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A Hard Life (1893)

A Hard Life

An unsigned article about disability in The Youth’s Companion, April 6, 1893

Years ago Laura Bridgman astonished the world. That a person deaf and blind, and consequently dumb from infancy, could be taught to live a life of understanding, action and aspiration seemed but little short of a miracle.

Helen Keller, of whom most of our readers have heard, is more of a marvel. Without the power to see, or hear, or speak, she has been taught to hold conversations, to write compositions and letters, to embroider, play the piano and to comprehend abstract thought. Her education seems almost the high-water mark of Christian civilization.

And now a pitiful yet inspiring story of another unfortunate child comes to us. She was born in Texas, and when fifteen months old had learned only two words — mamma and papa. Then she had a serious illness, by which she lost eyesight and hearing, and was doomed to a life of imprisonment, into which no sound or ray of light could penetrate.

She soon forgot the two words she had learned, and uttered only inarticulate sounds. As she had never experienced pleasure, she did not know how to laugh; but she exhibited terrible freaks of passion and terror, and hated the presence of all living things.

In the meantime she had learned two signs: one to put her fingers into her mouth when she was hungry, the other to cross her arms over her breast when she was thirsty. The only thing that deeply interested her was wiping her mother’s dishes, and this she did, the mother says, “until they creaked.”

At six years, when most children are happy and gay, she was blind, speechless and deaf, knowing nothing, hearing nothing, caring for nothing, groping in blackness and silence, and consumed by passionate fits of animal temper.

One day a newspaper brought to the house some account of Helen Keller and her successful education. After a little correspondence Willie Elizabeth — for that was her name — was taken to a kindergarten for the blind in the East.

When she first arrived she kicked and bit and savagely pushed any one who came near her. Her dull eyes were expressionless. Her face wore a look of despair. Her mother stayed with her for a week, and then left her with the lady who was to be her teacher. The child had to be tamed as one tames a wild creature.

At last the day came for the first lesson. She was playing with a shallow basket, which she put upon her head. This gave her teacher the idea of selecting the word hat to convey to the mind of the child the first glimmer of thought. After many attempts to use the language of the lingers upon the palm of the hand, the teacher succeeded in making the unfortunate girl understand that she was signalling the name of the object that she held in her hand. This was the first ray of light that penetrated the darkness in which the child had lived.

To-day she has learned the names and comprehends the shapes of four hundred objects. More than this, she understands the meaning of about a hundred verbs. In all she commands a vocabulary of about six hundred words. She has become alert, sweet-tempered and affectionate. Her greatest delight is to take a book of raised letters to bed with her to real, where, of course, she can read as well as in daylight.

What a struggle for an education is this! It is difficult fully to comprehend it. We take eye-sight as a matter of course. We hear the sound of the winds, the ringing of bells and laughter, the ripple of clear voices — and who stops to thank God for it? What we have been taught at home or at school has been given under the pleasantest and most favorable conditions. What if we had to get our diploma by the tap of a finger on the palm of the hand?

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): A hard life. (1893, April 6). The Youth’s Companion. Retrieved [date accessed] from /?p=10714.

Source: Disability History Museum, (May 13, 2014)