In the process of describing correspondence written by Laura Bridgman, an intriguing group of letters began to shed light on a 19th century deafblind personality who, much like Bridgman, was widely celebrated in his day. Born in Spencer County Kentucky in 1829, James Morrison Heady, commonly referred to as Morrison, lost all of his sight by the age of sixteen and his hearing by the age of 40. Undeterred by the loss of his vision and hearing, Heady became well known for his inventions, writing, storytelling, advocacy, and role in the creation of the American Printing House for the Blind.
As a teenager, Morrison Heady attended both the Kentucky and Ohio Schools for the Blind, but was mostly self-taught. In his 20s Heady began advocating for books for the blind and traveled throughout the United States on behalf of this cause. This led him to seek the assistance of Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe in getting copies of Paradise Lost printed for the blind at Perkins. Correspondence from Heady related to these and other matters can be found throughout the digitized collection of incoming Perkins School for the Blind Correspondence. Heady came to Boston in 1854 where he met Howe and his famous pupil Laura Bridgman. Laura and Morrison developed a friendship and correspondence that lasted until Laura’s death.
The Perkins Archives contain 12 letters that Laura wrote to Morrison Heady. He was a published author and poet, often referred to as the “Blind Bard of Kentucky.” Many of the letters Laura wrote mention poetry and writing. Writing tools that Laura employed, such as a stiletto for pricking and a machine for writing are discussed. Bookbinding is also a topic Laura writes about to Heady.
“Mr Heady must write another book for Laura to read to the great-girls [and] little girls of the P. Inst.”
The letters indicate that Morrison was a great influence on Laura and are filled with praise. Heady encouraged Laura to write poetry which she did, the most well known example being Holy Home – originally composed in 1867. The full poem and transcription is available on the Perkins Flickr page.
These letters also indicate that Heady sent Laura books he wrote or made for her. In a letter circa 1865, Mary Cobb wrote a short note on Laura’s letter that reads, “Mr Heady must write another book for Laura to read to the great-girls [and] little girls of the P. Inst.”
For children, "Uncle Morry," was a much sought after story teller. In his later years Heady was well known by the children of the Louisville Public Library and the Kentucky School for the Blind Library, where where he regularly spent time. He also befriended Helen Keller as a child. Like Bridgman, Helen mentions receiving a book from Heady in a letter sent to him in 1888. The transcription of this letter, which is featured in Kellers' The Story of My Life, can be found at the American Foundation for the Blind website.
By the time Heady died in 1915 he had invented the Diplograph Embossing Typewriter, the Self-Opening Gate, and the Talking Glove to help him overcome the limitations of his blindness and later deafness. He was also an accomplished musician, a published composer, and author of poetry, novels, and children's stories. The letters to Morrison Heady in the Laura Bridgman Collection unexpectedly brought to our attention a deafblind man of many accomplishments and much loved character with an exciting connection to Perkins History.
Sources and more Information:
Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind. (undated). Retrieved from https://www.aph.org/museum/programs/main-gallery/callahan-gallery/27-morrison-heady/
Part II. Letters (1887–1901) to Mr. Morrison Heady. (undated). American Printing House for the Blind, Retrieved from http://www.afb.org/mylife/book.asp?ch=P2Let14
Thompson, Ken D. (1996). Beyond the Double Night, Taylorsville, KY: Buggy Whip Press.