“Hearing” at Finger Tips

by Philip Montgomery, archivist

Archives require constant maintenance. We are for ever moving  boxes, finding homes for random items, making lists, checking them twice, shelving, reshelving and processing collections so we can highlight little hidden gems. Today’s picture is one of those little hidden gems.

This is a photo of Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Robert J. Smithdas, the 40-year-old director of the Industrial Home for the Blind in Brooklyn. The photo was taken April 28, 1966 by a World Wide Photos photographer. This photo is found in IC 77 Medical World News photo collection, box 17, folder 27.

In its heyday in the 1960s, the Medical World News was a weekly magazine devoted to stories about medical research, personalities, and events. This photo came with a caption that explains the scene.

Washington–Robert J. Smithdas, blind and deaf since he was seven years old, listens to Vice President Hubert Humphrey through the use of finger tips on the side of the face and the thumb against his lips. Smithdas, 40-year-old director of the Industrial Home for the Blind in Brooklyn, received the President’s Trophy for the “Handicapped American of the Year” during ceremonies in Washington, April 28. 4/28/66

Usually, I dislike “grip-and-grin” photos that show two people holding a plaque and smiling for the camera. This photo is different because the scene is intimate, which is rarely the case for these types of photos. I remember Hubert Humphrey as a very reserved man. I suspect he went to the beach in a three-piece suit. So, I look at this photo and wonder if Humphrey’s smile reaches his eyes. I can only imagine what is going through his mind.


Posted in Archives, Medical Archives, Medical World News

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