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From: Sixth Annual Report Of The Trustees Of The New-England Institution For The Education of the Blind
Creator: Samuel Gridley Howe (author)
Date: 1838
Publisher: Henry P. Lewis, Boston
Source: Perkins School for the Blind


Samuel Gridley Howe was particularly interested in using his work with Laura Bridgman to study the development of the human mind and to encourage educational reforms. Accordingly, in his published reports on Bridgman’s progress, Howe pressed for the replacement of corporal punishment with “moral discipline” (focusing on the good in children rather than breaking their wills). He also tried to demonstrate the benefits of replacing rote learning with more flexible, interactive teaching methods.

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THE biography of a child may furnish much to "point a moral," though it may not serve to "adorn a tale;" and there is in the simple story of the past sufferings and present dreary isolation of Laura Bridgman much to interest and instruct.


She was born of intelligent and respectable parents, in Hanover, N. H. When a mere infant, she was subject to very painful and dangerous "fits," the nature of which do not seem to have been well understood. Until twenty months old, though a pretty and interesting child, she was weak and fragile -- a breath would have blown out the flame; but at that age she began to rally; her health seemed firmly established; her mental faculties rapidly developed themselves, and when she attained her second year she was more intelligent and sprightly than common children; she could already prattle some words, and had mastered the difference between A and B. But in a month after her sky was again overcast; she sickened and came near unto death; the disease, however, seemed to be baffled within, and to have fastened upon the external organs of sense, and in five weeks it was perceived that her sight and hearing were forever destroyed. During seven weeks of pain and fever she tasted not a morsel of food; for five months was she obliged to be kept in a darkened room; it was a year before she could walk unsupported, and two years before she could sit up all day. She was now four years old, and as her health and strength began to be established, she learned to go about the house and manifested a desire to be employed; not by her looks, for she was blind -- not by words, for she was dumb. She could, it is true, for a time pronounce the few words she had before learned; but not hearing the sound of her own voice, she soon lost the command of her articulation -- the sound answered not to the thought -- the will lost command of the tongue -- and the last articulate word she was ever heard to utter was, "book!" But she was not only deaf, and dumb, and blind, her isolation was still more complete -- the sense of smell was so blunted as to be entirely useless, and only affected by pungent odours; of course, half the pleasure of taste was gone, and she manifested indifference about the flavor of food.


It would seem that in this total darkness -- this dreary stillness -- this isolation from all communication with kindred spirits, the immaterial mind must have remained in infantile imbecility, while the body grew in stature and strength, or have attained a perception of its loneliness, only to pine and die at the discovery. But not so; every day she became more active and more cheerful; and she is now (as far as the closest scrutiny can ascertain the state of her mind) not only unrepining, but contented and happy. The sense of touch alone remains, and the sight of this unfortunate girl fills one with admiration, not only of the perfectibility of the senses, but of the wonderful power of the mind to adopt its operations to any circumstances of its bodily tenement -- to put itself in relation with external things, and to obtain its own stimuli and manifest its own emotions through the most imperfect media.


There is the strongest evidence of a thirst for knowledge -- of an internal, intellectual want which can be gratified only a new idea. Her greatest pleasure is to learn a new stitch, -- a new way of knitting or braiding -- a new word -- or to discover the application and use of any new thing; and her eagerness to learn is only equalled by the quickness of perception which she manifests.


There is strong hope that if her life be spared, the patient and persevering efforts of the humane, aided by the ingenuity and councils of the wise, will succeed in throwing much light into her dreary prison, and be rewarded not only by the satisfaction of imparting happiness, but by new views of the operations of mind.