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Garrett, Emma and Mary Smith

Garrett, Emma and Mary Smith

American educators of the deaf .

Garrett, Emma (c. 1846–1893). Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, around 1846; died in Chicago, Illinois, on July 18, 1893; one of at least six children of Henry (a businessman) and Caroline Rush (Cole) Garrett; younger sister of Mary Smith Garrett (1839–1925); graduated from Alexander Graham Bell's course for teachers of the deaf at the Boston University School of Oratory, 1878; never married; no children.

Garrett, Mary Smith (1839–1925). Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 20, 1839; died in North Conway, New Hampshire, on July 18, 1925; one of at least six children of Henry (a businessman) and Caroline Rush (Cole) Garrett; older sister of Emma Garrett (c. 1846–1893); never married; no children.

Little is known about the early lives of Emma and Mary Smith Garrett, whose pioneering work with deaf children in Pennsylvania parallels the ground-breaking efforts of Sarah Fuller in Massachusetts, except that they were born and educated in Philadelphia, where their father was a businessman. Emma, the younger of the two, graduated from Alexander Graham Bell's first course for teachers of the deaf at Boston University School of Oratory in 1878, and that same year she took a teaching position at the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, at Mount Airy (Pennsylvania). As a champion of Bell's innovative approach of teaching deaf students to speak and read lips instead of signing, she was put in charge of the new Oral Branch of the institution in 1881, and she also began to teach summer courses that year in the techniques of speech instruction for other teachers. In 1882, Emma addressed the convention of American Instructors of the Deaf and Dumb, urging them to support the new vocal method. In 1884, after convincing civic leaders from Scranton that the new school for the deaf which they were planning to establish should teach the oral method, Emma was named principal of the new facility, which was called the Pennsylvania Oral School for Deaf-Mutes. Among her many duties, she headed a campaign for a new school building (completed in 1888). The following year, her sister Mary, who had been running a private school in Philadelphia to teach deaf children to speak, closed her school and joined her sister Emma in Scranton. Thereafter, the two became close collaborators.

The Garretts soon saw the need to begin training deaf children in oral speech at the earliest possible age, before the children were rooted in habits of manual communication. In 1892, with help from the Pennsylvania legislature as well as private benefactors, they established the Pennsylvania Home for the Training in Speech of Deaf Children Before They Are of School Age, which opened with 15 children in temporary quarters. When the state assumed financial responsibility for the institution in 1893, it became known as the Bala Home, because of its proximity to the suburb by that name. Children were accepted into the school at age two and spent an uninterrupted six-year period learning functional speech, with the hope that eventually they would be able to function in society. In the summer of 1893, the sisters were invited to present demonstration classes at the World's Colombian Exposition in Chicago. Although the exhibition was a huge success, the physical and mental stress of preparation, combined with a decidedly excitable personality, extracted a toll on Emma who began to display severe emotional problems. On July 19, 1893, the eve of her scheduled departure to a Wisconsin sanitarium, she ended her life by jumping from a Chicago hotel window. A memorial service for her at the University of Chicago was attended by Alexander Graham Bell, Edward Gallaudet, Sarah Fuller, and Helen Keller .

Mary Garrett took over for her sister as principal at Bala Home and remained there for the next 30 years. She also continued an active campaign to promote speech education for the deaf, and through her lobbying efforts obtained passage of laws in 1899 and 1901 requiring the exclusive use of oral methods of instruction in all state institutions for the deaf. Gradually broadening her view to include a general concern for child welfare, Mary also joined Hannah Kent Schoff in campaigning for a juvenile court and probation system in Pennsylvania. From 1902, Mary was a member of the National Congress of Mothers, and from 1916 to 1929 she chaired its department of legislation. During that time, she guided the department in work for juvenile-court legislation, child-labor laws, and marriage and divorce laws. She also served as vice-president of the Philadelphia Child Welfare Association and was a member of the Society for the Prevention of Social Disease. Mary Garrett died in 1925, at age 86, while vacationing in North Conway, New Hampshire. The Bala Home remained open under a new principal until 1935.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

McHenry, Robert. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1983.

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