The Minnesotan magazine served readers with visual disabilities

The closing of Volunteer Braille Services and suspension of services by BLIND, Inc. represent changes for Minnesotans with visual disabilities. […]

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The closing of Volunteer Braille Services and suspension of services by BLIND, Inc. represent changes for Minnesotans with visual disabilities. The Minnesotan, a monthly magazine for Minnesota’s blind community, and founder Frank Jordan, are part of that history of change. 

In 1924 the first monthly magazine in Braille was published in Minneapolis. News accounts noted that the publication was to provide an open forum for Minnesota’s blind community. It was believed that the publication was the first of its kind in the United States. 

The Minnesotan was produced by the Minnesota Council of Agencies for the Blind. The council was based at the Minneapolis Society for the Blind. 

“Current events in the state, achievements of blind people in Minnesota, serial fiction and humorous paragraphs are included in the raised pages of the magazine,” said a March 30, 1925 Minneapolis Journal article. Other magazine goals were to provide information about services available through the state, other public and private agencies.  Minneapolis resident Frank Jordan chaired the magazine’s publication board.

The board included community members and representatives from the state department for the blind and the state school for the blind at Faribault. 

The magazine was free to readers. Its first two issues were financed by the Minneapolis Kiwanis Club, a service organization. Copies were printed in Braille, at a printing plant outside of Minnesota. Some copies were set and printed for readers who didn’t use Braille. 

One feature was radio programs “to emphasize the enjoyment the blind may derive from the radio.” 

The publication offered a key for readers to translate. At the time, some people with visual disabilities were using the New York Point System. Like Braille, it is a tactile system. It was invented by William Bell Wait (1839–1916), a teacher at the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind. Wait advocated the New York System as more logical than either the American Braille or the English Braille alphabets. The three scripts competed in what was known as the War of the Dots. 

The Minnesotan continued for several more issues. It was a project championed by the energetic Frank Jordan, a man who had been blind since childhood. 

Born near Hinckley, Jordan lost his sight due to an illness at age three. His obituaries note that Jordan was determined to support himself. He first sold newspapers on a downtown Minneapolis street corner. 

He got a job with the Minneapolis Society for the Blind in 1920, teaching rug weaving to others who had lost their sight. He became head weaver at the society’s Victor shops on Nicollet Avenue. The shops became a national model of disability employment. 

Jordan soon immersed himself in work on state legislation for people with visual disabilities. He was appointed to a state commission in 1921, and was one of the people instrumental in creation in a state department for the blind in 1923. It initially administered pensions to blind people and supervised work training programs. 

He married Delsie Smith and bought a house on Washburn Avenue. 

Jordan died in 1931 at age 46, following a heart attack. He is buried in St. Charles, where his wife’s family was from. 

The History Note is a monthly column produced in cooperation with the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. Past History Notes and other disability history may be found at mnddc.org

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