The origins of Henshaw's can be traced to the will of the Manchester businessman and philanthropist Thomas Henshaw (1731- 1810), who left £20,000 towards the foundation of a blind asylum in Manchester "to maintain and afford such instruction to the indigent blind of both sexes capable of employment as will enable them to provide, either wholly or in part, for their own subsistence and to afford asylum to the impotent and aged blind". The will was contested by Henshaw's widow for 23 years on the grounds of his mental condition, but in 1833 a committee of Manchester gentlemen was formed to put it into effect, and Henshaw's Blind Asylum was opened in Old Trafford in 1837, providing education, employment and welfare for the blind.
Henshaw's has gradually broadened the scope of its activities in relation to blindness and the assistance of blind people and their families, and since 1971 it has provided a service for the visually impaired as well as the blind. The Asylum was re-named Henshaw's Institution for the Blind in the 1920s, and in 1971 it became Henshaw's Society for the Blind. The Society was amalgamated with a parallel organisation, the Manchester and Salford Blind Aid Society, in 1980, since when its full name has been Henshaw's Society for the Blind incorporating the Manchester and Salford Blind Aid Society.