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The Isabelle Grant Collection

Identifier: 02-C2010.10

Scope and Contents

The Isabelle Grant Collection spans the years 1913 to 1975, with the bulk of materials dating from 1949 to 1975. The collection documents her career as a blind teacher in Los Angeles, California, her advocacy work with the blind around the world, and her unpublished manuscripts. The collection includes correspondence, notes, drafts, manuscripts, short stories, awards, diplomas, photographs, news clippings, and printed matter. Although much of the collection is in print, there is a substantial portion in contracted Braille, including Braille labels and tags that were attached to print documents for identification. These Braille tags have been left with their print counterparts. Unlabeled Braille documents throughout the collection have been identified and are arranged with the print materials. The correspondence files mainly relate to Grant's teaching career after she lost her sight in 1948, including her struggle to avoid a forced disability retirement, and her advocacy work with the blind in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. A portion of Grant's correspondence includes notes, evaluations, and reports on blind students who she worked with as a blindness resource teacher, which date from 1955-1959. These files are subject to FERPA and have been restricted for 75 years after their date of creation. The correspondence files do not include documents dating to her life or career before her blindness. Grant's writings are represented by notes, drafts, and manuscripts from her two travel books, Crooked Paths Made Straight (1965) and Africa Passbook (1970). There is also a series of short stories written from the perspective of her long white cane, Oscar, and course materials from an adult education writing class that Grant attended circa 1974. The collection also contains a Braille collection of poetry written by James B. Garfield, president of the Los Angeles County Club for the Adult Blind (circa 1940s-1960s). Additionally, the collection includes diplomas for degrees earned by Grant in Scotland, France, and the United States between 1913 and 1929. There are also certificates for some of the many awards Grant received for her work with the blind between 1947 and 1973, including a wood and metal plaque for the 1964 Newel Perry Award. Some of these diplomas and awards are rolled and too fragile to be flattened. As a result, access to these records may be limited. There is also an open reel audio recording featuring the 13th Annual Awards Banquet of the Vacaville Volunteers, who honored Grant in 1973. In 1972 Grant was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, which ultimately was not awarded that year—most likely because of the ongoing war in Vietnam. The collection contains correspondence, letters of support, and a scrapbook documenting her nomination. Also found in the collection are newspaper articles pertaining to her work as a blind teacher (1955-1957) and her travels as a blind woman alone overseas (1967-1968). There are two photo albums which document her visit to Pakistan in 1962 and Nigeria in 1967-1968, as well as photographs depicting Grant with her family, formal portraits, and scenes from her other trips. The collection materials preserved by the Jacobus tenBroek Library are incomplete. After Grant's death in 1977, a portion of her papers were given to Henry Negrete who donated them to the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. For information of their holdings and contact information, please see the Related Materials section.


  • Created: 1913-1975
  • Other: Majority of material found in 1949-1975
  • Other: Date acquired: 12/20/2010


Conditions Governing Access

Access to these papers is governed by the rules and regulations of the Jacobus tenBroek Library. Materials containing student evaluations are subject to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) restrictions of seventy-five years from the date of creation of the record. 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

Isabelle Lyon Dean Grant was born in 1896 in Lossiemouth, Moray, UK, on the coast of northeastern Scotland. Grant attended school in the nearby town of Elgin and received her leaving papers in 1913. Under her maiden name she earned a master's degree with honors from the University of Aberdeen in 1917 and then taught in Scotland and England until 1922. It is unclear when she married her husband, Alexander Lewis Grant, but it was sometime before 1924 because their Ellis Island passenger records show that they were married when they immigrated to the United States that year. In 1927 Grant became a teacher in the Los Angeles City Schools and began helping minority youths in the schools and the California court system, often serving as an interpreter for those who could not speak English. In 1929 Grant received a degree from the University of Paris, Institute of Phonetics, and she studied at the University of Madrid in 1938. She received her doctor of philosophy degree from the University of Southern California in 1940. Her husband, who had worked as a physician in Los Angeles, passed away in the early 1940s. After his death, Grant continued to work her way up through the Los Angeles City Schools and was a vice principal for girls at Belvedere Junior High School in the late 1940s.

By the end of 1948 Grant had lost her sight to acute glaucoma. Discouraged by the advice she received at the Braille Institute of America, a friend introduced Grant to James B. Garfield, president of the Los Angeles County Club of the Adult Blind, a chapter of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). Grant was impressed by both the organization and its philosophy, and she became a devoted member in January of 1949 when her school district ruled that she would be required to take a disability retirement from teaching. With the help of the NFB and many of her colleagues at Belvedere, Grant fought and won the right to remain employed by the district. As a result, she became the first blind teacher in the state of California. The school district transferred her to Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles, where she began her tenure as a blindness resource teacher. Grant continued to work for the Los Angeles City Schools until her retirement in 1962, but ongoing misunderstandings with administrators about the capabilities of blind people led the district to transfer Grant to Belmont High School (1955) and later to Washington Irving Junior High School (1958). In 1954 she received her credentials for teaching the blind from San Francisco State College. And in 1956 she launched a volunteer Braille transcribers' class under the Adult Education Program while working at Belmont High School in Los Angeles.

Dr. Grant believed deeply in the importance of schooling blind children alongside their sighted peers and sought to promote this idea both within the United States and in developing countries. In 1959 she received the first of two awards from the Fulbright-Hays Program to work with Pakistani educators and officials on the education of the blind. For this trip, she took a year's sabbatical from her teaching position and traveled to twenty-three countries (including Pakistan) to study the education and rehabilitation of blind children. She also helped to establish the Pakistan Association of the Blind. Dr. Grant would become known as a globe-trotter, with this trip proving to be the first of many. Throughout Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia, Grant spread her ideals of education for the blind, helped in the formation of blind-led organizations, and assisted in the establishment of several libraries for the blind. During all of her trips, Grant traveled alone with her long white cane, affectionately named Oscar by one of her students. She is believed to be the first blind woman to travel alone around the world five times. Grant wrote two autobiographical book-length manuscripts about her travel experiences, which were not published: "Crooked Paths Made Straight" (1965) and "Africa Passbook" (1970).

Over the years, Grant was involved with several organizations of the blind at the local, national, and international levels. She held many official positions and was directly involved in the founding of specialized divisions and groups devoted to students and educators within larger blindness organizations. In 1960 she was made an honorary member of the Board of Directors of the NFB, a position she would hold for almost seventeen years. That year she also helped to organize the blind teachers division for the California Council of the Blind (CCB), which was the name of the California affiliate of the NFB at that time. In 1962 she was elected as an executive officer of the CCB and also became a trustee of the American Brotherhood of the Blind (now called the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults). She assisted in the founding of the International Federation of the Blind (IFB) in 1964 and went on to serve as its treasurer, liaison officer, and eventually third vice president. In 1965 she helped found the Blind Teacher's Conference in the State of California. Grant served as the delegate of the NFB at the first convention of the IFB in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1969. She also edited the International Federation of the Blind Ceylon Report, a souvenir magazine of the first convention, and later Grant served as the editor of the IFB's publication, The Braille International. In 1971 Grant helped establish the IFB's Student Division. The same year she helped found the Students Braille Library, Inc., in Los Angeles, California, and served on its executive board. Grant also worked as a sponsor and advisor to the Associated Blind College Students of Los Angeles. Between trips abroad Grant collected Braille books, Braille writers, Braille paper, and blindness-related products and aids, which she sent to individuals and organizations overseas.

Dr. Grant was the recipient of many awards throughout her career as an educator and for her work with the blind, including the following:

  • 1947    Certificate of Honor for Best Teacher, Quiz Kids Radio Program
  • 1959    Fulbright-Hays Grant (1 of 2)
  • 1960    Council Citation for Distinguished Service to the Blind, California Council of the Blind
  • 1962    Fulbright-Hays Grant (2 of 2)
  • 1964    Newel Perry Award, National Federation of the Blind
  • 1966    Commendatory resolution (for her efforts in education and rehabilitation of blind persons), Los Angeles City Council
  • 1967    International Teacher of 1967 at the annual National Teacher Remembrance Day, Los Angeles High School Alumni Association
  • Travel grant, National Federation of the Blind (to help overseas blind form national organizations of the blind)
  • 1968    Medal from Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia (for her work for the blind in Africa and around the world)
  • 1969    Certificate of Appreciation, California Council of the Blind
  • 1970    Resolution commending Dr. Isabelle L.D. Grant, Blind Teachers of California
  • 1971    Presidential Commendation, President of the United States of America, Richard Nixon
  • Diana Award (Distinguished International Academy of Noble Achievement), Epsilon Sigma Alpha International
  • 1972    La Médaille D’Argent de la Ville de Paris (The Silver Medal of the City of Paris)
  • Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (not awarded that year)
  • Certificate of Appreciation, Lions International
  • 1973    Honorary Convict, Volunteers of Vacaville
  • 1975    Certificate of Appreciation, Lions International
  • ????    Certificate of Appointment to The Mayor’s Community Advisory Committee, City of Los Angeles (circa 1961-1973; appointed twice)
  • Dr. Grant's work on behalf of the world's blind was never finished. She served as an active member and officer of both the IFB and the NFB up until her death in June 1977. She died the day before she was scheduled to fly to New York to speak about the needs of the blind before the United Nations.

    Note written by Anna Kresmer


    3.50 Linear Feet

    3.5 linear feet (6 boxes) + 1 rolled tube, 3 oversize folders other_unmapped

    Language of Materials



    Correspondence, manuscripts, diplomas, and awards belonging to Dr. Isabelle Grant, the first blind public school teacher in the State of California. The collection also contains evidence of her advocacy work overseas with the blind and her support of mainstreaming blind students with their sighted peers, as well as materials related to her 1972 Nobel Peace Prize nomination.

    Arrangement Note

    Correspondence in both print and Braille has been arranged chronologically. Photographs and oversized materials have been placed in separate housing. Where appropriate Braille labels and tags have been left attached to print documents. The collection is organized into five series and four subseries.

  • Series 1: Correspondence, 1948-1973, undated
  • Series 2: Writings, 1965-1975, undated
  • Subseries 1: Manuscripts, 1965, 1968-1971, undated
  • Subseries 2: Miscellaneous, 1968, undated
  • Subseries 3: Literature and Poetry Classes, 1974-1975, undated
  • Series 3: Awards and Diplomas, 1913-1975, undated
  • Subseries 1: Nobel Peace Prize Nomination, 1971-1973
  • Series 4: Publicity, 1955-1968, undated
  • Series 5: Photos, 1962-1974, undated
  • Physical Access Requirements

    Some materials are written in contracted Braille and do not have print equivalents. A Braille reader will be required for access. Please contact Archives staff for assistance.

    Technical Access Requirements

    The collection includes one open reel magnetic tape audio recording on 1.5mm tape, which requires the use of a player.

    Custodial History

    Collection materials were transferred after Grant's death in 1977 to her grandson, Al Calhoun, who donated them to Jacobus tenBroek Library in December 2010.

    Method of Acquisition

    Donated by Grant's grandson, Al Calhoun, in December 2010.

    Appraisal Information

    Collection appraised by Jeremy Norman of in the fall of 2010. Braille materials evaluated by Michael Hingson in 2010.

    Related Materials

    Correspondence between tenBroek and Grant related to the National Federation of the Blind and the International Federal of the Blind, as well as her trips abroad, can be found in The Jacobus tenBroek Personal Papers, 1924-1997, undated, which are held by the tenBroek Library. In this collection there are also drafts and publications written by Grant. There are also audio interviews and speeches given by Grant located in the Library's A/V Collection. Dr. Grant was a frequent contributor to the Braille Monitor, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind, from 1959 to 1974. Archived editions of the Braille Monitor are available in multiple digital formats at the Internet Archive ( Additional papers created by Isabelle Grant are located at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. Donated in 1977 by Henry Negrete, they include the following collections: Isabelle Grant Papers, [ca. 1962-1977] Isabelle Grant Papers: additions Isabelle Grant photograph collection For more information on their holdings, please contact the reference desk at the Bancroft Library at (510) 642-6481. Reference requests can also be submitted by e-mail at

    Other Descriptive Information

    Some materials written in contracted Braille.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Anna Kresmer, April 2012.

    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

    Repository Details

    Part of the Jacobus tenBroek Library, National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute Repository

    200 East Wells Street
    at Jernigan Place
    Baltimore MD 21230 US
    (410) 659-9314