History

Photo of Whitcomb Hall

The Memorial Foundation For The Blind was originally founded as Memorial Homes for the Blind in 1905 by a group of leading Worcester citizens who believed that blind people would be better served in small group homes rather than large, impersonal institutions. By 1910, the organization opened its first home for blind women at 81 Elm Street and then Whitcomb Hall for blind men at 51 Harvard Street ten years later.

Whitcomb Hall, a three-story granite Victorian mansion, had been owned by envelope manufacturer George Whitcomb, who died in 1916 and was blind the last two years of his life. In his memory, his family donated the home to Memorial Homes for the Blind. After the last male residents left Whitcomb Hall, the mansion was a residence for blind women for the next 40 years. The adjacent carriage house was the site of a popular chair caning service operated by blind men.

A strong and active group of community volunteers served on the board and House Committee to provide support and caring assistance to the residents. The House Committee, made up of twenty to twenty four women, developed house rules and provided friendly visits and social activities for the residents.

Changing lifestyles, Social Security, and community supports that allowed blind people to be more independent eventually caused many to find other living accommodations. In 1981, in the spirit of the original donors of the mansion, the Whitcomb House was donated to the Age Center of Worcester Area. For many years the Age Center continued to use it as administrative offices, along with the Massachusetts Association for the Blind, now known as Vision Community Services.

In 1988, Memorial Homes for the Blind changed its name to the Memorial Foundation for the Blind and refocused its mission as a private charitable foundation dedicated to serving the needs of blind and visually impaired residents of Worcester County. In the last 15 years, under the careful stewardship of the volunteer board, assets from investments and charitable gifts have grown considerably. Today, the Memorial Foundation For the Blind continues its compassion and empathy for the blind and visually impaired and distributes grants annually to organizations and individuals in Worcester County, empowering people who are blind to lead more productive independent lives.

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