Bridgman, Laura Dewey

Bridgman, Laura Dewey

(1829–89) first blind deaf-mute to be successfully educated; born in Hanover, N.H. Scarlet fever left her blind and deaf at age two. She was rescued from total isolation by a dimwitted but gentle handyman, Asa Tenney, who communicated with her by his own system of touch signs. Starting in 1837, Samuel Gridley Howe taught her to read and write at the Perkins Institution (where she remained until her death) using an alphabetic method that prefigured Anne Sullivan's work with Helen Keller, and she became world famous as an object of public interest and scientific and pedagogical study. Unlike Helen Keller, however, she never learned how to talk, she did not develop her intellectual abilities beyond basic literacy, and she could not function in the world outside the institution.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.