White Cane History

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  • Topic: White cane, Blindness, White Cane Safety Day
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(From RNIB reference library information file)

An Englishman and a Frenchwoman both claim to have originated the idea.

1921 - James Biggs of Bristol (as he claims in New Beacon article, Dec. 1937, pp. 320/321) thought of idea of painting his stick white -- wrote to various institutions, Chief Constables, newspapers, magazines, etc...

1930 - First reference in New Beacon (December, p. 265) to white stick - "In Paris, the Prefect of Police is supporting the idea that blind pedestrians shall carry white sticks"

1931 - February - Mlle Guilly d'Herbemont, with the assistance of one of the editors of l'Echo de Paris launched national white stick movement in France.

1931 - Taken up by British Press - West Ham Rotary Club's offer to supply white sticks to blind people in the area accepted - in May, the BBC broadcast the suggestion that all blind persons should be provided with a white stick, which should be nationally recognised by the public

1932 - National Institute for the Blind started stocking and selling white sticks


By provision of P.L. 88-628, 88th Congress, 2d Session, October 15 to be proclaimed each year by the President of the United States as White Cane Safety Day. First such proclamation issued by Lyndon B. Johnson on October 6, 1964. (Ref.: NOB, Dec. 1964, 58 (10), 332.)

October 15, 1970 was declared International White Cane Safety Day for the first time by the President of the International Federation of the Blind. This date was adopted at the first quinquennial convention of the IFB, held in Colombo on October 4, 1969. (Ref.: Braille International, July 1971, 4(2), 14-18.)

First celebrated in United Kingdom 15 October 1979. (Ref.: New Beacon, September 1979, 63(749), 232.)


(Viewpoint, June 1991)
The White Cane - A Commemoration by Dr. A Mutter
(Editor's note)

The white cane is now recognised as the blind person's mobility aid the world over. Ever since US President Lyndon S. Johnson first proclaimed it in 1964, “White Cane Day” has become the day of the year to publicise the needs and achievements of blind people everywhere. What follows is an appreciation of Peguilly d'Herbemont, the French woman who was responsible for introducing the white cane 60 years ago. She was a lady of French high society who devoted much of her time and fortune to the welfare of the blind. The writer of the article, himself blind, taught for a time in the mid-30s at Worcester College for the Blind, later joining the German Diplomatic Service and finishing up as First Secretary to the German Legation in Berne, Switzerland. The article is reproduced by kind permission of the German Federation of the Blind, in whose organ it first appeared in January of this year. It is based on a book commemorating the originator of the white cane who died in her 92nd year, on 28th February 1980, by Mireille Oblin-Briere who met our heroine towards the end of her long life. She was so moved by her story that she set it down before her memories faded altogether and her papers and records were lost to the world.

Peguilly d'Herbemont was born on 25th June 1888 into an old French noble family of the same name. In her youth she led the conventional and protected existence, devoid of great activity, of a girl from a “good family”, an existence reminiscent of the life of the aristocracy before the French Revolution. She never visited a public school, but was educated by German and English governesses and convent sisters. Her movements were restricted and were mainly confined to the family positions in Paris and Belgium, but she spent most of her time at the castle of Charmois not far from Verdun. A lyrical strain in her nature led her to write quite sensitive poetry, reminiscent of Verlaine. Her biographer sees their origin in a secret love...
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