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In 1902, Mrs. Josephine Rowan, whose brother was blind, organized a group of women to establish The Reading Room for the Blind in the basement of the San Francisco Public Library, with the intent of helping blind and visually impaired individuals access printed material. And thus, the LightHouse was born.
In 1914, the Reading Room changed its name to the San Francisco Association for the Blind, and Ruth Quinan was hired as Superintendent of the Association. Her first action was to create the trademark “Blindcraft” for the growing production of brooms and baskets. Quinan served as Superintendent and later President of the Association until her death in 1955 – over 40 years of service. During her leadership, the Association dramatically expanded its production activities and added a cooking school to the range of services offered.
As the Association grew, the need to expand facilities emerged.In 1924, three members of the Cowell family stepped forward with the generous offer to buy land and construct the building that would house the Association’s expanding services. With the support of Isabel, Helen and S.H. Cowell, the Association moved to a new facility at 1097 Howard Street later that year. For the next two decades, the Association continued manufacturing and selling brooms, baskets and furniture produced by blind workers, and began teaching Braille, instructing white cane technique and providing counseling.
In 1950, Rose Resnick and Nina Brandt founded Enchanted Hills Camp on 343 acres of land in Napa Valley under the auspices of Recreation for the Blind, Inc. This organization soon after merged with The Association to become the San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind. In the sixties, the LightHouse expanded its employment opportunities to include deaf-blind individuals, and in the seventies, the agency collaborated with ophthamologists at Pacific Presbyterian Medical Center to establish experimental services for people with low vision.
In 1977, Jewel and Jim McGinnis (who were members of Blind San Franciscans, Inc.), identified a service that was not available through any of the agencies then serving the blind and visually impaired. They founded Broadcast Services for the Blind, which offered the reading of printed materials such as newspapers, magazines and literature on the radio. In 1989, the LightHouse merged with Broadcast Services for the Blind.
The Rose Resnick Center and the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired merged in 1993 to form Rose Resnick LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, thus providing a broader continuum of services to better meet the needs of those experiencing vision loss.
In 1996, two years after Rose Resnick LightHouse purchased 214 Van Ness in San Francisco, the Living with Vision Loss program emerged, providing rehabilitative and orientation and mobility training throughout the greater Bay Area. Today, the LightHouse provides services throughout Northern California and serves thousands of blind and visually impaired youth, adults and seniors.
Recently, the official name of the organization was streamlined to the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. As we work to provide a seamless continuum of services and expand our outreach into the community, it was fitting for us to do the same with our name. Rose Resnick passed away in August 2007, just two months short of her 100th birthday. We deeply appreciate her many years of leadership.