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Freeberg, Ernest


PERSONAL: Male; married. Education: Emory University, Ph.D. (American history).

ADDRESSES: Office—Humanities Department, Colby-Sawyer College, 100 Main St., New London, NH 03257. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Colby-Sawyer College, New London, NH, assistant professor of humanities.

MEMBER: American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians.

AWARDS, HONORS: John H. Dunning Prize.


The Education of Laura Bridgman: First Deaf andBlind Person to Learn Language, Harvard University Press, 2001.

SIDELIGHTS: In The Education of Laura Bridgman: First Deaf and Blind Person to Learn Language, Ernest Freeberg examines the education of seven-yearold Laura Bridgman by educational reformer Samuel Gridley Howe. Howe was director of the first institution for the education of the blind in America.

Howe belonged to a circle of New England reformers which included Horace Mann, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. What bound these men together was their deeply felt belief in the value of doing good works: working for the abolition of slavery, helping the poor, and caring for the infirm. As Natalie Angier wrote in the New York Times Book Review, "old Calvinist theories of the inevitability of suffering and of original sin were giving way to theories of the essential beauty and perfectibility of every human being."

In educating young Laura, who had lost her sight and hearing from scarlet fever, Howe hoped to prove that, as Freeberg wrote, "a child's love of learning was not the creation of outside forces of punishment and reward, but was an internal urge so strong that, with the enlightened help of a wide educator, it could overcome the most unfavorable of external circumstances."

Howe also hoped to prove that, if given no guidance about religious matters, Laura would naturally come to believe in a rational and benevolent God, much like the one Howe himself worshipped. But upon his return from a sixteen-month trip to Europe, Howe discovered that Laura had become a Baptist, a choice that bothered him. As Laura grew older, Howe had little to do with her, seemingly losing interest in an experiment that had failed.

"Freeberg places the poignant relationship in the context of their times," Daniel Walker Howe wrote in the Harvard University Press Online, "showing the significance that the scientific community attached to Laura's education, as well as why the general public took such a keen interest in her case."



Freeberg, Ernest, The Education of Laura Bridgman:First Deaf and Blind Person to Learn Language, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2001.


Library Journal, April 1, 2001, Patricia A. Beaber, review of The Education of Laura Bridgman: First Deaf and Blind Person to Learn Language, p. B6.

New Yorker, July 2, 2001, Louis Menad, review of TheEducation of Laura Bridgman, p. 81.

New York Times, May 21, 2001, Richard Bernstein, review of The Education of Laura Bridgman, p. B6.

New York Times Book Review, May 27, 2001, Natalie Angier, review of The Education of Laura Bridgman, p. 12.

Publishers Weekly, May, 2001, review of The Education of Laura Bridgman.


Harvard University Press Online, (December, 2, 2001), Daniel Walker Howe, reviews of The Education of Laura Bridgman.

Houston Chronicle Online, (December 2, 2001), Renata Golden, review of The Education of Laura Bridgman.*

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