When my daughter was in the fourth grade, she had to do a report about a historian from New Hampshire. So we went to the library where she picked a book called "Silent Night", about a young girl, Laura Dewey Bridgman. Chelle wanted help reading, so we took turns reading. The story affected me to the point where every time we read, I had tears. After Michelle finished her school report, I spent the next year and a half researching Laura Bridgman. Briefly, Laura was born in 1829 near Hanover, New Hampshire with her parents and two sisters. At the age of two, all three girls got strep throat and then scarlet fever. The two older sisters died, but Laura survived enduring a two year recovery, resulting with being blind, deaf, and mute. When Laura was around 5 years old, a college student from Dartmouth had a job collecting taxes from the towns people. When he collected taxes from the Bridgmans', he took notice of Laura and contacted Dr. Samuel Howe from the Perkins school for the blind in Boston. (Dr. Howe had previously given a speech at the college).
With the parents permission, Dr. Howe and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow came to visit Laura. Dr. Howe wanted to take Laura to the Perkins School where he thought he could help her. Consequently, Laura was Dr. Howes' first successful student where she learned the meaning of words, using hand and sign language. Dr. Howe discovered how very intelligent Laura was. Laura successfully finished school by the age of sixteen. She also learned how to hand sew her own dresses, crochet pocket books and laces, and even became one of the teachers at the Perkins School. To back track just a bit, Charles Dickens visited the United States for his vacation when Laura was a young teenager, and because of Dr. Howes' well known success with Laura, Charles while in Boston, visited Laura at the school.
When Dickens got back to England , he wrote a book about his long vacation in the USA. In the chapter dedicated to Boston, he praised Laura , the Perkins School, and of course Dr. Howe. Mean while, back in Alabama, Mr. Thomas Edison read the book , and being a good friend of the Kellers, passed it on to them. They in turn, wrote to Dr. Howe and asked for help for their daughter, Helen Keller. By this time, Laura was a grown woman and a teacher at the school. Laura convinced her young student, Anne Sullivan, to be Helen Keller's teacher.
So, if it wasn't for Laura and her success, Helen Keller would not have been the renown woman we know and love today. During the time I researched Laura Bridgman, I went to visit the Perkins School (now in Watertown. Mass.), saw many of her artifacts, dresses, crocheted items, and documents. I also took a trip to Hanover, New Hampshire where I visited the two homes where the Bridgmans use to live. Laura's parents, moved from her first home to a larger home because they had five more children (eight children total). The first home I actually got a tour of the house from the lady who presently lives there. She even has tours every February for the second graders of the town where they learn all about Laura Bridgman. The second home has a plaque in the front yard, which was presented by the Perkins School in Laura's honor, 100 years after her death in 1889. I also visited the family grave site in Hanover. Dartmouth College had a room dedicated to Laura and has some of Laura's artifacts in their archives which I also viewed. The Lowell Library kindly lent out books that were over 100 years old documenting Laura's day-by-day progress written by her teachers.
Laura Dewey Bridgman, having been such a marvel and success to many, has been my mentor. Her picture has been posted on my refrigerator for the past eight years and reminds me to be confident, strong, and as courageous as she. I do plan to make a quilt and dedicate it to Laura for her great successes in her life.
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