The National Federation of the Blind Institutional Records
Scope and Contents
The National Federation of the Blind Institutional Records span from 1940 to 2011, with the majority of records created between 1955 and 2002. The NFB is an active organization that is continually creating more records. New materials will be added to this collection as they become available. At this time the collection includes correspondence, publications, reports, project files, legal case files, legislative documents, lists, tactile maps and diagrams, photographs and photographic negatives, drafts and working files for published works, speeches, newspaper clippings, convention files, administrative records, meeting minutes, plaques, proclamations, protest posters, publicity files, financial documents, mass mail samples, fundraising materials, spreadsheets, estate files, and organizational core documents. While most of the collection is in ink print format, a significant portion of the correspondence, publication files, and other miscellaneous records is in Grade 2 Braille. Correspondence, publications, and recordings of public appearances and events on audio cassette tape, vinyl record, and VHS tape are also included in the collection. This finding aid only covers materials located in the NFB Records Center 1.
The NFB has maintained a central filing system since the early days of the organization. The original files were maintained in Berkeley, CA, in the home of NFB founder Jacobus tenBroek, which also served as the first headquarters of the NFB. After his death in 1968, the presidency moved to Kenneth Jernigan of Des Moines, IA, who remained in office until after the NFB headquarters moved to Baltimore, MD, in 1979. Some of the original files held at Berkeley (and many copies) were sent to Des Moines, but a significant portion of the files remained with tenBroek’s widow, Hazel tenBroek, until she donated them to the Jacobus tenBroek Library in 1998. As a result, many of the early records of the NFB are now part of the Jacobus tenBroek Papers, and the majority of materials held in Records Center 1 date back to the beginning of the Jernigan administration. Researchers are encouraged to consult the finding aid for the Jacobus tenBroek Personal Papers 1924-1997 (bulk 1938-1978) for additional records from 1940 to 1968, including early NFB constitutions, incorporation papers, meeting minutes, convention minutes, resolutions, staff correspondence files, financial documents, and fundraising materials. Also included are documents related to the right to organize movement (1953-1965) and the NFB "civil war" (1958-1962).
The majority of the files in Records Center 1 were collected through a central filing program based on a hierarchy of subject headings. NFB staff used a home-grown item-level database known as the File Information System (FIS), from 1980 to 2002 to record entries for each document. Records collected from 1940 to 1979 are informally organized into categories and are housed in separate filing cabinets. Overflow materials arranged by subject, including Braille documents, publications, and audio/visual materials, from throughout the date range of the collection are housed in boxes on shelf storage. In 2002 Records Center 1 was closed and the central filing program was retired, but not replaced. As a result, business records from 2002 to 2011—including financial files, personnel files, and the materials housed in Records Center 2—are subject to a new records management program and are not included in this finding aid.
The collection is divided into four main record groups, which represent the structure, activities, and functions of the NFB and its associated organizations: the NFB State Affiliates, the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults (AAF), and the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund (JtB).
The materials in the NFB record group cover the period from the founding of the organization in 1940 to 2011, with most files ranging from 1955 to 2002. These files document the development of the NFB from a small coalition of state associations of the blind into a national advocacy organization with fifty-two state affiliates (including Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico) working to achieve security, equality, and opportunity for all blind Americans. Included in this record group are core documents, correspondence (1957-2002) with various state and federal agencies and private organizations of or for the blind, national convention planning files (1940-2002), publicity files (1966-2003), and development files (1974-2003) concerning the fundraising strategies used by the organization. Also included are records related to legal cases involving the NFB (1970-2000), publication drafts and working files (1970-2006), and records that document the NFB’s involvement in legislative issues (1958-1998) including the right of the blind to travel independently, oversight of sheltered workshops, entitlement programs, and rehabilitation. A significant portion of the record group details the advocacy work of the NFB (1960-2008) in the areas of discrimination, employment, education, rehabilitation, NFB awards and scholarships, activism, and technological advances for the blind. The advocacy of the NFB is also documented in the community relations correspondence (1996-2003), which shows the daily interactions of the organization with blind people and the public. The papers of the Office of the President (1957-2003) contain speeches, correspondence, event files, and publications from all three of the major presidents of the NFB, as well as the personal papers of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan (1958-1998). The activities of the membership (1958-2002) are documented in the files related to the divisions and committees that serve the needs and interests of NFB members. Some materials are in Braille, on audio cassette, or on vinyl record.
The NFB Affiliate record group (1943-2011) contains materials that document the development, activities, and interactions of the fifty-two affiliates and the local chapters under their jurisdiction. The files preserve the history of each affiliate as an organization in its own right as well as document its interactions with the national organization and with each other. Materials are divided by affiliate name, and the contents vary depending on what records were sent to the national office. Most affiliate files include correspondence (1943-2002), publications (1969-2006), advocacy files (1954-2002), publicity (1955-2003), state legislation files (1954-2002), and development records related to fundraising initiatives (1978-2011). This record group also contains files related to state conventions held by the affiliates (1955-2010), core documents, and state-level divisions and committees (1981-2004). The majority of affiliate records created or received before 1979 was considered general correspondence and is housed separately from post 1979 materials. Some materials, including publications, correspondence, and convention recordings are in Braille or audio cassette format.
Records chronicling the organization, activities, programs, and advocacy of the AAF cover the years 1962 to 2005. A large portion of the materials is correspondence (1968-2002)—divided between their offices in Baltimore, MD, and Tarzana, CA—that concerns blindness assistance, volunteer offers, and donations. Drafts and working files for AAF publications (1964-2003), news clippings, and publicity files (1977-1992) are also present. This record group also involves materials related to AAF’s programs to promote Braille literacy, including Free Braille Books for Blind Children (1997-2003), Braille reading contests (1991-2005), and Twin Vision® books (1962-1997). In addition, this record group also contains development files (1969-2003) that pertain to fundraising, mass mail solicitation, and estate asset distributions. Materials are mainly in print with some Braille documents and audio cassette tapes.
The JtB record group spans from 1968-1994 and includes materials mainly related to the maintenance and renovation of the NFB headquarters in Des Moines, IA (1968-1978), and Baltimore, MD (1979-2011). Files include correspondence, financial reports, insurance policies, and stationery templates. Also includes photographs and photographic negatives documenting renovation projects undertaken at the Baltimore headquarters from 1986 to 1994.
- Created: 1940-2011, undated
- Other: Majority of material found in 1955-2002
- American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults (Organization)
Conditions Governing Access
Access to these papers is governed by the rules and regulations of the Jacobus tenBroek Library and the policies of the National Federation of the Blind. Legal files protected by attorney-client privilege are restricted. Also, scholarship application materials containing student or health information are restricted. Use of audio cassettes may require production of listening copies. Please consult the Archives staff for further information.
Conditions Governing Use
The Jacobus tenBroek Library holds copyright on some, but not all, of the material in our collections. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be directed to the Archives staff. Researchers who obtain permission to publish from the Jacobus tenBroek Library are also responsible for identifying and contacting the persons or organizations who hold copyright.
Biographical or Historical Information
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) was founded on November 16, 1940 in Wilkes Barre, PA, at a meeting of the executive committee of the Pennsylvania Federation of the Blind (PFB) during its state convention. Led by Jacobus tenBroek (1911-1968), a young blind constitutional law scholar, members of the PFB executive committee and representatives of blind organizations from six other states—California, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Illinois—adopted a constitution and elected their first officers. Their mission was to create a national organization governed by the blind with a majority blind membership that would work to improve the social, economic, and physical well-being of all blind people through mutual aid and common action. This organization would band together the various state associations of or for the blind, along with individual blind members, to deal directly with the federal government and work to advance a national legislative program.
The chief authority of the NFB is the Convention, made up of the membership assembled at the annual national convention. Officers include the president, first vice-president, second vice-president, secretary, and treasurer who are elected biennially by a majority vote of the affiliates present and voting at the national convention. The president serves as the principal administrative officer, implements policies adopted by the Convention, and conducts the everyday affairs of the organization. He also appoints committee members, coordinates the work of officers and committee members, and supervises NFB employees. The organization has had seven presidents, of whom the three longest-serving are regarded as having set the course for the NFB. Serving as president have been: Jacobus tenBroek (1940-1961, 1966-1968); John Taylor (1961-1962); Perry Sundquist (1962); Russell Kletzing (1962-1966); Kenneth Jernigan (1968-1977, 1978-1986), Ralph Sanders (1977-1978); and Marc Maurer (1986-present).
During the early period of the NFB, the officers were members of an executive committee that included four additional elected members and acted as the governing body when the Convention was not in session. By 1960 the executive committee had been expanded to include four additional members. This was supplemented with an advisory board of directors consisting of the executive committee and up to twelve others appointed by the executive committee and confirmed by the Convention. In 1986, the executive committee and advisory board of directors were replaced by a new Board of Directors made up of the five officers and twelve elected members. Each member serves for a two-year period, and half of the board is up for election each year. This governance structure is still used today.
Under the tenBroek administration, the NFB was headquartered in tenBroek’s home in Berkeley, California. In 1968, Jernigan, then the director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind, moved the headquarters to Des Moines, Iowa, where it occupied offices in the Randolph Hotel (approximately 1970-1979). In 1979, the NFB chose to close the Washington, D.C., office it had operated since the early days of the organization in favor of moving the headquarters to the nearby city of Baltimore, Maryland. Under Jernigan’s direction, the Federation bought and renovated two loft buildings dating to approximately 1910. This facility, located in South Baltimore, was dubbed the National Center for the Blind.
Today, the National Federation of the Blind stands as the largest membership organization of the blind in the United States. It is a nonprofit organization, governed by the blind with a voting membership that is primarily blind. The NFB seeks to improve the lives of blind people through networking, advocacy, education, research, technology, and programs that encourage independence and self-confidence. NFB membership is made up of approximately 50,000 blind people, parents of blind children, and other interested parties. Each year the membership assembles in national convention where they conduct the business of the NFB, elect officers, and vote on resolutions. Other membership activities include participation in divisions, committees, and groups, which are focused on occupations, special interest groups, fundraising projects, recreational interests, and legislative issues, as well as areas related to blindness. Divisions have their own constitutions and elect their leadership, while committee members are appointed by the president and groups are run by chairpersons with the president’s approval. At times, new divisions are formed or a group or committee will be upgraded to a division. All new divisions must be approved by the Board of Directors.
The NFB operates a monthly publication called the Braille Monitor, which has run from 1957 to 1960 and from 1964 to the present day. Publication from 1961-1964 was suspended due to financial problems related to their mass mail program. During this time it was replaced by The Blind American, which was published by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults (AAF). The Braille Monitor has been available in Braille and inkprint since its establishment. In later years Talking Book editions were produced, first on disk (flexible or rigid), and then on cassette. It is now available in digital format.
The International Braille and Technology Center—a comprehensive evaluation, demonstration, and training center focused on access technology for the blind—opened in 1990. In 1995, the NFB-Newsline® service was launched, giving blind people on-demand access to hundreds of newspapers and magazines in accessible formats through their telephone, by email, through an online portal, or downloaded to a device as an MP3 audio file. In 2004, after an extensive expansion project, the NFB opened the Jernigan Institute, a research and training facility on blindness. In 2010, the name National Center for the Blind was retired and the entire headquarters became known as the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute.
The NFB has affiliates in all fifty states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Each affiliate has its own constitution, by-laws, and charter of affiliation with the national organization. Affiliates are mandated by the NFB Constitution to actively create programs and work toward the betterment of the blind in their territories. They must also hold an annual state convention and send representatives to the national convention. Officers are elected by majority vote of affiliate members and their governing hierarchies vary among affiliates. As is the case with the national organization, elected officers and the majority of voting members of each state affiliate and local chapter must be blind. They also operate state-level divisions, committees, and groups, which are considered subsidiaries of their national-level counterparts. Affiliates are also subject to all policy decisions made by the national organization. Within the affiliates are over 700 local chapters, each with their own officers and procedures. Members who do not live near a chapter are considered members-at-large, either at the affiliate or national level.
The American Brotherhood for the Blind (ABB) was founded by Florian A. Baker, a member of the Theosophical Society, in 1919. Originally called the American Brotherhood for Free Matter for the Blind in California, it was a nonprofit and nonsectarian organization with a mission to provide free reading material to the blind. More commonly known as the American Brotherhood for the Blind, the name refers to the organization’s belief in the universal brotherhood of all mankind and that services should be provided to all, regardless of race, gender, or national origin. Baker served as its first president until 1939, when the office was passed to Newel Perry—blind educator and mentor to Jacobus tenBroek, who would succeed him and go on to found the NFB.
In 1932 the ABB began publishing The All Story Braille Magazine, a collection of fiction available only in Braille and distributed free to blind people. In 1945, the magazine began adding a legislative supplement which provided information on legislative movements and programs affecting the blind. In 1957 the magazine name was changed to the Braille Monitor and it was proclaimed to be the voice of the National Federation of the Blind. The fiction stories were replaced by news articles concerning matters of interest to the blind. And on January 1, 1959, the ABB Board of Directors voted to transfer the publication and distribution duties to the NFB. From 1961-1964, during a period of fiscal uncertainty related to the NFB mass mail program, the ABB published The Blind American in place of the Braille Monitor and distributed it to members of both organizations. In 1964, the NFB resumed publication of the Braille Monitor and oversees the publication to present day.
The ABB began publishing Twin Vision® Books in 1962. These are children’s picture books with identical print and Braille text side by side that are given to blind children, blind parents with sighted children, regional Braille libraries, and schools for the blind. In 1962 or 1963 the ABB also began operating the American Brotherhood for the Blind Library—a free lending library featuring Braille books for children—out of its Tarzana, California, office. This was renamed the Kenneth Jernigan Library for Blind Children in 1991. In 1964 the ABB began printing and distributing Braille calendars and in 1965 also began publishing a weekly summary of national news in Braille known as the Hot-Line to the Deaf-Blind. In 1981, the ABB—in partnership with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (a division of the NFB)—began publishing Future Reflections. The Free Braille Books for Blind Children program and the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest to promote Braille literacy were both established in 1997.
In 1990 the ABB changed its name to the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults (AAF). It was believed that the usage and meaning of the word “brotherhood” had changed significantly since 1919 and the organization wished to reassert its commitment to providing assistance to all blind people. Today the AAF continues to provide reading matter for the blind and deaf-blind, to provide assistance to those losing their sight, to educate the public on blindness, and to act as a consultant for government and private agencies serving the blind. It also offers scholarships to blind students and runs the Volunteer Lawyers for the Blind program. Still a nonprofit, the AAF has offices at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, as well as in Tarzana, California. Officers include a president, two vice presidents, secretary, treasurer, and board of directors who are all blind and work without compensation. It also has a full-time executive director and relies on a nationwide network of volunteers to carry out its work.
The Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund (JtB), originally known as the NFB Endowment Fund, was established in 1956 and charged with the raising of capital to finance the work of the NFB. In 1968 the name was changed in honor of NFB founder and first president, Jacobus tenBroek. Overseeing the JtB is a committee comprised of appointees selected by the president of the NFB. Beyond fundraising duties, the JtB owns and maintains the headquarters of the NFB in Baltimore, Maryland.
Note written by Anna Kresmer
1758.00 Linear Feet
108 filing cabinets, 289 Paige boxes, 100 Hollinger boxes, 45 Bankers boxes and 21 oversized folders other_unmapped
Language of Materials
Correspondence, publications, drafts, administrative files, case files, news clippings, legislative files, core documents, reference materials, speeches, fundraising materials, convention files, audio/video recordings, Braille documents, and miscellany documenting the interests, advocacy, and daily business of the national headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the oldest and largest national membership organization of blind people in the United States. Collection also includes the records of the state affiliates of the NFB and its sister organizations: the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults and the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund. The NFB is an active organization and new records will be added as they become available.
The collection is currently housed and arranged in 108 filing cabinets, 289 Paige boxes, 100 Hollinger boxes, 45 Bankers boxes, and 21 oversized folders. Most of the materials housed in filing cabinets are arranged alphabetically by subject. Documents related to NFB state affiliates are arranged alphabetically by state name and then by subject. Files stored in boxes include reference materials, Braille documents, publication drafts, and overflow records that were removed from the main filing system to free up space. Boxed records are divided by subject and may correspond to materials located in the filing cabinets. Within each folder, in box or file cabinet, materials are arranged chronologically with most recent date at the front. Oversized folders are stored with the boxes. The entire collection has been indexed electronically at the section or folder level and assigned to record group, series, and subseries. The intellectual arrangement is divided into four main record groups composed of thirty-four series and seventy-five subseries.
Physical Access Requirements
A significant portion of the collection is in Grade 2 Braille.
The National Federation of the Blind Institutional Records are the property of the National Federation of the Blind, the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, and the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund. Administrative management of the collection was granted to the Jacobus tenBroek Library in 2004.
Source of Acquisition
The National Federation of the Blind
Accruals and Additions
Further acruals are expected on a semi-annual basis through the NFB Records Management Program.
Other Descriptive Information
Collection processed with support from The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), as part of the project Bringing Blind History to Light.
Collection processed by Anna Kresmer and Lou Ann Blake, May 2010-May 2011. Finding aid encoded by Anna Kresmer, May 2011.
- American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
- American Association of Workers for the Blind
- American Brotherhood for the Blind
- American Council of the Blind
- American Foundation for the Blind
- American Printing House for the Blind (Louisville, Ky.)
- Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
- Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (U.S.)
- Association for Education of the Visually Handicapped (U.S.)
- Blind – Education
- Blind – Employment
- Blind – Rehabilitation
- Blind – Transportation
- Blinded Veterans Association
- Blindness – Public opinions
- Blindness – Social conditions
- Braille Authority of North America
- Braille – Standards
- Braille – Study and teaching
- Canadian Council of the Blind
- Canadian National Institute for the Blind
- Capps, Donald C.
- Cheadle, Barbara
- Cylke, Frank Kurt
- Diabetes Action Network for the Blind
- Direct-mail fund raising
- Discrimination against people with disabilities
- Friends of Libraries for Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals in North America, Inc.
- Gashel, James
- International Braille and Technology Center
- International Federation of the Blind
- Iowa Commission for the Blind
- Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund
- Jernigan Institute
- Jernigan, Kenneth
- Jernigan, Mary Ellen
- Kurzweil, Ray
- Library of Congress. National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
- Matson, Floyd W.
- Maurer, Marc
- Maurer, Patricia
- Minimum wage – Law and legislation – United States
- Nagle, John F.
- National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped
- National Association of Blind Lawyers (U.S.)
- National Association of Blind Merchants
- National Association of Blind Rehabilitation Professionals
- National Association of Blind Students
- National Association of Guide Dog Users
- National Association to Promote the Use of Braille
- National Center for the Blind (U.S.)
- National Federation of the Blind
- National Federation of the Blind. Writers' Division.
- National Industries for the Blind
- National Organization of Blind Educators
- National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
- Norris, Jean Dyon
- Older people with visual disabilities
- Omvig, Jim H.
- Parents of Blind Children
- People with disabilities – Civil rights – United States
- People with disabilities – Legal status, laws, etc. – United States
- Perry, Newel
- Pierce, Barbara
- Randolph, Jennings, 1902-1998
- Rehabilitation Services Administration/Department of Health Education and Welfare
- Right to organize
- Schroeder, Frederick
- Self-help devices for people with disabilities
- Sheltered Workshops
- Social Advocacy
- Social reformers
- Social security income program – Laws and legislation – United States
- Sundquist, Perry
- TenBroek, Jacobus
- Vending stands – Law and legislation – United States
- Wilson, Joanne
- World Blind Union
- World Council for the Welfare of the Blind
- American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults (Organization)
- National Federation of the Blind (Organization)
- Archon Finding Aid Title
- Anna Kresmer
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script
- Language of description note