Laura Bridgman (1829-1889) was a blind and deaf student under Samuel G. Howe at the Perkins School for the Blind during the middle of the 1800’s. (The school was originally chartered in 1829 and opened in 1832 by Dr. John Fisher and Howe with the support of Col. Thomas Perkins. It sought to enable the blind to live a full life through a holistic curriculum.) Laura Bridgman’s incredible success helped illustrate the school’s mission by being the first person with her disabilities to receive a high degree of education and the ability to communicate in the English language, paving the way for others such as Helen Keller. During her life she became widely known not only in American, but in England as well due mostly to the extensive treatment she received in Charles Dickens’ book American Notes. During his visit to the school in 1842 Dickens describes seeing her write, saying, “In doing so, I observed that she kept her left hand always touching, and following up, her right, in which, of course, she held the pen. No line was indicated by any contrivance, but she wrote straight and freely.” [i] At the time of his visit, Dickens also explains that Dr. Howe, “is occupied now, in devising means of imparting to her, higher knowledge; and of conveying to her some adequate idea of the Great Creator of that universe in which, dark and silent and scentless though it be to her, she has such deep delight and glad enjoyment. [ii]
Years later Laura herself described her salvation to her minister writing, “In June, I heard Jesus speak down from his throne into my heart, before and after meeting an humble, devoted and Christian woman, in Vermont [Mrs. Palmer] for whom I had a glow of respect and love, because she appeared to have love to God and Jesus and was rich in faith.…My heart was opened by the hand of Jesus, and He illumined my heart with glory and light and grace. I beheld his face boldly, granting his Holy Word I felt my soul fall into his hands. My feelings were governed by the Spirit of God, and Jesus Christ. God taught me to pray and guided my heart in his way.” [iii]
This letter, written by Laura when she was 39, discusses the passing of her father, Daniel Bridgman, which occurred towards the end of November in 1868.
L.B. March 14th 1869
My very dear friend
A happy morn the beam of the sun is very brilliant & gladdening to my heart in my room. It is a blessed Sabbath that we should enjoy as far as possible. I presume that you are designed to go to church all day. Do you remember of writing & invited me while I was with my dear parents last summer. I shall be happy to accept the invitation if nothing occurs to prevent the visit in your cheerful home. I invite you to accompany me home if it is convenient for you to guide me. Julia takes the same cars going home near the house of my home I can go to the dep. with her you could meet me thereat. I will be much obliged to you for the trouble of procuring a ticket for my free trip immediately. There is not decision for a vacation yet. I shall look for a reply from you to this rather shortly & to know your plans. My dear Papa was released from all his suffering the last week of Nov. unto the throne of God. What a sad journey I shall take in his death. I cannot anticipate the enjoyment of being at home as high as before. My last sister is engaged to the last Brother of mine in law. So it seems to my poor heart like a broken home I am so anxious to go to my lonely Mother & comfort her. They seem so impatient to welcome her home. John & his wife live there. But they do not sit with Mama at all. Give my love to all folks. God bless you.
Your aff. friend, Laura
[ii] Ibid., 625-626.
[iii] Maud Howe, Laura Bridgman: Dr. Howe’s Famous Pupil and What He Taught Her (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1903), p. 283.