Laura Bridgman: A Collection Revisited

Daguerreotype of Laura Bridgman, circa 1845.

Daguerreotype of Laura Bridgman, circa 1845.

June 29, 2015

In 1837, Laura Bridgman (1829 –1889), at almost eight years old, became a student at the Perkins Institution (now Perkins School for the Blind). Bridgman went on to become the first person who was deafblind to be formally educated in the United States. She became world famous, then faded into relative obscurity. While Bridgman’s education at Perkins ended in 1850, she resided at the school for the rest of her life. Perkins Archives currently has 24 linear feet of textual material, photographs, artwork, and artifacts that help illuminate the extraordinary life and education of Laura Bridgman.

While there have been efforts to organize the Laura Bridgman Collection over the years, it has now been fully processed thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Division of Preservation and Access.

Tasked with processing this collection, I was initially overwhelmed by the large amount and variety of materials, the square hand technique of writing used by Bridgman, and her tendency to use multiple abbreviations and nicknames for a single correspondent. Soon, however, I was engrossed in the unique narrative of this collection, which made the complexity all the more rewarding.

This collection contains details of the everyday, such as a trip to the dentist and learning to tell time, but from the unique perspective of a woman in the 19th century who is deafblind. There is an account of Bridgman going to town with "Miss W" for a pair of blue glass [glasses] on May 9, 1875, and there are glasses in the collection that she owned. Being able to read about items she owned or made and then having artifactual examples of such items brings the collection to life.

The new finding aid is an attempt to make the unique and groundbreaking story of Laura Bridgman more widely known and more widely accessible. It now provides access points to digitized collections of this material.

Digital collections include the Laura Bridgman Collection on Flickr, which contains photographs, textiles, and other writings. Collections available on the Internet Archive include Laura Bridgman Scrapbooks, which contain articles and clippings in bound volumes, and Laura Bridgman's Journals and Other Writings which contain handwritten journals and stories.

Access points to related collections in the Perkins Archives have also been added and include collections related to Samuel Gridley Howe and Teacher Journals of Laura Bridgman and other Deafblind Pupils, Perkins School for the Blind. The Teacher Journals Collection are also available as digital resources. Access to digital resources are made possible thanks to the generosity of the Boston Public Library, the Internet Archives, and a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant provided by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

Additional information about Laura Bridgman.

An additional blog post related to the processing of this collection.

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