People - Laura Bridgman and Julia Brace

Predecessors of Helen Keller

Laura Dewey Bridgman
Laura Bridgman. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Before Helen Keller, there was another deafblind child -- actually two deafblind children - who had also managed to accomplish quite a bit at a time when the odds were seemingly against them. These children were Julia Brace (1807-1884) and Laura Bridgman (1829-1889). (There was also a third child, Oliver Caswell, but hardly anything has been written about him).

Julia Brace

Brace lost her vision and hearing around age five.

In later childhood, she began a long and happy life at the Hartford Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb. During her residence at Hartford in the 1830s, she became a celebrity because she was able to do so much in spite of not being able to see or hear. When she was in her mid-30s, the Perkins Institute attempted to give her more formal instruction. Unfortunately, because of her age she was not able to make much progress, and had to return to Hartford.

Laura Bridgman

Bridgman was younger, and in the 1840s she was the Helen Keller of her time. A student at Perkins (Massachusetts Asylum for the Blind), she was visited by the novelist Charles Dickens. Dickens wrote a romantic description of his meeting with Laura Bridgman. Dickens describes Laura's early childhood and illness, and the efforts that were made to teach her.

Bridgman has been the subject of both educational publications and a children's book, Child of the Silent Night.

While she was at Perkins, a picture was made of her with Oliver Caswell. A bright child, Laura learned how to write letters.

Both Brace and Bridgman paid the price of being pioneers in deafblind education -- neither child was able to live an independent life outside of the institutions that they called home.

Books about Laura Bridgman (no books apparently available on Julia Brace)

  • The Imprisoned Guest: Samuel Howe and Laura Bridgman, the Original Deaf-Blind Girl 
  • The Education of Laura Bridgman: First Deaf and Blind Person to Learn Language

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