100 Years of Service to Blind Readers

Ziegler’s centennial issue highlights its long history, with congratulatory messages from subscribers worldwide

NEW YORK—The Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind, the general-interest monthly that Helen Keller called a “God send,” begins its second century of publication this month with a special anniversary issue.

Ms. Keller made that declaration in a letter published in the magazine’s March 1907 inaugural issue, in which she also called the Ziegler, as it is known, “one of the most wonderful boons in the history of mankind.” This most famous deaf and blind woman gave such high praise to the magazine because she knew how difficult it was for blind people to obtain reading matter 100 years ago.

The early 20th century was a time when neither the government nor private organizations were able to provide much support for the disabled. Of course, radios, telephones, televisions, computers and the Internet were years away. With limited prospects for entertainment and employment, intelligent blind men and women had little to do in the early 1900s.

One thing they could do was read, and the fortunate ones had books in either the braille or New York Point systems of embossed print. But one big obstacle stood between the blind and the books they so enjoyed: money. A book in raised type cost 10 times or more what the same book did in print.

As the mother of a blind son, Matilda Ziegler was aware of this group’s great need for reading material, and—as heiress to a baking-powder fortune—she was in a position to help. In one of history’s great acts of charity, Mrs. Ziegler decided to use her inheritance to publish a free monthly magazine for every interested blind person.

Upon hearing about plans for the magazine, thousands of blind people wrote for subscriptions. Finally, in March 1907, the Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind came into the hands of its eager subscribers, instantly attracting attention from the news media and praise from luminaries. Dozens of newspaper articles were written about the magazine, which Mark Twain described as “one of the noblest benefactions” of his lifetime. Many others agreed with his description, including presidents Grover Cleveland and Teddy Roosevelt, who both wrote congratulatory letters that appeared in the inaugural issue.

These former presidents’ letters will appear once again in the 2007 centennial issue, along with a selection of 1907 newspaper articles written about the founding of the publication. The 100th anniversary edition also will contain some items of interest reprinted from Volume One, Number One, of the Ziegler Magazine. In addition to a letter from the eloquent Ms. Keller, there will be “current” events from 1907, and a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “This, Too, Shall Pass.”

Every issue of the Ziegler features a Readers Forum, which usually covers a variety of topics. But the March 2007, Readers Forum letters are about just one thing: appreciation for the magazine from its subscribers throughout the world. Today, the Ziegler goes to 91 countries.

In the years since its founding, the Ziegler Magazine has become an institution in the blindness field, having touched the lives of tens of thousands of blind and visually impaired people. Thanks to the foresight and kindness of Mrs. William Ziegler, who established and endowed a foundation before her death in 1932, any legally blind person can receive—at no charge—the Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind, published in contracted braille, on four-track/half-speed cassette, by e-mail, and online at www.matildaziegler.org