Rest Haven SignRest Haven Sign

The Unseen Minority: A Social History of Blindness in the United States

By Frances A. Koestler

1976, 2004 by AFB Press, American Foundation for the Blind

All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of American Foundation for the Blind, New York, NY

The Second Career of Major Migel

“It was the Migels’ belief in the benefits of country air that led them to undertake a personal charity which gave them much satisfaction. When a five-acre piece of property adjoining theirs became available in 1923, they bought it and turned it into a free vacation home for blind women. Called Rest Haven, the property could accommodate 35 guests at a time. Each year, between May and October, six successive groups of women who could not otherwise afford a country vacation were accommodated at Rest Haven for 18-day stays. The question of guides was ingeniously solved by including a few sighted women in each group. There was no charge for anyone, blind or sighted; even the round-trip transportation from New York City was supplied.

The Migels personally supervised the conversion and decoration of the house and grounds at Rest Haven into a comfortable resort adapted to the needs of blind persons. They and their children visited frequently, enjoying the pleasure of their guests, many of whom were women the Major had known during his weekly visits to the Society for the Relief of the Destitute Blind.

Until just before World War II, when it was closed down for a period, all of Rest Haven’s expenses were defrayed by the Migels. In 1944 the Major deeded the entire property to the American Foundation for the Blind. Although the Foundation’s executives and trustees knew that there were now other vacation facilities available to blind women, and were aware that this type of direct service activity for individuals was not really appropriate for a national organization, Rest Haven was kept going out of respect for the Migels and was not closed down until after the death of Mrs. Migel in 1967. The purchase, maintenance, and operation of Rest Haven over a 15-year period probably cost the Migels some $200,000. They never for a moment doubted it was worth it, even when it meant a little financial strain.

It was characteristic of the Major that when Rest Haven first opened, it was credited to “an anonymous friend of the blind.” Migel had yet to learn that money could be more easily raised for a cause if donors were publicly identified, and that it was up to him to set the example.

Although the American Foundation for the Blind was the recipient of most of the gifts Migel made in his lifetime, he maintained other private charities in addition to Rest Haven, such as financing the college education of several deserving young men. His interest in the Society for the Relief of the Destitute Blind continued long after he stopped being a weekly reader for the residents. Periodically he would organize parties at the institution, bringing in groups of musicians or actors to provide entertainment. He was also a lifelong contributor to the National Society for the Prevention of Blindness, of which he had been one of the founders.”

The Ever-Changing Children

“This same era saw the initiation of still another approach to expanding children’s learning opportunities. The Dramatic Arts Project was an idea that captured the imagination of M. C. Migel. He had somehow met the actress and dramatic coach Ruth Vivian, a featured player in the Broadway hit The Man Who Came to Dinner, and in the spring of 1939 told the executive committee that he had personally engaged her to demonstrate at three schools for the blind how dramatics could enhance the development of poise and self-confidence.

These trial runs at the Ohio, Maryland and Minnesota schools went so well that the following summer the Major arranged, again at his own expense, to have Miss Vivian and two other coaches conduct a six-week summer course in the techniques of play production. Attended by 16 teachers from as many schools, the course was given at Rest Haven, the vacation home for blind women then still privately financed by the Migel family. Twelve blind students formed the experimental acting company for demonstration purposes.

The course’s unmistakable effectiveness in training teachers to conduct dramatics programs in their schools led the Foundation to turn to the Rockefeller Foundation for a two-year grant of $30,000. The application was backed by the results of a questionnaire which established that 37 schools for the blind were keenly interested in adding dramatics to their curriculums but lacked both the financial resources and the expertise to do so. The requested funds would make it possible for three coaches to train faculty members in all of these interested schools, spending five or six weeks in each.

Grant approved, the project got under way in the summer of 1941 with a budget that provided not only the coaches’ salaries but the necessary support materials: props, costumes, prompt-books and individual brailled scripts for each part in 24 separate plays. Reduced royalty rates were negotiated with the copyright holders of the selected plays, which ranged from simple one-acters for younger children to more sophisticated full-length comedies such as Sidney Howard’s The Late Christopher Bean and Kaufman and Connelly’s Dulcy.

The Dramatic Arts venture proved immensely popular with faculty and students alike. During its two-year span more than 200 teachers in 30-odd schools were trained in play production and direction and close to 1,000 blind boys and girls were exposed to their first taste of stage fever. Measures were also taken to correlate dramatics with the basic school curriculum. To enrich classroom work in such subjects as history, English, and social studies, a series of 13 one-act plays, “Dramatic Hours in American History,” was produced on Talking Books along with corresponding sets of brailed scripts and prompt-books.”

Unfortunately, the history between Rest Haven, Inc. and the AFB ended in April 1968.