The United Workers for the Blind of Missouri (UWB) was formally organized in 1912 and received its state charter in 1914. The charter stated that the purpose of the organization was “improving the condition of the blind, by interesting and educating the public in the needs and welfare of the blind as a class; by the organization and association of blind persons for their mutual protection, and education and training in useful arts and sciences; by acquiring and holding such property as may be necessary and incidental for the accomplishment of the purposes above set forth.”
The primary objective of this small, dedicated group of blind persons was to secure a pension for the blind of Missouri. In this Herculean task they finally succeeded after many years of intense effort, despite the drawback of no finances in the very beginning, plus the fact that twice they had to campaign the entire state before gaining the adoption of the constitutional amendment which levied a special tax to pay for this mandatory legislation. One of the first undertakings of this organization was to get plans underway to present the idea of a state pension for the blind to the Missouri legislature. In order to do this, a lobbyist had to be maintained in Jefferson City and money had to be raised to defray his expenses. The first meager funds were raised by conducting a raffle in which each member did his share in selling tickets. As time went by the organization grew and its treasury grew, too, by outright gifts, concerts given by its members and a real minstrel show given by blind persons, for all this was before the time of radio and television. A blind person was sent to each session of the legislature to present our program and to talk individually and personally to each member of the legislature.
In due time a bill was finally passed to grant a pension of $25 per month to the blind of the state. But the Governor vetoed this bill as there were no funds available with which to pay the pension. This was indeed a bitter disappointment but only served to stimulate the very determined group to put forth even greater effort to succeed in accomplishing the purpose for which they were striving.
At this time it was decided to launch a campaign to amend the state Constitution to levy a special property tax to provide specific funds for our goal. This required hard work, great expense and much individual effort to send literature and workers into all parts of the state to reach the voters. Then followed our most heartbreaking disappointment when this amendment failed to pass. However, undaunted, the UWB set out with even greater zeal to do a bigger and better job and when election came around, they were rewarded with passage of the necessary constitutional amendment. The first pension bill was passed, signed by the Governor and put into effect in 1921.
The first bill had to be amended in 1923 to be a more workable law. From that time until 1957 the United Workers maintained a person at each session of the legislature to safeguard the pension law in its excellent form and to secure several increases in the amount of the pension. The original pension of $25 per month was paid quarterly and slow increases over the years have brought it to its present level of $750 per month. In 1962, under the guidance of Senator Tom Eagleton, the dual system (Blind Pension and Aid to the Blind) was enacted into law by Congress. This dual system will continue to exist only as long as we maintain a close bond with our dedicated members in the legislature.
The United Workers for the Blind sponsored the present legislation permitting blind persons to take someone of their own choice into the voting booth with them to mark their ballot. These workers also procured passage of the White Cane Law, requiring all motorists to honor the white cane when carried by a blind person coming to a full stop, thus allowing safe passage in traffic. The organization has also sent members to appear before committees of Congress and has always fought for better legislation nationally as well as locally.
Along with this legislative program, there have been many other accomplishments of which we can be proud. The UWB was the first organization of the blind in Missouri. In 1940, we sent representatives to Pennsylvania to help form the National Federation of the Blind. We were also the dominant force in organizing the Missouri Federation of the Blind, which is now known as the Missouri Council of the Blind.
In the early years an annual picnic was held and now the organization sponsors a variety of social activities. Our traditional Christmas Party remains one of the highlights of the year.
Another project dear to the hearts of our founders was housing for the blind. After years of hard work and some disappointments, an apartment building was purchased in 1974 which the organization maintained for the next thirty years.
Education of the blind has been important to our members, and we have provided scholarships and Christmas gifts to needy blind students. Over the years members have taken part in projects to promote braille instruction.
Our organization is composed of blind people and others interested in working toward making certain that blind people receive every opportunity to become well-educated and employable citizens of our communities. Members have served the Missouri Council of the Blind as board members and committee chairs. We have been instrumental in helping to promote legislation in the state, providing recreational opportunities for blind people and dealing with accessible transportation and technology.
This history of UWB was originally written by a long-time member, Xena Johnson, and appeared in the program for the fiftieth anniversary in 1962. It has been updated by (the late) John Weidlich and Beverly Shockley.