Oak Park author and lecturer Bernice Clifton was one of the first people in Chicago area to have a guide dog. After losing her eyesight in 1938, Clifton continued to work as a window designer for an Oak Park department store, as well as lecturing and writing. The collection includes a typewritten and hand corrected manuscript of her first biography, None So Blind.
Bernice Clifton was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1901. She later moved to Oak Park, where she attended Emerson School and Oak Park and River Forest High School. She then studied at Northwestern University and the Art Institute of Chicago.
After college, she worked as an interior designer until losing her eyesight in a work accident in 1938. Clifton subsequently raised funds to attend a four week course at Seeing Eye, Inc. in Morristown, New Jersey. With help from the Braille branch of the Chicago Public Library, Clifton was able to sell products consisting of homemade jams, jellies, and preserves. She also received funds from the Oak Park Lions of Lions International.
It was at Seeing Eye where Clifton got her first guide dog, whom she called Karla. After obtaining Karla, Clifton became an advocate for the blind, giving lectures to high school and college students across the country. Clifton also reviewed books and wrote articles about her and Karla’s adventures called “Karla and I” in Oak Leaves from March 1941-June 1941. During World War II, Clifton and Karla performed canteen work for the Red Cross, while Clifton gave radio talks to raise funds for the organization.
After the war, Clifton advocated for Mary Bryant Home for the Blind. She also wrote two books about her experiences with blindness, None So Blind and Sight Unseen, the latter of which was co-authored by Phillip J. Simon. Clifton was honored by the Illinois Woman’s Press Association in 1951. In 1953 Clifton hosted a twice weekly radio show entitled "Sight Unseen" on WSEI 104.3.
Clifton remained active at the Oak Park Public Library throughout the 1950s-1970s, donating braille materials, reviewing books, and serving as an executive committee member of the Oak Park Library from 1957 until 1977.
Clifton has been recognized in numerous ways, including a listing in “Who’s Who of American Women,” an honorary degree for Doctor of Humane Letters at Capitol College in Columbia, Ohio; and induction as an honorary member of the International Council for Exceptional Children. Bernice Clifton died in 1985.
“Lions Club Helps Villager Obtain Seeing Eye Dog,” Oak Leaves 11/3/38 p.1;
Oak Leaves 3/11/48 p.55;
Oak Leaves 11/8/51 p. 23;
Oak Leaves 11/12/53 p.22;
“Bernice Clifton Donates Braille Edition to Library,” Oak Leaves 10/4/56 p. 19;
“Bernice Clifton Reviewer for Friends of the Library,” Oak Leaves 3/14/57;
Oak Leaves 5/1/85 p. 80
Part of the Oak Park Public Library Special Collections Repository
834 Lake Street
Bernice Clifton Manuscript Collection-Oak Park Library. Oak Park Public Library Special Collections. http://opspecialcollections.lyrasistechnology.org/repositories/2/resources/16 Accessed December 13, 2017.