Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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BRIDGMAN, Laura Dewey, blind deaf-mute, born in Hanover, New Hampshire, 21 December, 1829. When she was two years old a severe illness deprived her of sight and hearing, and consequently of speech. Her sense of smell was also destroyed, and that of taste much impaired. At the age of eight she was placed in the Perkins institution for the blind, at Boston, Massachusetts, where the superintendent, Dr. Samuel G. Howe, undertook the difficult task of instructing her. The first step was to teach her the names of objects, and putting into her hands some familiar article, together with its name in raised letters, did this. When she had begun to realize that the words bore some relation to the objects, the former were given her alone, and it was found that she recognized them. The letters were then taken apart, and she was taught how to put them together to form the words. After she had learned many names in this way. type with raised letters were given her, with a board containing holes for their reception, and it afforded her great amusement to form with these materials the names of objects that were presented. She was also taught the manual alphabet and its connection with the raised letters, so that when the name of a new object was spelled on her teacher's hands she would compose the same with her type. All this was done in three months. Laura never grew tired of learning, and Dr. Howe, after continuing for two years to teach her the names of objects, next tried to instruct her in their qualities and relations. The difficulties connected with each step having been surmounted by patience and perseverance, she was next taught to write with a lead pencil. After this her studies were various. She acquired knowledge of arithmetic, of geography, which was taught by means of maps and globes in relief, and also learned to sew and to do household work. The statement that she learned to play on the piano is incorrect. She constantly thought, and asked questions about what she had learned. One day Dr. Howe, when asked who it was that had made land and sea, explained to her the character of God, and from this time her religious feelings became strongly developed. Miss Bridgman has taught in the Perkins institution with great success, and still makes it her home during the school session, spending the summers with her mother at Hanover, New Hampshire The facts in her life have been referred to by theologians, philosophers, and medical men all over the world, and her physical and mental condition is still of great interest. It is probable that when she came to Dr. Howe she was not quite as completely in the state of one blind from birth as he supposed. The modesty of her demeanor, which surprised him so, and the facility with which she learned, were doubtless due to the influence of the twenty-six months when she had full possession of her senses, though she was totally unable to remember anything that happened in that period. She is so deaf that her hand is more sensitive to sonorous vibrations than any part of her head, yet she is easily made dizzy by whirling, a fact that has been thought to contradict the hypothesis that the semicircular canal of the ear is the seat of giddiness. Her left eye is still sensitive to a strong beam of light, which, however, only causes her pain. She is with difficulty able to form a mental picture involving space relations, and it requires effort for her to tell, for instance, how many sides of an object are visible from one point. An interesting peculiarity is her Homeric use of epithets. Her bed is always "easy" or "soft," her room "cosey," and the fire "nice" or "warm." She is very neat in her dress and in the arrangement of her room, and, while regarding the rights of others, is tenacious of her own. She is very fond of "talking," and will often soliloquize in finger-language. Dr. Howe wrote, in 1873" "She enjoys life quite as much, probably more, than most persons do. She reads whatever book she finds in raised print, but especially the Bible. She makes much of her own clothing, and can run a sewing machine. She seems happiest when she can find some person who knows the finger alphabet, and can sit and gossip with her about acquaintances, the news, and general matters. Her moral sense is well developed." See "Life and Education of Laura Dewey Bridgman," by her instructor, Mary S. Lamson (Boston, 1878).
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