Howard Hille Johnson

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Howard Hille Johnson
Born Howard Hille Johnson
(1846-02-19)February 19, 1846
Friend's Run near Franklin, Virginia (now West Virginia), United States
Died February 8, 1913(1913-02-08) (aged 66)
Romney, West Virginia, United States
Resting place
Indian Mound Cemetery, Romney, West Virginia, United States
Residence Romney, West Virginia, United States
Education Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind
New Market Polytechnic Institute
Occupation Schoolteacher, poet, and writer
Employer West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind
Known for founding the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind
Home town Franklin, Virginia (now West Virginia), United States
Spouse(s) Ms. Barbee
Elizabeth Neale
Children Leila B. Johnson
William T. Johnson
H. Guy Johnson
George N. Johnson
Lucy N. Johnson
Parents Jacob F. Johnson (father)
Relatives James Johnson (grandfather)
James Johnson (brother)

Howard Hille Johnson (February 19, 1846 – February 8, 1913) was a blind American educator and writer in the U.S. states of Virginia and West Virginia. Johnson was instrumental in campaigning for the establishment of the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind in 1870, after which he taught blind students at the institution's School for the Blind for 43 years.

Johnson was born in 1846 near Franklin in Pendleton County, Virginia (now West Virginia) to the affluent and prominent Johnson family. His father, Colonel Jacob F. Johnson, represented Pendleton County in the West Virginia Legislature and his grandfather, James Johnson, represented the county in the Virginia General Assembly. Like his elder brother James, Johnson was born with severe vision impairment that developed into total blindness within a few years after his birth. Johnson and his brother received their early education at home from a governess. Johnson subsequently furthered his education at the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind, a common school in Franklin during the American Civil War, and a classical school in New Market. During the course of his studies at New Market, Johnson made considerable progress in the subjects of mathematics, literature, science, and foreign languages.

In 1865, Johnson returned to Franklin, where he and his brother conducted a private classical school together. Johnson undertook advanced studies at the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind for the benefit of his teaching profession from 1866 to 1867. He again returned to Franklin and established a public school operating under the provisions of the free education system. The following year in 1868, Johnson was offered a teaching position in Moorefield, where he instructed at a public school.

In early 1869, Johnson identified the need for a school for the blind in the new state of West Virginia. Following statehood, deaf and blind children in West Virginia attended schools for the deaf and blind in neighboring U.S. states with West Virginia paying for their tuition. Johnson began corresponding with West Virginia Governor William E. Stevenson and embarked upon a canvassing campaign across West Virginia to arouse public support and improve public opinion of a school for the blind. Despite rebukes from prominent West Virginian politicians, Johnson became the leading advocate for a state institution for the blind. He and other educated blind people presented an exhibition in the West Virginia House of Delegates legislative chamber, which was greeted with praise from West Virginia legislators.

The bill for the school's establishment was finally put before the West Virginia House of Delegates for a vote, and before it became state law, "deaf and dumb" was inserted before the word "blind" in every instance within the bill. The final version of the bill establishing the "West Virginia Institution for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind" became state law on March 3, 1870. At the time of the institution's establishment, Johnson was only 24 years of age. For his efforts, Johnson is credited by West Virginia historians as the founder of the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind. Johnson served on the school's inaugural Board of Regents, and was later selected as its "principal teacher." The school commenced its operation of its first academic session on September 29, 1870. Johnson taught in the schools' blind department continuously for 43 years until his death in 1913. In addition to being an academic and an educator, Johnson was a writer of both prose and verse and served as a member of the Romney Literary Society.

Early life and family[edit]

Howard Hille Johnson was born on February 19, 1846 at his family's residence on Friend's Run near Franklin in Pendleton County, Virginia (now West Virginia).[1][2][3][4] His father, Colonel Jacob F. Johnson, was a prominent citizen of Pendleton County and served in the West Virginia Legislature from 1872 to 1873.[5][6][7] Johnson's grandfather, James Johnson, represented Pendleton County in the Virginia General Assembly and was a member of the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829.[5][7] Like his elder brother James, Johnson was born with severe vision impairment that developed into total blindness within a few years after his birth.[1][2][3][7] His affluent parents were determined to prepare Johnson and his brother for the challenges of life by providing them with equal opportunities afforded to seeing children.[1][2] Johnson's parents arranged for their sons to receive a favorable education and "proper instruction" and taught them self-sufficiency.[1][2][7] Johnson's father also employed a governess to instruct Johnson and his brother while at home, where his brother James was taught to read from books utilizing braille.[7]

Education[edit]

Johnson's brother James enrolled in the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind in Staunton in 1848 at the age of ten and completed his coursework there in 1855 after seven years.[1][7] Following his graduation, Johnson's father urged his brother James to become a teacher, and at the age of 17, he began instructing a summer school on the South Fork South Branch Potomac River.[7] Johnson's brother also served as his primary instructor and prepared him for higher education.[1] Johnson followed in his brother's footsteps two years later by matriculating in the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind at the age of eleven, and studied there for four years, however, Johnson was unable to finish his training there due to its closing following the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861.[1][2][3][7] While studying at Staunton, his teachers and acquaintances acknowledged Johnson's "remarkably rapid" progress in his studies.[8] Johnson's studies continued uninterrupted during the war at a common school operated by his brother James in Franklin, where he was taught alongside seeing children by his blind schoolteacher brother.[2][7][9] As he was unable to read written text, his lessons were read to him by his classmates.[1]

Two years later in 1863, Johnson's brother James encouraged him to further his education at a classical school in New Market, as Johnson had already completed all the courses and opportunities available to him at his common school in Franklin.[1][2][7][9] The school in New Market was instructed by Joseph Salyards (or Saliards), an educator and writer described as one of "the most learned men of the age" and "a most remarkable scholar in many respects."[1][2][9] Johnson was accompanied to New Market by young man with the surname Clark, who read Johnson his lessons and Johnson in turn tutored Clark in various subjects including French language studies.[9] During the course of his studies at New Market, Johnson made considerable progress in the subjects of mathematics, literature, science, and foreign languages.[1] Johnson's performance at the school among his seeing classmates was so successful that he returned to Franklin after two years in attendance.[2][6] In 1866, the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind in Staunton offered Johnson the opportunity to further advance his studies for the benefit of his teaching profession, which he took advantage of and completed one term in 1867.[7][9][10]

Following Johnson's departure, the school at New Market became known as the New Market Polytechnic Institute with Professor Salyards remaining on the school's faculty.[10][11] The institute, through the efforts of Professor Salyards, conferred upon its former student a Masters of Arts degree in 1877, which Johnson "most gratefully appreciated."[7][11][10]

Early teaching career[edit]

Upon his return to Franklin from New Market, Johnson was reunited with his brother James, after which they founded and conducted a private classical school there together where Johnson taught during the winter of 1865 and 1866.[1][2][7][9] The Johnsons' school offered the young men in Franklin who had taken a hiatus from their schooling during the war the opportunity to continue and complete their education.[12]

After Johnson completed his term at the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind, he again returned to Franklin where, in September 1867, he started a public school operating under the provisions of the free education system that had recently been enacted in Pendleton County.[10] The following year in 1868, Johnson was offered a teaching position in Moorefield where he instructed at a public school for three successive terms with "great acceptance."[9][10]

Campaign for a West Virginia school for the blind[edit]

Campaign for public support[edit]

The Linsly Institute building (erected 1858) in Wheeling, which served as the state's first capitol building during the passage of Johnson's bill establishing the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind on March 3, 1870.

In early 1869, while residing and teaching in Moorefield, Johnson became enkindled to set about establishing a state school in West Virginia for the education of the blind, as there had been no provisions for such a school in the new state's public school system following its creation six years earlier.[9][10][13][14] Prior to West Virginia's statehood, deaf and blind youth in western Virginia attended the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind in Staunton, as Johnson did.[15] Following statehood, deaf and blind children in West Virginia attended schools for the deaf and blind in neighboring U.S. states with West Virginia paying for their tuition.[13][15][16] In hopes of expediting the founding a school for the blind, Johnson began a correspondence with the newly inaugurated Governor of West Virginia, William E. Stevenson, who assured Johnson of his "sympathy and support" for the school.[9][14] In addition to lobbying the governor, Johnson embarked upon a canvassing endeavor across the state of West Virginia to arouse public support, improve public opinion, and arouse a discussion of the institution and its benefits.[7][9][14]

Campaign for legislative support[edit]

Due to Johnson's proactive campaigning, which solicited wide public support for the school, the West Virginia Legislature convened a legislative session in Wheeling (then the state's capital) on January 18, 1870 and proposed legislation to establish a school for the blind that year.[7][17] Following his drafting of the bill, Johnson travelled to Wheeling and while en route at Fairmont, he made the acquaintance of former Unionist Governor of Virginia, Francis Harrison Pierpont.[17][18] Johnson proceeded to enlist Pierpont's support in formally presenting the proposed legislation to the West Virginia Legislature, Pierpont responded that he "could not afford to connect his name with an enterprise so sure to fail."[17] Pierpont was not the only state legislator to decline Johnson's request.[17] Joseph S. Wheat, member of the West Virginia House of Delegates representing Morgan County also believed the proposed bill would fail because he felt the state was unable to establish any more public institutions.[17]

Johnson remained undaunted by these rebukes from prominent West Virginian politicians and became the leading advocate for a state institution for the blind.[16][17] Through the assistance of friends and other educated blind people, Johnson was granted use of West Virginia House of Delegates legislative chamber in Wheeling to present an exhibition of "music, [scholarly] recitation, and class drill" with a delegation including his brother James and blind educator, Susan Ridenour.[14][16][17][19] Johnson's exhibition drew a large gathering, and following the performance, Johnson delivered an impassioned plea to West Virginia lawmakers for the establishment of a state school for West Virginia's blind youth.[17][19] Johnson's exhibition and speech were greeted with praise from West Virginia legislators in attendance, most notably delegate Wheat who had previously rebuffed Johnson's proposal.[17] The day prior to Johnson's presentation, Wheat declared his opposition to the bill and advocated for its failure.[17] Following Johnson's speech, Wheat "pressed up to [Johnson] and grasping his hand, said earnestly, 'Johnson, I'll vote for your bill if it costs a hundred thousand dollars.'"[20]

The West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind administration building, illustrated in an 1880 engraving. The administration building (1846) and its grounds formerly served as the campus for the Romney Classical Institute prior to the American Civil War.

The bill for the school's establishment was finally put before the West Virginia House of Delegates by John James Davis, a House Delegate representing Harrison County.[21] When the bill was introduced to the West Virginia Legislature, it only outlined the establishment of a school for the blind, and not for the deaf.[19][21] The approved bill progressed through the necessary steps, and shortly before it became state law, the bill was amended by House Delegate James Monroe Jackson of Wood County, who advocated for the insertion of "deaf and dumb" before the word "blind" in every instance within the bill as both a "humane and economic" measure.[14] Jackson's amendment was accepted and the bill establishing the "West Virginia Institution for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind" became state law on March 3, 1870.[13][14][16][19] At the time of the institution's establishment, Johnson was only 24 years of age.[17] For his efforts, Johnson is credited by West Virginia historians as the founder of the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind.[3][15] The West Virginia Legislature provided in the bill that "all deaf and dumb and blind youth, residents of the state of West Virginia, between the ages of six and twenty-five years, shall be admitted to pupilage in the institution on application to the principal until the institution is filled."[22] Even though Johnson had only campaigned for a state school for the blind, it was common practice in the 19th century to combine schools for the deaf and blind to form a single institution.[19]

Institution site selection[edit]

Following the realization of his objective, Johnson was appointed by Governor Stevenson to serve as a member of the institution's inaugural Board of Regents, which convened in Wheeling on April 20, 1870.[14][23][24][25] Johnson and his fellow board members conducted a competition amongst West Virginia's municipalities for the location of the new institution for the deaf and blind, the three finalists of which were Wheeling, Parkersburg, and Romney.[13][23][24][26] Johnson and the board selected Wheeling's proposal offering the campus of the Female College, however, following the board's adjournment, friends and supporters of the Female College were unwilling to allow the school to be discontinued and pressured Wheeling authorities to rescind their offer.[24] At the board's June 23, 1870 meeting, Johnson and his colleagues unanimously selected Romney and its proposal offering the Romney Classical Institute campus and an adjoining 15 acres of property on behalf of the Romney Literary Society.[13][16][23][27] Once the institution's site had been selected, the board convened again on July 20, 1870 in Romney at the old Romney Classical Institute campus and conducted its selection of the academic faculty and personnel.[16][23][26][28] At this meeting, H. H. Hollister of the Ohio Institution for the Deaf and Blind was selected as the schools' first principal and Johnson was selected as the "principal teacher" in the institution's School for the Blind.[10][23][26][28]

West Virginia School for the Blind academic career[edit]

Faculty and staff at the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind in 1884. Standing left to right: Mr. Shaeffer, Principal John Collins Covell, Abraham D. Hays, and math professor E. L. Chapin; Seated left to right: school founder Howard Hille Johnson, J. B. McGann, Lulie Kern, Martha Clelland, Sarah Caruthers, and deaf school principal H. H. Chidester.

The West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind commenced its operation of its first academic session on September 29, 1870 with an enrollment of thirty students: twenty-five deaf and five blind students in attendance.[13][16][23][26] Following the close of the institution's first academic year, the secretary of the Board of Regents, Robert White, stated in his report to Governor Stevenson: "Professor Johnson, in the instruction of the blind, has displayed a marked ability which is showing, and will show, good results in the department."[29] Johnson represented the newly minted state institution in 1871 at the inaugural Convention of the American Association for Instructors of the Blind.[30] In 1876, Johnson provided large maps produced for the instruction of his blind students as part of West Virginia's exhibit at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[31] The exposition was the first world's fair hosted in the United States, and the first since West Virginia achieved statehood in 1863.[31]

In his twenty-seventh year of teaching at the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind, a bill was introduced to the West Virginia Legislature for the separation of the institution into one school for the deaf and another for the blind.[32] Johnson was a strong advocate for the separation of the two schools and framed the bill, which in part stated: "Be it enacted, That the West Virginia schools for the deaf and the blind, located at Romney, in the county of Hampshire, shall, after the expiration of the present term, that is to say after the 15th day June, 1897, cease to be a school for the education of deaf and blind youth, and shall thereafter be a school for the education of deaf youth only."[32] The bill then further provided for the establishment of a separate school for the blind. Despite Johnson's active support of the bill, it failed to pass in the legislature.[33] In 1892, Johnson authored an article entitled "Keep the Schools Out of Politics" which was published in the Perkins Institute for the Blind publication, The Mentor, in which he decried the appointment of school administrators, educators, and trustees on the institute's Board of Regents based upon their affiliation with the West Virginia Democratic Party and not upon their qualifications for those positions.[34]

Johnson taught in the schools' blind department continuously for 43 years until his death in 1913.[11] In an April 1899 article on Johnson in The West Virginia School Journal, he was described as "still in sound health and vigor" and "cheerful and patient" after 29 years of teaching.[11] Despite his efforts to establish the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind and his long tenure there, Johnson earned a minimal salary which enabled him to "eke out a bare living."[11] During his tenure, Johnson acquired a "working knowledge of several languages, a wide range of scientific knowledge, and of mathematics."[11]

In recounting the life achievements of Johnson in History of Hampshire County, West Virginia: From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present (1897), Hu Maxwell and Howard Llewellyn Swisher said of Johnson:[35]

The wisdom and thoroughness of Mr. Johnson's home training are credited by him with whatever he has been able to accomplish, either for himself or his fellows under the like cloud of blindness, to the amelioration of whose condition he has devoted himself with singleness of heart.

 — Hu Maxwell and Howard Llewellyn Swisher, History of Hampshire County, West Virginia: From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present (1897)[35]

Writing[edit]

Ah, veiled and clouded in eternal night,
The opening blossom, and the verdant plain,
And landscapes, smiling in the mellow light,
On me expend their holy charms in vain.

Howard Hille Johnson, "Blindness"[35]

In addition to being an academic and an educator, Johnson was also a prolific writer of both prose and verse and was elected a member of the Romney Literary Society, the organization which donated its buildings and the grounds of the Romney Classical Institute for use by the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind following its establishment in 1870.[35][36]

Gravestone at the interment site of Howard Hille Johnson at Indian Mound Cemetery in Romney, West Virginia.

Johnson's poems include:

Personal life[edit]

In 1868, Johnson married a Ms. Barbee of Virginia.[10] Johnson and his wife had three children: Leila B. Johnson, William T. Johnson, and H. Guy or Howard H. Johnson.[7][10] Johnson's wife died in 1880, and his three children from his first marriage were raised by their grandparents in Bridgewater, Virginia.[10] In 1882, Johnson married for a second time to Elizabeth Neale, daughter of Dr. Hamlet V. Neale of Keyser.[11][10] Johnson and his wife, Elizabeth, had two children: George N. Johnson and Lucy N. Johnson.[7][10]

Johnson died from paralysis on February 8, 1913 in Romney and was interred in Romney's Indian Mound Cemetery.[4][38]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 456.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j West Virginia State Department of Free Schools 1899, p. 46.
  3. ^ a b c d Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 463.
  4. ^ a b "Indian Mound Cemetery: Hampshire County's Most Historic Cemetery – List of Interments", HistoricHampshire.org (HistoricHampshire.org, Charles C. Hall), archived from the original on March 5, 2014, retrieved March 5, 2014 
  5. ^ a b Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 455.
  6. ^ a b American Association of Instructors of the Blind 1926, p. 654.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Morton 1910, p. 235.
  8. ^ Maxwell & Swisher 1897, pp. 463–464.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 464.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 457.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g West Virginia State Department of Free Schools 1899, p. 47.
  12. ^ Maxwell & Swisher 1897, pp. 456–457.
  13. ^ a b c d e f Brannon 1976, p. 264.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Volta Bureau 1893, p. 53.
  15. ^ a b c Gannon 1981, p. 40.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g Munske & Kerns 2004, p. 99.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Maxwell & Swisher 1897, pp. 464–465.
  18. ^ West Virginia State Board of Control 1908, p. 209.
  19. ^ a b c d e West Virginia Department of Commerce 2002, p. 11.
  20. ^ Maxwell & Swisher 1897, pp. 465–466.
  21. ^ a b Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 466.
  22. ^ Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 467.
  23. ^ a b c d e f Morgan 1893, p. 179.
  24. ^ a b c Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 468.
  25. ^ Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 478.
  26. ^ a b c d Volta Bureau 1893, p. 54.
  27. ^ Maxwell & Swisher 1897, pp. 468–469.
  28. ^ a b Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 469.
  29. ^ Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 470.
  30. ^ Massachusetts Association for Promoting the Interests of the Blind 1908, p. 134.
  31. ^ a b Miller & Maxwell 1913, p. 382.
  32. ^ a b Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 476.
  33. ^ Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 477.
  34. ^ Alumni Association of the Perkins Institution for the Blind 1897, pp. 88–93.
  35. ^ a b c d e f g Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 458.
  36. ^ Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 436.
  37. ^ Maxwell & Swisher 1897, pp. 458–462.
  38. ^ "Death Record Detail: Howard H. Johnson", West Virginia Vital Research Records (West Virginia Division of Culture and History), archived from the original on March 5, 2014, retrieved March 5, 2014 

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]