by Jorie Pipes
Many people know of the life and achievements of a woman named Helen Keller who defied the odds that were stacked against her. She accomplished what the world viewed as impossible when she graduated from college with honors. Truly she must have been an incredible influence on the future lives of so many to follow in her footsteps.
However, what is often overlooked is the influence of another that played a major part in her success. The influence of a young girl who survived a debilitating illness at the age of two, that left her deaf, blind and without a sense of taste or smell. A girl named Laura Bridgman. Many are not aware of the connection between these two incredible women.
Laura Bridgman was one of the first deaf-blind children to receive a well rounded education in the English language. Under the instruction of Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, director of Perkins Institute for the Blind, Laura began her education at the age of 12. Howe used a manual alphabet expressed through tactile sign, introducing words by placing slightly raised letters on various objects and allowing Bridgman to feel them. This eventually progressed into letter recognition by allowing her to arrange the raised letters into words she was familiar with.
In 1842, Charles Dickens wrote of Laura Bridgman and her accomplishments in his American Notes. This was later read by Kate Keller, the mother of Helen Keller. Inspired by Laura’s story, Kate hired a woman named Anne Sullivan to learn the manual alphabet from Bridgman, which she later would teach to Helen Keller. If it were not for the determination and incredible strength of Laura Bridgman, it is possible that Helen Keller may never have had the change to inspire so many with her great accomplishments.
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