The Cary Sisters
When arriving at Clovernook Center for the Blind, visitors often notice a quaint white brick cottage on the front lawn with a large sign proclaiming its listing on the National Register. Most don’t know the full story – but the house known as Cary Cottage has a rich history that links our campus back to the earliest days of the Ohio frontier, and whose inhabitants’ desires to advocate for the disadvantaged and disenfranchised parallel our founders a century later.
Cary Cottage was built on Clovernook Farm in 1832, by Robert and Elizabeth Cary seven miles north of Cincinnati. They had nine children – including Alice and Phoebe Cary who grew up to be internationally recognized poets, as well as women’s rights advocates and abolitionists. Although the Cary sisters had little formal schooling at their home, they grew up with a love of storytelling and literature.
In adulthood, Alice and Phoebe Cary’s poetry attracted positive reviews from top literary figures like editor Horace Greeley and writer Edgar Allan Poe, who stated that Alice’s “Pictures of Memory” was “one of the most musically perfect lyrics in the English language.”
The sister poets’ success allowed them to move to New York City, where Alice and Phoebe regularly wrote for Harper’s and The Atlantic Monthly. Alice also contributed to the abolitionist paper National Era–which recognizably first published Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
During the 19th century, women were often discouraged from writing professionally, but the Cary sisters hosted a literary salon at their Manhattan apartment that was frequented by the most prominent writers and thinkers of their age. The sisters continually worked to promote women’s rights, such as when Phoebe worked for the women’s suffrage and anti-slavery activist Susan B. Anthony on the paper The Revolution, and when Alice served as president of Sorosis, the first professional women’s club in the United States.
The Trader Sisters
Shortly after the deaths of the Cary sisters in 1871, the four Trader sisters—Effie, Georgia, Florence, and Louise, were born into a well-to-do family in Xenia, Ohio. After Georgia’s birth, it quickly became evident that she suffered from congenital cataracts. Their mother, Mrs. Trader, was determined Georgia would not be deprived of education and opportunity. Georgia Trader was the first blind student ever to be admitted into a Cincinnati Public School – and it is in that spirit that the Clovernook Center emerged.
In 1903, the Trader sisters saw an advertisement listing the sale of Cary Cottage. Feeling that the Clovernook property was perfect for the needs of a home for the blind, the Traders visited their friend William Procter, of the company Procter & Gamble, to seek his advice about raising funds to purchase the land. Subsequently, Mr. Procter instructed his realtor to purchase Clovernook for the Traders on his behalf. On May 8th, 1903, Clovernook became the first Home for Blind Women in Ohio.
Following the Clovernook purchase, she and her sister Florence formed the first Library for the Blind in Cincinnati. Building on the library’s success, in 1905 they began a school for blind children in Cincinnati, which at the time was only the second school of its kind to be established in the United States.
When creating Clovernook, Georgia insisted “blindness and idleness are not to be endured,” and set out to provide occupation by training its residents in handiwork, such as weaving, knitting, crocheting, beading, and basketry. The capital that these items brought in translated to a new found independence and enhanced self-esteem for the women. This later prepared them to accept the gift of a printing press, and in 1914 Clovernook established the first printing house operated by the blind.
Clovernook is a not-for-profit corporation led by a President – appointed by, and responsible to a Board of Trustees. As more blind and visually impaired persons now live and function independently at home, Clovernook no longer operates as a home for the blind. Today Clovernook is one of the largest global producers of braille—over 25 million pages are shipped from our doors to libraries and international consumers annually. Multiple facilities and additions have been added to meet the needs of rehabilitative and employment opportunity initiatives. Clovernook Center remains a vibrant and multi-faceted resource for the education, occupation and recreation of the blind and visually impaired in Cincinnati and surrounding communities.