Florence Howe Hall Maud Howe Elliott.

Laura Bridgman, Dr. Howe's famous pupil and what he taught her online

. (page 22 of 26)
Online LibraryFlorence Howe Hall Maud Howe ElliottLaura Bridgman, Dr. Howe's famous pupil and what he taught her → online text (page 22 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

hall which has been the scene of so many tender, so
many heart-breaking meetings and partings, but there
is one who spoke that day whose voice is now silent,
though his words live with * the glory of undying
truth. Phillips Brooks said in speaking of Laura's
condition : —

"How isolated, shrouded in darkness, it seems to us,
yet perhaps more blessed than we can imagine, since in
her blindness she may have seen things that other minds
have never conceived. There is something more than
the mere fifty years of Laura Bridgman's life that we can

Digitized by VjOOQ iC


be grateful for. It has opened up a new thought, a new
world to us, — the knowledge of that great unseen. I
do not know how much she has realized this, how much
light she has shed upon science and upon the method of
treating those similarly afflicted ; but it is certainly great.
Her life has been free from distractions ; it has not been
pulled about by outside influence. In the silent house of
fifty years this life must have been drawn near to God
with a nearness which we cannot feel. If she has had
thought of the great usefulness of her life, of its inspira-
tion, we have nothing to pity her for, only to congratulate
her, and feel a fellow-thankfulness for her life."

Miss Moultou, sitting by Laura's side, interpreted
the words of the speakers, and her mobile, expressive
face was never more interesting than on that afternoon
when smile and shadow flitted across her delicate
features as she followed the words of affection and
cheer from her many friends.

Heretofore Laura's idea of a birthday celebration
had been that she should receive letters and gifts and
a few visits from her most intimate friends. She was
quite unprepared for the wide interest felt in her
jubilee. That it should be celebrated by all the in-
mates of the institution, that she should count among
her guests some of the greatest and wisest people of
her time, that the anniversary should be observed with
more pomp and circumstance than any festival she had
ever known — moved her profoundly.

A Christmas tree laden with gifts was placed in the
middle of the platform. When Laura was led up to

Digitized by VjOOQ iC


the tree, the existence of which she had never sus-
pected, her surprise and delight were something touch-
ing and beautiful. She fluttered about the branches
like a sober brown butterfly^ touching one and another
of her pretty things, and uttering her expressive cries
of joy. A gold bracelet, an ornament she had long
wished to possess, was quickly discovered and clasped
upon her wrist Perhaps the superlative moment for
her was that in which she touched and recognized a
large music-box. On being consulted about the cele-
bration of her birthday, Laura had made, as her only
suggestion, the following remark : " I would not like to
dictate, but a music-box would make me very happy."
As she felt the long coveted treasure, it was noticed
that she trembled violently. She very rarely wept, the
few times in her life when she shed tears are chronicled
by her friends as noteworthy occasions. In her later
years, these fine, nervous tremors seemed to give Laura's
surcharged emotions the same relief that other women
find in tears. She rapidly and skilfully set the music-
box in motion and laughed aloud with joy as she felt
its vibration.

It was many days before the excitement wore off,
and the fears which her friends had entertained for her
health were dispelled. The memory of her jubilee
brightened the last years of her life. She never ceased
to speak of it with pride and emotion.

She says when writing to her mother : " I write many
letters partly in acknowledgment of gifts and partly in
answers. You see I am so highly honored with kind

Digitized by VjOOQ iC


remembrances from friends and strangers according to
my anniversary reception."

It was often found best to warn Laura of the ap-
proaching death of a friend in order that she might
be spared the shock of surprise which makes bereave-
ment doubly terrible. Some one evidently told her of
her uncle Joseph's failing health, whereupon the loving
and artless creature writes the poor old fellow this
naive letter: —

So Boston March 11 1888

My dear Uncle Joseph, — I am most happy to have
the pleasure of writing you a letter as a farewell. You
may not live another year because you have far advanced
toward holy home which is in the glorious world of a
king above. Your Sister Harmony is so well all the
long Winter. She was in Lebanon a while ago visiting
Ellen & Lina. she felt so happy away from home.
They write often to me about her. for it is too much
task to her head & eyes in writing cards. I shall see her
in June with delight. Have you heard much of my last
birth, such grand Jubilee & a joyous reception. No
time for greeting all guests but few. It was a snowy
day. I have lived in Boston 50 years through the holy
spirit. • • •

Your ever loving Niece


She writes to her mother of the latter's failing health
in the same frank manner, though we know that one
of Laura's most earnest prayers was that she might not
survive Harmony Bridgman.


Digitized by VjOOQ IC


So Boston April 16 1888
Mt yebt deab Motheb, — I had a long letter from
Lina more than 1 week ago. she told me about you &
old Mrs Simmions. I pity her so greatly for she is
poorly. She may not live many years, nor you also. I
know how blissful & beautiful the city of Grod will be
for you to live forever with our Saviour & many Angels.
I write coarsely for you to read with ease as your poor
eyes are much weaker than last year. I am spending
this Sabbath with Miss Bennett & feel so homelike too.
I shall be so happy to live with her & her sister Mrs
Enowlton next fall. I love them dearly. I feel poorly
& so weary beyond my strength, but am so ambitious
which drives me along on working. I am knitting some
edging of 90 thread for a hdkf for Lula's birth gift the
only Child of Mrs. Knowlton. ... I shall be glad to
be with you next Summer we will have good time. Do
not over wor[k]. • . .

Your loving Child

Write to me if you can.

The last summer of Laura's life was spent at Hanover.

When the vacation was over her thoughts and wishes
carried her back to South Boston. In her letters to
Miss Moulton she follows every event likely to be hap-
pening at the institution, and we cannot fail to see
that she is impatient to take her place in her '^ sunny

Etna. N. H. Sept 9th. 88

My blessed friend and Sister, — It is a balmy day.
No doubt of your arrival at the immense Inst a few days
ago. in preparatory to the household, for reception of

Digitized by VjOOQ iC


the returning people. I should love dearly to fly and
greet you and chat an hour too. I know how much of
essential busy you have to be attended to. so I will
excuse you for not writing to me until at your leisure and
feel able to do that. Mother wishes me to thank you
kindly for your note dated in Aug. She feels nicely
since she went to the sanctuary and joined the Lord's
holy feast at his table this p. m. Sadly was I myself to
be unable to accompany my Mother to church for the last,
but I felt almost ill with my old aching eye Friday night
and so languid yesterday and had 2 reposes on my bed.
and am better to-night. Mother felt unable to guide me
to church her nerves are very weak, she sends her best
love to you.

Your loving Sister

L. D. Bbidgmak.

The winter of 1888-9 found Laura established in
South Boston. She was still busy^ though there were
moments of enforced idleness which she bore bravely.
Her friends noticed that she seemed more dependent
on their society than formerly.

The letters written during the last winter of Laura's
life have an especial interest. We have selected for
publication those that give the best picture of her life
at the dove cote. Miss A. Bond was the daughter of
her beloved Wight

So Boston Nov 25th. 1888

My dear Miss A Bond, — It is a nice chance to send
a letter to you by Mr. Allen whom I saw last Friday at
the old Inst. I was visiting a teacher Miss Boylan for
that day long. Mr. A. made the alphabet with his fingers
and I showed him how to make them. I hope to receive

Digitized by VjOOQ iC


a long call from you and also your Sister Mary on my
birthday. How much I should like to chat with you both
but it may not be so for both of you to have an oppor-
tun[i]ty of coming to see me. I wish to be kindly re-
membered to Martha and Ellen and your dear papa. I
wonder utterly that they do not come to see me. I
enquired for you all through Mr. Allen and Miss Langley
last Friday. Miss L. teaches some boys music she talked
to me with her lovely fingers. I like to meet charming
people I could not help loving her so quickly. I call in
Miss Moulton's sitting room often. She is 70 years old
18th of last Aug. She looks young and* bright. She is
my adopted Sister. I am going to visit her on my birth-
day if nothing prevents. I am not feeling well recently.
I came to Boston 5th Nov. my Sister Ellen came with
me and she went home this week she visited some friends
and came to see me twice. She is much better since her
absence from home. Will you please to bring the picture
of your Mother to me. I wish to have my Mother gaze
it she spoke of it long ago. Her mind is much failed,
her head and eyes are so poor.

I am ever yours truly

L D Bridgman.

So. Boston Feb 10. 89
My vert deab Mother, — Mrs. Knowlton is going to
church now this Evening with Miss Wood. I received
youi" card long ago was happy to think of the spirit of
strength of the Lord for the pleasure of going to call on
the kind Neighbors this mild Winter. I received a
pricked letter from Miss Bertha Smith yesterday. She
said that she saw you occasionally and there is sleighing.
We do not have snow only so little, which seems like
Autumn more than for many long years, but it has been

Digitized by VjOOQ iC


bitterly cold this week, until yesterday and today. I
have felt poorly and weakly a great part of this winter,
but very busy. I was ill some times. My throat was
thorny and sore for 2 weeks 2. I took few tablets for
my cold and the throat. I have had some orders for
knitting lace from strangers, am still knitting and read-
ing and doing many things beyond strength. Some days
had to rest on my bed for hours. It was the anniversary
of Mrs. Knowlton's birth 1 week ago and Mrs. Hopkins
last tuesday. I celebrated their birthdays I visited Mrs.
Hopkins and had ice cream flavored with banana and
vanilla several kinds of cake, she had lovely flowers
roses &c. & fruit I get tired quickly. My love to
Carrie, and be sure to write to me.

Your loving Lauba.

[To ker Sister^.

So Boston April 14. 89.
Mt vert dear Sister Honey, — I am happy to feel
able to reply [to] your 2 letters which came duly to me
last month. 1 week last Saturday I felt ill and my face
and nose were sore and looked red. Mrs. Knowlton
went to see Dr. Belt on the broad way that day. Evening
he came to see me in my bed, and staid a half of 1 hour,
he put a tiny tube in my mouth. I was feverish a few
days. It was Eryspepsia [erysipelas] very light and my
nose was anointed with vaslise [vaseline] several times,
the Dr. ordered some medicine for me to take, he is an
assistant of Dr. Homans I was in bed 2 days without
a dress. I am much better and so grateful praising the
Lord for his grace and mercy during my illness i I will
write you a greeting birth letter if able I should be so
glad to stop with you when arriving to Lebanon as I did
last June. You must not overdo but keep as comfortable

Digitized .by VjOOQIC


as possible. I shall be so sadly lonely at my home on
account of 1 of my best friends who will never welcome,
me again. She and I had such lovely times for many
Summers & Falls. ...

Your loving Sister Lauba.

We know that Laura was not so strong as usual
during this last winter, though there is less testimony
in her own handwriting of her feeble health than here-
tofore. " I am happy and so busy ! " The great boon
of continued usefulness Laura enjoyed. Until she took
to her bed never to leave it, she was able to work, to
read, to write, to visit and receive visits from her
friends, to perform the duties and enjoy the pleasures
which made up the sum of her daily life. She some-
times spoke of her " thorny throat " and her restlessness
at night : " My poor bones have fever." She was ob-
served to press the palms of her hands upon the top of
her head, complaining meanwhile of dizziness. Her
friends had, however, no anxiety about her until April,
when a slight attack of erysipelas kept her in her room
four days. A fortnight lat^r the disease reappeared in
the same mild form ; gradually more serious symptoms
developed, and it was whispered that Laura Bridgman
lay nigh unto death. While she was still strong enough
to talk with her friends, she received a visit from Mrs.
Howe. " Should you like some strawberries ? " asked
her old friend. *' Very much," said Laura, and pressed
her guest's hand to emphasize the words.

The brief story of her last days is given in the words
of the faithful friend, Mrs. M. A. Knowlton, for whom

Digitized by VjOOQ iC


Laura had performed so many kindly offices during the
last winter of her life : —

" The first night that she seemed too ill to be left
alone she did not appear to realize that my being with
her so late was unusual. When I bade her good-night
and told her another friend had come to care for her
she smiled gratefully, but said nothing. Her face was
exceedingly expressive throughout the illness, but she
spoke very little. One day she wished me to write
to a very dear friend, whom she always called orally
'P.M.' 'Tell P.M. that Miss Dewey is very iU,'
was her request.

" The friend came immediately bringing what for years
had been known between the two as the 'peaceful
book.' Years before, when Laura had been very much
annoyed, this friend. Miss Mary C. Moore, read selec-
tions from the Imitation of Christ. Laura's feelings
were soothed and the book became the peaceful book.
Laura was always glad to see it, and would fondly kiss
it whenever she found it on the table. ' The peaceful
book ' was now always near her and I occasionally read
a bit to her. A smile was the unvarying response.
Her illness was brief and she was too sick to say
much from the first* A patient quietness told us how
very ill she was. In her usual health she told us all
very particularly whenever she had a small pain, but
when she was truly ill she answered most sweetly to
inquiries for her feelings, ' I think I am better,' and her
greeting to the doctor often was : ' Tell him I am all

Digitized by VjOOQ iC


" She was not at all inclined to talk during this time,
but we who were with her felt the loving sufierer's
patience and cheer, though there may be but little to
show this in a record of events.

*'She held all physicians in great esteem, and was
especially attached to the institution physician ; but he
was unable to attend her during her last illness, and
when, two days before she died, he came to her she
brightened and smiled as she had not done during
her illness, and asked immediately: 'What does Dr.
Homans say?'

" Sunday and Thursday afternoons were the times when
I could be with her for several consecutive hours, and
she held my hand very tightly on those days when I
greeted her, showing very clearly that she had counted
on my remaining with her.

" She had little services, which she reserved for difiFer-
ent members of the family. When I came to bid her
good-morning she always wanted her head bathed and
her hair combed, and for the first few days never failed
to inquire if I had returned the brush and comb to the
proper box, to the proper comer of the proper drawer.
The last Sunday she wished me to see if the things in
the lower bureau drawer had been removed, and to
take some things from the wardrobe and pack away
from the moths. I persuaded her to wait until she
was stronger, and I am sure that she realized her
weakness then, for she yielded without protest.

" Thursday at midnight the sister who was with her
was for a while deceived by her renewed strength and

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


brightness. Laura had been lying prostrate for several
hours with scarcely strength to swallow. Then she
asked for wine and milk and wished to sit up. The
sister raised her in bed and Laura drank a little, but in
about fifteen minutes the sister saw the meaning of the
sudden strength. At daybreak she called the other
sister and summoned the doctor. I do not think Laura
knew me again though she wanted to hold tightly to
some one's hand. About nine o'clock on Friday morn-
ing she tried to make some letters^ but her poor hand
was already stiffening. After two efforts Mrs. Smith
guessed the word from the four letters which Laura
had succeeded in making, and very slowly spelled into
Laura's hand m-o-t-h-e-r. She nodded twice and her
lips relaxed a little. It was the last effort which she
made toward any communication. She simply ceased
breathing a few minutes before twelve o'clock on Friday,
May 24th."

The funeral service, held in the hall of the old institu-
tion, was the last scene in the drama. It brought to-
gether many of those who had met there to greet Laura
on her jubilee, two years before. She lay surrounded
by spring flowers; a bust of Dr. Howe stood at the
head of the white coffin ; a laurel garland from the bier
fell across the pedestal. In front of the organ, which
was hung with ivy, sat the blind choristers ; when the
deep notes, whose thrill had always moved Laura, rolled
from the orgaw-pipes, the choir rose to sing the hymn
of parting. Near the coffin sat three of Laura's kins-
women, two of her sisters and a cousin. Harmony

Digitized by VjOOQ iC


Bridgman, too old and feeble to make the journey to
Boston, sat at home in Hanover waiting till they should
bring back the body of the child she had outlived.

Laura's friends, and the members of the household,
completely filled the hall, so that there were few
strangers present. To some among the company there
were unseen guests, shadows of memory. The shining
faces of the singing children gave way to other child-
ish faces, — Lucy Beed, Oliver, Abby Carter the first
pupil, Uncle Asa the first friend, Wight the beloved
teacher. The white face among the flowers faded,
and in its place lay a fairer face, the face of Julia

After the singing came the prayer, reading from the
Bible, and a rehearsal of the story of Laura and her
deliverer, and the good fight they both fought.

The Bev. D. B. Jutten, of the South Baptist Church
of South Boston, read portions of Scripture and made a
brief address, in the course of which he said : —

" Silent need is a cry in the ear of God. He had de-
signed that a noble and gifted and hopeful spirit should
come in contact with this pitiful and sorrowful soul. In
man's extremity succor comes from heaven, and when
relatives despaired a brave, courageous man took this
hopeless case into his care. He was like one of those
knights errant of the middle ages, possessed of all their
chivalry, setting himself down before some castle whose
triply-barred gate refused him entrance, and then laying
siege until the gate was forced and the imprisoned captive
released. Such deeds as that go down into history, for
they are not simply the history of the woman's life — they

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


are part of the history of the life of her great benefactor,
part of the history of this beneficent institution.*'

Dr. Edward Everett Uale then spoke; he said in
part: —

"We cannot help realizing that, owing to the life of
this woman, there has been a step taken forward and up-
ward in the education of children in all civilized lands.
God has so ordered it, in his providence and wisdom, that
in the marveUous development of her life a step was
taken which has changed all education, in what it was,
what it is and what it promises to be. And that is the
feeling which the world will have, as from nation to nation
it comes to know that Laura Bridgman has passed from
life to life — that she sees as she is seen and knows as she
is known. People may say what they choose of senti-
ment, of hope and love, being mere products of matter,
mere results of our senses. Here we are met by this ex-
traordinary truth, that this woman, in whom faith and
hope and love were so strong that they could work almost
miracles, had but one or two of the senses which are said
to be necessary to such manifestations of sentiment.
Now that is a great and living truth which a listening
world is not going to lose. I should also like to say in
the hearing of my younger friends that we have here
encouragement for the life of even the youngest and
weakest. . . .

"We should, therefore, go away from this place with
the sense that it is our duty to live more in the knowledge
of God's mercies and of what we owe to others. Out of
Laura Bridgman have come the gladness of her life and
the benefit and blessing of that world of children to be
educated under the new methods. Let us bear in mind
that we are not the creatures of the senses, that we do

Digitized by VjOOQ iC


not depend on the things that perish, that we can live
here with Grod, for God's children, in God's heaven, and
as we live so we enter into the very joy of our Lord.*'

In Hanover where she was bom, not far from the
stream in which she was baptized, Laura was buried,
in a quiet comer of Gknl's acre.

Since the success of Dr. Howe's great experiment,
many blind deaf-mutes have been benefited by the
system of education, which he devised for Laura and
which is used today, in substantially the same form, in
cases of similarly afficted children and youth, both in
America and in Europe. Of these cases, the most
interesting and most widely known is Helen Keller, a
gifted, charming, and brilliant young woman now (1903)
a student at Badcliffe College.

Helen Keller's early education was conducted on the
same lines as Laura's. At the request of her parents,
the authorities of the Perkins Institution sent one of its
graduates. Miss Anna M. Sullivan, to instruct the little
girl at her home in Tuscumbia, Alabama.

Before starting on her mission, Miss Sullivan studied
Dr. Howe's Reports, and familiarized herself with his
methods. Moreover, from 1888 to 1893, Helen spent
the greater part of her time at the ^girls' department of
the Perkins Institution for the Blind in South Boston,
associating with the pupils and with Laura Bridgman,
using the books and appliances of the school and re-
ceiving constantly information from its teachers. The
exact and minute daily record, which is of such value

Digitized by VjOOQ iC


in Laura's case, is unfortunately wanting in Helen's.
It is deeply to be regretted that, owing to the lack of
reliable scientific data, it has proved inexpedient to give
a fuller account of this interesting case.

We are indebted to Mr. M. A. de Wolf Howe for
the following description of the centennial celebration
of the birth of Dr. Howe : —

** It is the good fortune of a few of those who enrich
human life to leave behind them some permanent memorial
— a book, a picture, a building. To a still smaller num-
ber comes the felicity of leaving their work embodied in
living persons, whose daily lives are the fruit of that
work. The name of Lincoln can never be separated
from that of a race set free. The name of Samuel
Gridley Howe stands also for a great emancipation.
Those who have been freed from the bondage of the
blind, of the speechless and the deaf are the living
memorials of his life, the embodiment of his watchword :
* Obstacles are things to be overcome.*

" It was a happy thought which prompted the grad-
uates of the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts
School for the Blind to celebrate the hundredth anniver-
sary of his birth by public ceremonies. These were held
in Tremont Temple, Boston, on Monday, November 11,
1901, a day later than the actual centenary. Memorable
words were spoken by men and women who had faced

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 22 24 25 26

Online LibraryFlorence Howe Hall Maud Howe ElliottLaura Bridgman, Dr. Howe's famous pupil and what he taught her → online text (page 22 of 26)