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Hunter: Laura Bridgman

03/19/10 7:55AM By Edith Hunter
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(HOST) Most people know about of Helen Keller, but comparitively few have heard of Laura Bridgman. As part of our recognition of Women's History Month, commentator Edith Hunter has her story.

(HUNTER) One day, years ago, daughter Elizabeth came home from the third grade very excited. She had been reading a life of Helen Keller. "Oh, Mum," she said, "it was so amazing!! She had been sick as a tiny little girl and it had left her blind and deaf. But she had a wonderful teacher and she was able to learn."

"Yes," I said, "Miss Sullivan was a wonderful teacher and Helen Keller was amazing. But I know about someone who lived fifty years before Helen Keller and it was because of this little girl that Miss Sullivan became Helen Keller's teacher." And I went on to tell Elizabeth the story of Laura Bridgman.

She was born in 1829 in Etna, New Hampshire. Like Helen Keller, at about the age of two, a sickness left her blind and deaf. Thanks to a neighbor who loved to explore nature with her, her curiosity and eagerness to learn was kept alive.

A student from nearby Dartmouth College discovered her and told one of his college professors about her. The professor became acquainted with her family and wrote an article about her. The article was read by Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, the head of Perkins School for the Blind outside of  Boston. He had been teaching the blind for years, but was eager to attempt to teach a child who was both blind and deaf.

Dr. Howe arranged for Laura to come to live at his school. Within a year he had succeeded. Laura Bridgman became famous all over the world.

Charles Dickens was coming to America in 1842 and arranged to meet Laura Bridgman. Afterwards he wrote about her in his book "American Notes." That book was read years later by Helen Keller's mother who wrote to Perkins School for a teacher for her little daughter, Helen.

And that, I explained to Elizabeth, is how Miss Sullivan happened to become Helen Keller's teacher.

How did I know about Laura Bridgman? I explained that another teacher of Laura's had graduated from the same college as my mother and the school was so proud that they told all of their students about Laura Bridgman. The next time that Elizabeth and I went to the library we looked for books about Laura Bridgman. There were none, either for children or adults, but the librarian took us down cellar where they kept the books that were about to be discarded. There I discovered two wonderful books about her written by the daughters of Dr. Howe. Since I was writing books at the time I wrote one about Laura Bridgman. Within the last few years two excellent books for adults have been written about her, and a fine new book for young people. And so Helen Keller AND Laura Bridgman live on.

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