Who Was Laura Bridgman?

Laura Bridgman overcame obstacles to eventually learn to read braille.
Laura Bridgman overcame obstacles to eventually learn to read braille.

Laura Dewey Lynn Bridgman was American born in New Hampshire on December 21, 1829. She is famous for having received a formal education despite the fact that she was blind and deaf. She achieved this feat about 50 years before the famous Helen Keller. Laura Bridgman was perhaps made most famous through the writing of Charle Dickens. Charles Dickens took note of Laura Bridgman in his tour to America in 1842, and consequently wrote about her.

Early Life

Laura was born in a family of three sisters and was the last born to the Bridgmans. Born as an underweight child, Laura’s infancy was unpleasant. She suffered convulsions for one year after her birth, and was in general, sickly. When she was two years old, she contracted scarlet fever that paralyzed her senses, only leaving her with the sense of touch. Her miraculous recovery did not restore her sight or hearing but returned her sense of taste and smell. Her two sisters suffered the same fever but unfortunately succumbed to death, leaving the Bridgmans devastated.


Laura’s condition was brought to light by James Barrett of Dartmouth College. Bridgman joined the Perkins Institute with the help of Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, her official instructor. After being homesick for a while, Laura became attached to her matron and her first instructor Miss Lydia Hall Drew. Howe decided to teach Laura tactile means for communication using raised letter print. His approach was quite different: first, he taught Laura to read whole words before letters. Later, he could help her distinguish between the individual letters of each word. The endeavor was a success, and two years later, Laura wrote her name in print.

Major Contributions

Having spent many years at the institution, Bridgman became a sewing assistant instructor. She is claimed to have been strict but very gentle with her juniors. The school provided her with a home and basic needs which kept her at the institute. Her significant contributions were achieved through her main instructor, Howe, who perfected tactile communication on a deaf-blind person, a feat that had not been accomplished on anyone else before. A significant beneficiary to this is the famous Hellen Keller who had the same handicap as Laura.

Death and Legacy

In 1850, the long journey of Bridgman’s education came to an end. She returned home where she reunited with family and friends. She preferred to spend her time sewing and selling embroidered handkerchiefs, crocheted dollies, and purses. On May 24, 1889, Laura Dewey Lynn Bridgman died at the age 59 years.

Bridgman has been remembered for being someone who touched souls worldwide by her resilient ability to overcome the obstacles in life. There is a Liberty ship named after her legacy. Writers and producers have produced films and literary publications after her. Kimberly Elkins produced the film What is Visible as a fictional account of Bridgman’s life. Her life’s case is also mentioned in La Symphonie Pasorale by Andre Gide.


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