Toledo's Miracle Worker
Anyone who calls Toledo home recognizes her last name. The Toledo Times named her “Woman of the Year” in 1949, and in January of 2000 she was one of eight leaders inducted into Toledo’s Civic Hall of Fame. Many refer to her as Toledo’s ‘Miracle Worker.’ Amazingly, very few people know much about her life, career, and her groundbreaking work or the creation of what we recognize today as Lott Industries.
Josina Jones was born in Alanson, Michigan on September 1, 1898. She was the sixth child of a family of nine. After graduating from high school in Harbor Springs, Michigan she attended the Ypsilanti State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University) where she received a Life Certificate for teaching. She put her teaching certificate to good use, first as an eighth grade teacher in the small village of Sebewaing, Michigan, followed by a teaching assignment in Chesaning, Michigan. After marrying Claude Lott, she moved to Fostoria, Ohio and taught school in Bascom. Then it was back to Michigan, where she taught science at a private school and first did some tutoring with developmentally challenged children. In 1938, the Lotts moved to Toledo. That same year saw the birth of their son Jack and the opening of Josina Lott’s first private school.
Through her work in education, Mrs. Lott had seen children with learning challenges turned away from the public schools because parents were told that there was no place for them in the classroom. Mrs. Lott was determined to eliminate the negative label, “uneducable" children. She strongly believed that every child, regardless of mental or physical challenges, should receive an education.
To carry through on her resolve, she opened the Lott Day School in the dining room of her Whitney Avenue apartment in Toledo's Old West End in September of 1938. Mrs. Lott began with one child who had cerebral palsy, teaching her basic first grade curriculum. By the end of the first year, the child had mastered skills in reading, writing and arithmetic. Amazingly, one child became four children. Parents, hearing of her success, asked Mrs. Lott to teach their children who, because of their mental and physical challenges, could not adapt to the public schools. It wasn't long before the crowded dining room school grew to 15 students.
"Little did I know what could be done," Mrs. Lott recalled in a 1968 speech. "Few people thought the children could be trained to be an asset to the community."
After the school outgrew her apartment, her pastor at the nearby Rosewood Presbyterian Church, located at the corner of Rosewood Avenue and Bancroft Street, invited her to use the church’s Sunday school rooms to accommodate the increasing enrollment. After five years, Mrs. Lott’s school grew to fifty-five pupils and had outgrown the church basement. In a 1944 interview, Josina credited her success to her ability to adjust to the child, rather than expecting the child to adjust to the teacher. "The earlier specialized training is given," she said, "the sooner the child reaches his highest capacity."
Josina Lott’s accomplishments gained the attention and support of people throughout Northwest Ohio. In 1945, the first Board of Directors of Lott Day School was convened and the school was legally incorporated in 1946. A former school building located at the corner of Heffner and Kelsey Streets in Toledo’s East Side was rented as the new home for the Lott Day School. After firmly establishing her school in its own building, Mrs. Lott asked the school auxiliary for $170 to start a sheltered workshop for students who had reached their limit of academic achievement but were unable to work and help support themselves. This was one of the first vocational programs in the United States aimed at training young mentally and physically challenged adults in skills that would allow them to work and earn a living and become more independent members of society. Josina Lott’s “workshop concept” was a huge success and eventually a separate facility was built to accommodate the growing number of trainees. Today, we refer to her workshop experiment as Lott Industries, a recipient of the Ford Q1 Preferred Quality Award, the first sheltered workshop program to receive this designation.
The fulfillment of Josina Lott’s dream to offer hope for children with mental and physical challenges did not come without sacrifices. Because of limited funds, she and her staff worked for wages that were below normal standards for area school teachers and they worked extended hours to keep the programs operating with such a limited budget. Thankfully, in 1957, a tax levy was passed in Lucas County that included support for Lott Day School. In 1958, the Lucas County Child Welfare Board took over the financial control of Lott Day School. The school was renamed Heffner School but Josina Lott, who had received her Masters of Education Degree from the University of Toledo in 1955, remained principal of the school and the sheltered workshop.
In 1959, a growing awareness of the need for the types of services Mrs. Lott had been providing since 1938 resulted in the passage of a countywide tax levy that provided education and training to developmentally challenged children in Lucas County. With new funding came the building of the Larc Lane School, the use of other buildings in the county for programs that benefited the mentally and physically challenged, and eventually, the introduction of summer camps and a residential camp.
Josina Lott retired at age 70, the compulsory retirement age. She passed away in 1973 but she left behind a spirit that continues today. What she began in 1938 in the dinning room of her apartment building has grown into a number of cooperating organizations dedicated to helping mentally and physically challenged individuals. Thanks to her pioneering efforts in the fields of special education, supported employment, and disability studies, Northwest Ohio continues to benefit through many organizations such as the Lucas County Association for Retarded Citizens, the Lucas County Board for Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, Lott Industries, the Josina Lott Residential & Community Services, and the Northwest Ohio Developmental Center.
Perhaps her life purpose can be best portrayed in a quotation from a speech she gave when she accepted the “Woman of the Year” award in 1949. Mrs. Lott said, "We have no failures. Here we have children made of flesh and blood, the same as you and I. They have some purpose on earth. They have a right to guidance in that purpose."