In the last days of August, staff from the Perkins Archives and Research library took a road trip to Etna, New Hampshire (part of Hanover) to visit Laura Bridgman’s childhood home. Graciously hosted by the mother of the current owner, we were given a tour of the grounds and buildings once roamed by this Perkins alumna who became the first person who was deafblind to be formally educated in the United States.
The original land, known as Mink Meadow Farm, was granted to a Moses Woolcott who built a one room home on the land in 1767. This home, considered one of the oldest in Hanover, consisted of little more than a room with an oven and a sleeping loft. What Laura would have been more familiar with is the main house and barn, built in 1820 by Benjamin Fellows. Fellows was married Persis Bridgman and in 1830 her nephew Daniel Bridgman, brought his wife and 3 daughters to live on the farm. One of these daughters was Laura Bridgman and this is where she contracted the case of Scarlet Fever in 1832 that left her deafblind at the age of two.
A beautiful shaded brook along the back of the house and open fields and forest along the front provide views that are likely not much different than they were in Bridgman’s time. It was easy to imagine Laura and Asa Tenny, who had intellectual disabilities, exploring the grounds as they did before she left to attend school in Boston in 1837. Tenny, the family handyman, was a close friend to Laura, continuing to write to her even after she went away to school.
The opportunity to send Laura to Perkins came when Dartmouth Student James Barrett, who was conducting a census, mentioned her to Dr. Reuben Mussey, a Professor at Dartmouth medical school. Mussey in turn informed Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, Perkins’ first director, who sought to have her as a pupil. It wasn’t long before Bridgman, Howe, and Perkins School for the Blind acquired world-wide acclaim.
In 1937 a group gathered in Etna, New Hampshire to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of Laura Bridgman’s arrival at Perkins School for the Blind. The ceremony included a new memorial plaque which was unveiled in 1937 by Perkins students from the deafblind department, Leonard Dowdy and Tad Chapman. The inscription reads,
“The Home of
Laura D. Bridgman
The First Blind, Deaf Mute
to be Taught the Use of Language
Entered Perkins Institution, Boston
October 4 1837
Dedicated by Deaf-Blind Pupils at Perkins
a Century Later.”
The Plaque, which is mounted on a large boulder, can still be seen at the front of house.
Hale, Jen. “Pilgrimage to Laura Bridgman’s childhood home.” Perkins Archives Blog, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown MA. January 7, 2016.