Meet Miss Grace Keator

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles on Forgotten People. The previous article can be found here:

To the many young women who learned to shorthand from her, Miss Grace Keator was something of a heroine. Miss Keator had developed a special machine for taking shorthand notes, which were  then easily transferred onto a typewriter for review and signature.

According to Miss Keator, “We have a machine for taking shorthand notes. It has six keys. These keys punch combinations of dots that take the place of shorthand notes. These dots appear on a narrow paper tape.” To read the dots, the paper strip was unrolled on the secretary’s lap, and used to type the letter on a standard typewriter.  Instruction in how to use the machine could be had, under Miss Keator’s tutelage, at the New York Association for the Blind.

Miss Keator herself had lost nearly all her sight in an illness in the late 1890’s. With her dreams of a career as a literature teacher dashed, Miss Keator learned Braille at Batavia’s Institute for the Blind, and taught herself how to use a typewriter. Her efforts attracted attention, and Miss Winifred Holt hired her on at the New York Association for the Blind as a secretary. Nor was Holt the only one to employ Miss Keator; on a visit to New York City, President Taft heard of the blind secretary, and personally requested that she take shorthand for him.

His attention did much to publicize the work of the Association, and r a fundraising drive raised $100,000 for a new Association building. Located at 111 East 59th Street, New York City, it housed a library, rooftop garden, swimming pool, dorm rooms. In its class rooms, the blind were taught trades, such as carpet weaving, broom making,  chair caning, sewing, and of course, shorthand and typewriting under the tutelage of Miss Keator.  The Association sent out blind teachers to blind students who could not attend classes at the Light House. 200 blind boys and girls were mainstreamed into public schools, assisted by children with good sight especially trained to help them.

“One of our most important branches of the work is the care of those who become blinded through industrial accidents,” Miss Holt told the New York Times.“The other day two Italian laborers at work in one of the shafts for the new aqueduct were blinded by an explosion of dynamite and take to the Presbyterian Hospital. When they leave there, they will have no means of support unless the association takes them in hand and teaches them some trade. This we intend to do, as we have done in any number of similar cases in which the victims of such disasters have been made happy and contented wage earners, even though blind for life.”

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  1. J. G. Burdette

     /  May 25, 2012

    Sounds like an amazing person. Nearly blind and do all of that? Thank you for another enjoyable post!

  2. I enjoyed this as always. I’ve never heard of Grace Keator, but feel as though I should have. There are so many people working in the background who we never hear about. Thanks for bringing some of them to life.

    • As I’ve been working on forgottenstories, it has been a never ending source of surprise how many of these people in the background, who accomplished such amazing things, were women. I’m starting to come to a conclusion that some of these women benefited from being out of the limelight, and were able to accomplish great things because the public at large wasn’t paying attention.

      The blog’s goal is to bring these great folks from the past back to life; and if one person knows the name Grace Keator because of it, then I’ve done my job (of course, I now know the name Aelfthryth because of yours, even if I can’t pronounce it.)

      Thanks as always for your comments and “likes.” The feedback is much appreciated.

  3. My mother was in 7th grade in 1934 when she became the guide who brought Miss Keator from her hotel, the then Henry Hudson Hotel, to the Lighthouse and home every school day. My mother was paid $2.00 a week to do this, but the bigger benefit was her exposure to Miss Keator’s encouragement. As a first generation American with immigrant Sicilian parents, Miss Keator’s interest in my mother’s family life gave my mother a perspective that she would otherwise not have had. Miss Keator introduced to writers such as PJ Wodehouse. It is only now that we understand why Miss Keator had such an interest in literature! Thank so much for this information. My mother is 96 and remembers with appreciation her contact with Miss Keator!

    • That is just a lovely story….and I was reading Wodehouse’s Heavy Weather just last night. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.


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