Volume 7, Number 2, 1998

Alternative way to view the world

Francis J. Cummings' blindness neither prevented him from going to France with UD's first foreign study group in 1923-24 nor from taking top honors at the Sorbonne.

When Cummings, AS '25, was chosen to be part of the first group to study abroad, few were surprised. "Frankie" Cummings had already earned a number of academic awards at Philadelphia's Overbrook School for the Blind, and he was known at the University of Delaware for his academic excellence. Hometown newspapers like The Philadephia Inquirer and Wilmington's Delmarva Star followed Cummings' progress with pride, especially when he won the highly competitive diploma of French civilization.

Cummings, of Wilmington, Del., had been left blind at 12 after a bout of spinal meningitis. He attended the Overbrook School, where he excelled academically, and in 1920, entered UD. For a short time, Cummings required help in getting from classroom to classroom, but he soon learned his way around the campus-especially to the football stadium. Cummings was an ardent fan of Delaware's football team, and he attended games with friends who described the on-field action. Cummings was at the top of his class during his freshman and sophomore years.

Friends and family who were concerned about how he would do in a foreign country need not have worried. Cummings' fluency in French soon earned him honors from the University of Nancy, where UD students had a brief, language-intensive course of study before moving on to Paris. Cummings and his portable typewriter took honors again in Paris, where he won high praise for his mid-term examinations at the University of Paris, Sorbonne.

In the fall of 1924, Cummings returned to Delaware and finished his degree. From there, he went to the University of Pennsylvania, where he finished a master's degree as well as a Ph.D. For years, he was a language teacher in high schools and at the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1942, he was appointed head of the Delaware Commission for the Blind. In that role, Cummings traveled the world speaking about helping others.

When he died in 1962, the surviving members of the first study-abroad group made a memorial contribution to the Delaware Association for the Blind in honor of their friend.