So Minnesota: Blind congressman and his dog paved the way for people with disabilities
A Minnesota congressman and his dog help pave the way for people with disabilities.
Thomas Schall was born in Michigan and moved to Minnesota as a child. After his father died, Schall’s mother couldn’t take care of him and gave him up as a foster child.
Despite his rough upbringing, Schall became a popular Minneapolis attorney. But in 1907, Schall faced a major setback.
“The tobacco stand had a new electrified lighter, so Thomas Schall bent down to light the cigar, and it shocked him. It blew up in his face,” said Brian Pease with the Minnesota State Capitol and Historical Society.
Years after the accident left Schall blind, he won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1915.
“He was the first U.S. congressman to be blind that ever served,” Pease said.
Schall later became a senator thanks to his wife, who helped him conduct businesses in Washington D.C.
“She served as his private secretary [and] would read him the legislation, the bills that were being discussed on the floor,” Pease said. “She was with him all the time, and that was really a big help for him to be successful.”
One day in 1926, a St. Paul businessman offered to help the congressman, and it came in on four legs.
“Once Thomas Schall could see what the dog could do for him, it was like, ‘wow, this is a pretty interesting and important thing,'” Pease said.
The businessman brought Schall a German Shepherd trained in Germany. It’s known as the first guide dog ever brought to the United States.
“Its name was Lux,” Pease said. “If you know Latin, that means light. It’s really a cool name for a person who is the light of that person to see for that person with that disability.”
Lux and Schall were inseparable and were by each other sides all day, every day.
“They didn’t allow pets on the House or Senate floors, so he had to advocate that I need this dog to be part of my work here so the Senate bend over backwards to allow that to happen,” Pease said.
The perfect match ended in 1933. Schall traveled out of town and left Lux behind. Five days later, the dog died, some say of a broken heart. When he returned to Washington, Schall asked permission to eulogize Lux from the senate floor so that it would become part of the public record, saying, “Lux was so completely mine, none but the blind will understand the whole of what I mean.”
Thomas Schall’s life came to an end in 1935 after he was killed in a tragic accident. He was only 57 years old.