She Touched the World: Laura Bridgman, Deaf-Blind Pioneer

Overview

When she was just two years old, Laura Bridgman lost her sight, her hearing, and most of her senses of smell and taste. At the time, no one believed a child with such severe disabilities could be taught to communicate, much less lead a full and productive life. But then a progressive doctor, who had just opened the country’s first school for the blind in Boston, took her in. Laura learned to communicate, read, and write—and eventually even to teach. By the age of 12, she was ...

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Overview

When she was just two years old, Laura Bridgman lost her sight, her hearing, and most of her senses of smell and taste. At the time, no one believed a child with such severe disabilities could be taught to communicate, much less lead a full and productive life. But then a progressive doctor, who had just opened the country’s first school for the blind in Boston, took her in. Laura learned to communicate, read, and write—and eventually even to teach. By the age of 12, she was world famous.
Audiences flocked to see her, and she was loved and admired by children everywhere. This fascinating and moving biography shows how Laura Bridgman paved the way for future generations of children with disabilities, making possible important advances in the way they would be educated. As a blind person with some hearing loss, Sally Hobart Alexander lends a unique and intimate perspective to this inspiring account. At last, the story of Laura Bridgman can find its long-deserved place alongside those of Louis Braille and Helen Keller.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In the early 1840s, Bridgman was known throughout the world for her educational accomplishments despite her disabilities.  Yet she would be so overshadowed by Helen Keller 50 years later that it is now impossible to mention her without drawing comparisons to Keller.  In fact, Bridgman's education, undertaken by Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe of the New England Institution for the Education of the Blind, laid the foundation for Keller's accomplishments (Bridgman taught Annie Sullivan how to fingerspell), and for the education of Deaf-Blind children even today.  The authors of this meticulously researched biography convey Bridgman's world of touch and sensation in terms children will understand: "The sun was heat on her face....Mountains were sloped, uneven paths to climb."  Details such as the child's daily school schedule allow readers to connect her story with their own lives.  Photos and illustrations of unfamiliar historical objects give context throughout, as does the authors' explanation of period medical studies such as phrenology.  Only one detail causes concern: In a caption about the debate over whether to use sign language with children, the authors correctly note that it was "denounced as crude pantomime," yet fail to mention that American Sign Language has since been proven to contain all of the grammar and linguistic structures that spoken languages have.  The length, "If Laura Were Alive Today," describes the medical and technological advances that affect Deaf-Blind individuals today by introducing Deaf-Blind coauthor Sally Hobart Alexander."—School Library Journal, starred review
 
"The first full-lenght new biography of Bridgman for young readers since Edith F. Hunter's Child of the Silent Night (1963) offers a salutary reminder that Helen Keller wasn't the only, or even first, woman to prove that deafness and blindness are not unsurpassable obstacles to becoming a functional member of society.  Though a still-undiagnosed childhood disease left her with only her hands for a sense organ and "an endless curiosity," Bridgman responded so well to the efforts of her early educator Samuel Gridley Howe, head of the first school for blind children in America, that she became an international celebrity in the 1840s.  This provided evidence for the startling new idea that disabled, even multiply disabled, people could be intelligent, educable, and productive.  The authors (one of whom is blind and partially deaf herself) cap their profile with a long afterword analyzing the changes of attitude that Bridgman helped to spark, and describing modern support systems for disabled people.  Illustrated with period photos and prints, and supported by extensive notes and resource lists, this will be a valuable and long-overdue addition to library shelves."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
 
"At the age of three, in 1832, Laura Bridgman contracted scarlet fever and lost her sight, her hearing, her sense of smell, and much of her sense of taste.  Her family sent her to Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe at the New England Institute for the Education of the Blind, and by the age of 10, Laura was world-famous for her accomplishments (with admirers ranging from Charles Dickens to Dorothea Dix), and also a success story for Howe's teaching methods.  Alexander, known for books about her own experiences as a blind person, presents a well-written and thoroughly researched biography of this remarkable woman, with numerous black-and-white photos (quality was hard to determine in the galley).  There's little available on Bridgman for young readers, so this will be a welcome addition to many collections.  An appended listing of Web sites and books will lead readers on to more."—Booklist
 
Children's Literature - Vicki Foote
This biography follows the life of Laura Bridgman, who became deaf and blind a few years after she was born in 1829 when she became ill with scarlet fever. She learned extensive things on her own and then began working with a doctor from the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston. Laura was able to learn the alphabet by feeling raised metal letters. Many of the chapters explain in detail some of the difficulties and successes in her education. There are numerous photographs of Laura and the methods she used that helped her read and write. She became famous for her achievements and worked with Anne Sullivan, who was teaching a young Helen Keller. This comprehensive biography was coauthored by Sally Alexander, who lost her sight at the age of twenty-six and began to have hearing problems a year later. In an afterword, she writes about how current opportunities and medical assistance compare with Laura's time. Included are source notes, a bibliography, websites, and an index. Reviewer: Vicki Foote
School Library Journal

Gr 3-6- In the early 1840s, Bridgman was known throughout the world for her educational accomplishments despite her disabilities. Yet she would be so overshadowed by Helen Keller 50 years later that it is now impossible to mention her without drawing comparisons to Keller. In fact, Bridgman's education, undertaken by Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe of the New England Institution for the Education of the Blind, laid the foundation for Keller's accomplishments (Bridgman taught Annie Sullivan how to fingerspell), and for the education of Deaf-Blind children even today. The authors of this meticulously researched biography convey Bridgman's world of touch and sensation in terms children will understand: "The sun was heat on her face....Mountains were sloped, uneven paths to climb." Details such as the child's daily school schedule allow readers to connect her story with their own lives. Photos and illustrations of unfamiliar historical objects give context throughout, as does the authors' explanation of period medical studies such as phrenology. Only one detail causes concern: In a caption about the debate over whether to use sign language with children, the authors correctly note that it was "denounced as crude pantomime," yet fail to mention that American Sign Language has since been proven to contain all of the grammar and linguistic structures that spoken languages have. The afterword, "If Laura Were Alive Today," describes the medical and technological advances that affect Deaf-Blind individuals today by introducing Deaf-Blind coauthor Sally Hobart Alexander.-Kathleen Kelly MacMillan, Carroll County Public Library, MD

Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The first full-length new biography of Bridgman for young readers since Edith F. Hunter's Child of the Silent Night (1963) offers a salutary reminder that Helen Keller wasn't the only, or even first, woman to prove that deafness and blindness are not unsurpassable obstacles to becoming a functional member of society. Though a still-undiagnosed childhood disease left her with only her hands for a sense organ and "an endless curiosity," Bridgman responded so well to the efforts of early educator Samuel Gridley Howe, head of the first school for blind children in America, that she became an international celebrity in the 1840s. This provided evidence for the startling new idea that disabled, even multiply disabled, people could be intelligent, educable and productive. The authors (one of whom is blind and partially deaf herself) cap their profile with a long afterword analyzing the changes of attitude that Bridgman helped to spark, and describing modern support systems for disabled people. Illustrated with period photos and prints, and supported by extensive notes and resource lists, this will be a valuable and long-overdue addition to library shelves. (Biography. 10-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618852994
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 2/18/2008
  • Pages: 112
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 990L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.10 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Sally Hobart Alexander teaches literature and writing in the MFA program at Chatham University and is well known for her books about her experiences as a blind person. This is the first book she has written with her husband, Robert Alexander. They have two adult children and live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Robert Alexander is a professor of English and director of the writing program at Point Park University. This is the first book he has written with his wife, Sally Hobart Alexander. They have two adult children and live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2008

    Before Helen Keller walked the grounds of Ivy Green

    The word pioneer is traditionally referenced when discussing scientists who discover cures for serious illnesses or the rugged adventurers who settled uncharted regions or territories. However, a recent publication detailing the little known story about an astonishing small girl from the early 19th Century, who, because of vision and hearing loss, changed the way all children with disabilities would be taught offers another perspective of the term. Laura Bridgman¿s story is one of great love, strong determination, tremendous fame and depths of isolation so formidable that, even today terrifies the most hardened criminals. Laura¿s illness as a toddler set the stage for her encounter with Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe less than a half dozen years following the opening of the Perkins School for the Blind. This story recounts how, a half century before Helen Keller walked about Ivy Green making the connection between letters spelled into her palm and objects in her world, Laura was paving the way for Helen and all other deafblind children throughout the world. It was Howe¿s penetrating work with Laura that provided scientists the fundamental information on brain plasticity resulting in hope for countless survivors of stroke, traumatic brain injury, illness and age-related dementia. Much has been written about Helen Keller and not too long ago scholars researched the personality, education methodology and rationale of all who worked as a part of Laura¿s team educators. Now this recent offering for children on Laura Bridgman will give a new generation of readers a look inside the life of this woman who too few credits as one of the original subjects of early investigative studies which helped educators and scientists establish ¿evidence-based¿ research regarding the cognitive potential of students who were deafblind. Though cited statistics and some lingo specific to the field of DeafBlindness today are not in agreement with lexicon and data used by professionals, this new manuscript on the life of Laura Bridgman is a must read for any grade school student or parent of a child with a disability. Especially noteworthy is the final chapter of the book in which one of the author¿s, a deafblind adult, outlines her personal affinity to Laura and offers a look at life as it would be for Laura if she were alive today. Through advancements in technology, civil rights legislation for the disabled and inclusive societal attitudes toward persons with disabilities, Laura¿s way of life today would be full of opportunities for a quality education, competitive employment, and family life as a spouse, parent and active member of her community. Thanks to Laura¿s pioneering role many of children and aging adults with vision and hearing loss are now afforded greater opportunities to touch our lives and their world.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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