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The Education of Laura Bridgman

The Education of Laura Bridgman

First Deaf and Blind Person to Learn Language

Ernest Freeberg

ISBN 9780674037229

Publication date: 07/01/2009

In the mid-nineteenth century, Laura Bridgman, a young child from New Hampshire, became one of the most famous women in the world. Philosophers, theologians, and educators hailed her as a miracle, and a vast public followed the intimate details of her life with rapt attention. This girl, all but forgotten today, was the first deaf and blind person ever to learn language.

Laura’s dark and silent life was transformed when she became the star pupil of the educational crusader Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe. Against the backdrop of an antebellum Boston seething with debates about human nature, programs of moral and educational reform, and battles between conservative and liberal Christians, Ernest Freeberg tells this extraordinary tale of mentor and student, scientist and experiment.

Under Howe’s constant tutelage, Laura voraciously absorbed the world around her, learning to communicate through finger language, as well as to write with confidence. Her remarkable breakthroughs vindicated Howe’s faith in the power of education to overcome the most terrible of disabilities. In Howe’s hands, Laura’s education became an experiment that he hoped would prove his own controversial ideas about the body, mind, and soul.

Poignant and hopeful, The Education of Laura Bridgman is both a success story of how a sightless and soundless girl gained contact with an ever-widening world, and also a cautionary tale about the way moral crusades and scientific progress can compromise each other. Anticipating the life of Helen Keller a half-century later, Laura’s is a pioneering story of the journey from isolation to accomplishment, as well as a window onto what it means to be human under the most trying conditions.

Praise

  • Ernest Freeberg knows how to tell a story, and he tells two fascinating ones here: that of Laura Bridgman, the deaf and blind child who became one of the most famous women in the nineteenth century, and that of the man who penetrated the silent darkness of her world. Freeberg places their poignant relationship in the context of their times, showing the significance that the scientific community attached to Laura's education, as well as why the general public took such a keen interest in her case. I couldn't put the book down.

    —Daniel Walker Howe, Rhodes Professor of American History, Oxford University

Awards

  • 2001, Winner of the John H. Dunning Prize

Author

  • Ernest Freeberg is Associate Professor of History at the University of Tennessee.

Book Details

  • Harvard University Press

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