Post card showing Michael Anagnos and the surrounding buildings are those that he built while Director of the Perkins Institute
Michael Anagnos, an Orthodox immigrant from Greece, and the longtime head of Boston’s Perkins Institute for the Blind. He places Hellen Keller with her tutor, Anne Sullivan.
Anagnos (shortened from Anagnostopoulos) was born in a mountain village in Epirus in 1837. The son of a peasant, he grew up tending his father’s flocks and studying in the village school. He eventually earned a scholarship to a better school, and ultimately was admitted to the University of Athens. There, he was so poor that he couldn’t afford textbooks, and had to copy the required readings by hand. He worked his way through college, graduated, and then studied law.
After law school, Anagnos began a career, not in law, but in journalism. In his mid-20s, he became editor of an Athens newspaper, Ethnophylax (The National Guard). From that post, Anagnos opposed the government of King Otho, which led to his arrest and imprisonment. In 1866, he supported the cause of revolutionaries in Crete. As it turned out, a certain American, Dr. Samuel Howe, was also a supporter of the Cretan revolutionaries, and had come to the region to engage in relief efforts. Howe hired Anagnos to be his assistant, and when Howe returned to the US, Anagnos joined him.
Dr. Howe happened to be the founder of the Perkins Institute for the Blind, in Boston, and he gave Anagnos a position as teacher of Greek and Latin, and also the job of private tutor to the Howe family. Before long, Anagnos and Howe’s daughter Julia had fallen in love, and they were married in 1870. As Dr. Howe’s health declined, he gave Anagnos more and more authority at the Perkins Institute, and after Howe’s death, Anagnos became the Institute’s head.
Anagnos was perfect for the job. Right away, he raised $100,000 (roughly $2 million today) to publish books for the blind, and he made sure that every public library in Massachusetts had copies. He set up vocational training programs for blind people, and started a kindergarten for blind children (raising another $100,000 to keep it going). Helen Keller was the Institute’s most famous product: she was sent to Anagnos by Alexander Graham Bell, and Anagnos paired her with 20-year-old former student Anne Sullivan, who herself was visually impaired. Anagnos led the Perkins Institute for thirty years, affecting the lives of countless blind individuals.
Besides his role at the Perkins Institute, Anagnos was a towering figure in Boston’s Greek community. He also served as president of the National Union of Greeks in the United States, and may well have been the most famous Greek person in America in his day. He made many trips back to Europe, where he donated tens of thousands of dollars to fund schools in Greece, Turkey, Serbia, and Romania.
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