to this country with his family in 1887, settling in New York City.
Francis lost his sight at the age of twelve when a dynamite cap in a box of nails he was playing with exploded. After this accident, Francis sold newspapers and worked as a shoeshine boy to supplement the family income. In 1901, he persuaded his family to move to Boston so he could attend the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts. After graduating from Perkins, Francis became a social worker for the Massachusetts State Division of the Blind.
In the early days of World War I, Francis realized that in the changing world and news media business there was no source of information for those who could not read a daily or weekly newspaper. Blind and deaf-blind individuals were dependent on family and friends to tell them about the events of the world. This realization in 1918 began Francis's quest to bring a Braille weekly newspaper to life.
Although the economics of the times between 1918 and 1927 were difficult, Francis secured initial funding from the Massachusetts Association for Promoting the Interests of the Adult Blind and benefactress Mrs. Homer Gage. Messrs. Christian Herter and Richard E. Danielson, then publishers of Independent Weekly, also supported his efforts by agreeing to supply the carbon copy of The Week in Review. In Francis's words, "Volunteers, working evenings, produced the first issue of 200 copies, which were stitched by hand, collated, and rolled in paper. We had no mail bags, and by taxi we transported the magazine to the South Postal Annex in mattress ticking." All of this support made it possible for the first edition of The Weekly News to come out on March 17, 1927.
According to Francis, "At first this periodical was intended to be only statewide, but the demand became so great from readers in other states that after the experiment passed three months, it was decided to make it a national publication. Steady growth and increased reader interest eventually brought us international prominence throughout the English-speaking world."
Keeping The Weekly News alive was a formidable task because funding to keep the press flourishing was always an issue. Additional support from the Perkins Institution for the Blind helped the publication make it through that initial year. From 1927 to 1946 the growth continued; National Braille Press occupied six different buildings, leaning on the generosity of such Boston institutions as the Women's Educational and Industrial Union and the Paulist Fathers, before settling at its present location at 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston.
Francis also faced many challenges and repeated suggestions to provide the publication on a monthly basis instead of weekly. It was his conviction and strong belief however that it must be on a weekly and timely basis because Francis "felt that much the purpose of our publication would be obliterated through a monthly printing of news items."
After almost four decades of leadership, Francis Ierardi retired from National Braille Press in 1965, where after he served as a consultant. He died in 1967.
Read a letter from Helen Keller to Francis Ierardi.