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Beginnings of the white cane

All starts, in 1930, by the meeting of the chance, of a generous heart and an inventive mind.

The chance wants, indeed, that at that time, 42 year old Miss Guilly d' Herbemont, resides boulevard of Courcelles, i.e. in a district of Paris  attended by the many blind poeple going to the hearth which is intended to them, street Daru. Guilly d' Herbemont thus has often the occasion,  either by seeing them, or in their offering her assistance, to note  that any circulation is for the blind poeple, quite perilous.

It is not undoubtedly superfluous to recall that in 1930 the dipped headlights are still extremely rare - the first Parisian cross light was installed with the Strasbourg-Saint-Denis crossroads in 1923 - that quite rare are also the priorities over secondary road which owed some time later, being called pedestrian crossings and which only policemen to white sticks regulate, at the strategic points, the circulation.

Our friend, tormented by the dangers to which the blind poeple expose themselves since they are brought to move, convinces herself of the absolute need for allotting a sign, a distinctive object to them.

The idea of the white cane, as are white the sticks of the agents, canes intended to locate them, as blind poeple, within the population and to allow them, while raising it, to make stop, where necessary, the vehicles.

But Guilly d' Herbemont is not satisfied with this brilliant idea and shown a rare determination to concretize it.

Without waiting more, she writes to the Director of the one big national dailies of the time: L' ECHO DE PARIS which - first stage of a series of beneficial events - publishes its letter as of reception and alarm the Prefect of Police force and the Director of the Municipal Police force.

The latter also hurry and convene the representatives of various associations and the leaders of the establishments reserved to the blind poeple.

In front of them, our friend develops her project which, moreover does not make at start, the unanimity, two or three speakers fearing that this distinctive sign will be badly perceived by some individuals concerned not "to post" their handicap, qualified more usually, to be an infirmity.

The idea makes however, quickly, its way and its adoption is acquired just like its officialization, following a referendum organized in Quinze-Vingts.

Here thus the enclanche process, the reserves and the swept difficulties of a material nature, and, February 7, 1931, in the living rooms of the Cercle de l'Union Interalliée, Guilly d' Herbemont gives, symbolically, in the presence of several ministers, the first two white canes with the President of the blind men of war and a blind civilian, these two canes opening walk with the 5.000 white canes which she finances of her own money.

The combat therefore is not finished and this, more especially as a tragic accident occurred three weeks later.

Whereas he circulated in Paris, provided with its all new white cane, Doctor Racine, very well known in the mediums of blind poeple, was mown and killed by a car circulating too quickly.

In spite of the conclusions of the investigation which excluded any responsibility for the victim, a faintness was done day.

Some recriminations emanating of the province were added to it.

Why these recriminations?

Quite simply, because the first batch of 5.000 canes had been, in very broad part, firstly, intended for the blind poeple of the Paris area.

There still, qualities of organizing, obstinacy, the generosity of Miss d' Herbemont made wonder and the problems were, one after the other, solved.

But let us return at the year 1931.

Crossing the borders briskly, the cane leaves to be discovered from abroad. It conquers initially Europe, then, almost also quickly, the United States, where the first white canes make their appearance, in October 1932, i.e. 18 months only after Paris.

If one thinks that at that time the means of information, communication, transport, marketing were far from being what they became, this short time appears completely exceptional.

Having thus created, maked manufactured, allotted, distributed, financed the white cane, Guilly d' Herbemont did not leave it there and its action, with the service of the blind poeple, continued, in various forms, throughout its existence.
Among other things, she managed to distract them, organizing for them, spectacles the most memorable of which has been, Salle Pleyel, where 3.000 blind poeple assembled, June 11, 1933. There appeared the large high-speed motorboats of the time, in different kinds : very famous Yvette Guilbert with the chansonnier Rene Dorin, and the talented members of the Casadesus family.

In all the circumstances of her life, Miss d' Herbemont was a model of discretion. Its reception in the Elysium, by President Rene Coty, her nomination, then her promotion with the rank of Officer in the Order of the Legion of Honor did not modify of anything its legendary modesty.

Also let us appreciate with its right value the fact that it accepted the Presidency of Honor of the Auxiliaries of the Blind , that it preserved until its death. We have good reasons to think that attaching it personality of our President-founder, Mr. Bernard de Fougy, was not foreign with its acceptance.

The white cane, soon sexagenarian, became almost universal. Its aspect and its use, of course, evolved/moved.

It lengthened, refined; it is, now, collapsible, telescopic.

Seldom held up, for end of arm, to stop the travelling machines, it is more used to locate, with the short-nap cloth of the ground, the immediate environment of our blind friends and walkers.

Many are, at the present time, those and those which extract the maximum of profit from it, thanks to the courses of locomotion that the blind poeple have, in various places, the possibility of following.

Guilly d' Herbemont, very attentive with the evolution of its cane, used, on this subject, a very beautiful expression:

- My cane lives, said she.

Joined to its talent of poet, with her talent of musician, the altruism, modesty, generosity, the intelligence, ingeniousness, perseverance in the action of Miss Guilly d' Herbemont make of it a being of exception.

Its long life was a beautiful life, since it helped much, liked much.

It is an honor for us all, "Auxiliaires des Aveugles" members, to pay homage, in the presence of personalities, of persons in charge for friendly Associations and the members of her family, to this great, very great Lady.

Text extracted from "Les AUXILIAIRES des AVEUGLES"
April 1990