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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. La 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, 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.


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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. La 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, 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.

38 review for The Education of Laura Bridgman: First Deaf and Blind Person to Learn Language

  1. 5 out of 5

    Anson Cassel Mills

    Freeberg’s dual biography of Laura Bridgman and Samuel Gridley Howe (not just a biography of Bridgman as the title implies) is far better reading than one would expect of a revised PhD dissertation. Freeberg is clear in his exposition of philosophic and religious trends, and he is absolutely fair in his of treatment the old Calvinist orthodoxy and the evangelicalism of the Second Great Awakening. Having written a children’s story about Laura Bridgman many years ago, I was already familiar with t Freeberg’s dual biography of Laura Bridgman and Samuel Gridley Howe (not just a biography of Bridgman as the title implies) is far better reading than one would expect of a revised PhD dissertation. Freeberg is clear in his exposition of philosophic and religious trends, and he is absolutely fair in his of treatment the old Calvinist orthodoxy and the evangelicalism of the Second Great Awakening. Having written a children’s story about Laura Bridgman many years ago, I was already familiar with the outlines of this narrative, but I still learned much from Freeberg’s study—as for instance, the connection between Unitarianism and phrenology and the robust evangelical reaction to Howe’s tentative attempts to play God with Bridgman’s soul.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    If this book focused simply on the challenges and triumphs of educating a young girl who was both blind and deaf in the mid-19th century, I would have rated it higher. However, about half of the book focused on the religious philosophy of the time and how Dr. Howe, the man who took on the task of teaching Laura Bridgman, tried to prove the beliefs of liberal Christianity by controlling Laura's religious education and assessing whether she was a pure soul or born with original sin like the opposi If this book focused simply on the challenges and triumphs of educating a young girl who was both blind and deaf in the mid-19th century, I would have rated it higher. However, about half of the book focused on the religious philosophy of the time and how Dr. Howe, the man who took on the task of teaching Laura Bridgman, tried to prove the beliefs of liberal Christianity by controlling Laura's religious education and assessing whether she was a pure soul or born with original sin like the opposing Orthodox Christians believed all children were. Religion has never been my favorite topic, and every time Freeberg left Laura's story to discuss Howe and the theories behind his teachings, I was tempted to skip ahead, but chose not to. When Laura was the focus, the book was enjoyable, as there had never been documentation of a deaf-blind student being taught, so Howe was clearly charting a new path, and doing wonders for other blind children in New England by running his Perkins School for the Blind. At Perkins, Howe, and especially the female instructors he assigned to work one-on-one with Laura, were able to teach her language and communication in the forms of manual sign language and writing. Samples of her writing were presented in the book, and it was quite legible and orderly for someone unable to see what she was writing or learn to phonetically spell the words. The end of the book contrasts Laura Bridgemen with Helen Keller, who met Laura when the former was near the end of her life and the latter still a young woman, and much of the difference was credited to being a generation apart and advances that had been made with Laura and teaching in general that were applied to accelerate Keller's learning. Overall, an OK book, but not one I would need to read again.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    This book has far more to do with the beliefs and experiments of Dr. Howe, the first director of the Perkins Institute, than it does with Laura Bridgman herself. It reads very much like the academic dissertation that the acknowledgments state it was originally. If you are looking for something discussing Laura at length you should be warned that this book spends a great deal of time talking about everything except her. The parts which detail Howe's interactions with and writings about Laura are This book has far more to do with the beliefs and experiments of Dr. Howe, the first director of the Perkins Institute, than it does with Laura Bridgman herself. It reads very much like the academic dissertation that the acknowledgments state it was originally. If you are looking for something discussing Laura at length you should be warned that this book spends a great deal of time talking about everything except her. The parts which detail Howe's interactions with and writings about Laura are particularly good and make the book worth reading, but it is a sad thing that Howe's name is not in the title as I did hope it would focus more on Laura and not on Howe. I feel I have learned more about him in reading this than I did about her which, depending on your interests, will make you either enjoy or dislike this book. For me, it served its purpose and I took a great deal away from it- just not in the area which I had hoped upon picking it up. Definitely a worthy read if you are interested in the history of 19th century American reform movements or the early push for better education for the sensory handicapped.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This was a very academic tome, rather than a biography of Laura Bridgeman. It was really about how Samuel Gridley Howe, who started Perkins Institution for the Blind, used Laura as an experiment as he educated her. How was an early Unitarian, who believed that children are born good, with no original sin. He was also a Phrenologist (someone who studies shapes of skulls to determine character traits) who believed that the brain develops certain areas sequentially. Not surprisingly, Dr. Howe doesn' This was a very academic tome, rather than a biography of Laura Bridgeman. It was really about how Samuel Gridley Howe, who started Perkins Institution for the Blind, used Laura as an experiment as he educated her. How was an early Unitarian, who believed that children are born good, with no original sin. He was also a Phrenologist (someone who studies shapes of skulls to determine character traits) who believed that the brain develops certain areas sequentially. Not surprisingly, Dr. Howe doesn't get the exact results he expected as he educates Laura. She was not a blank slate, because she had both seen and heard until contracting scarlet fever at the age of 3. Besides, a person is not a guinea pig. Like anyone else, Laura developed her own personality, likes, and dislikes. I'm glad that I read this book, however, because it gave me insight into the mid-1800s view of education, as well as the battle between strict Calvinists and more liberal Christians.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Story of how Samuel Gridley Howe taught Laura Bridgman and established the Perkins School for the Blind. A bit dense and religion-heavy in parts but very interesting peek into that time period and reformers in the 19th century.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mia

    I wanted to read a biography about Laura not another book about Dr. Howe.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Agnes

  8. 4 out of 5

    Becky

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mkz

  10. 5 out of 5

    Christy

  11. 4 out of 5

    Becky

  12. 4 out of 5

    Crystal

  13. 4 out of 5

    Amy

  14. 5 out of 5

    Van Til

  15. 4 out of 5

    Brittany Farrell

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kwun Edwin

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kara

  18. 4 out of 5

    Erikalea

  19. 4 out of 5

    M Leona Godin

  20. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

  22. 5 out of 5

    Carol

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sheila

  24. 4 out of 5

    Holly

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sk

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mary Virginia

  27. 4 out of 5

    Missvandort

  28. 5 out of 5

    Cory Dalton

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kerri

  30. 4 out of 5

    Marissa

  31. 4 out of 5

    Manybooks

  32. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Duggan

  33. 4 out of 5

    Kristie deRuiter

  34. 4 out of 5

    Library Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

  35. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

  36. 5 out of 5

    BookDB

  37. 5 out of 5

    Alshaimaa

  38. 5 out of 5

    Amerabe1

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