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Authors to Discuss Laura Bridgman: The First Experiment in Deaf-Blind Education

For Immediate Release:
August 28, 2001
Contact: Robert E. Fistick
(202) 707-9279 or

Laura Bridgman (1829-1889), the first deaf-blind child to learn language and a predecessor of Helen Keller by some sixty years, will be discussed by the authors of two new books about her nearly forgotten life at noon, Friday, September 14, 2001, in Room 119 of the Thomas Jefferson Building, The Library of Congress.

Cosponsored by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) of the Library of Congress and the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) of the Smithsonian Institution, authors Ernest Freeberg, The Education of Laura Bridgman: First Deaf and Blind Person to Learn Language (Harvard University Press), and Elisabeth Gitter, The Imprisoned Guest: Samuel Howe and Laura Bridgman, the Original Deaf-Blind Girl (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) will present their works in a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Floyd Matson, professor of American Studies at the University of Hawaii. Matson, currently at work on a biography of Jacobus tenBroek, the distinguished blind scholar who became the founding father of the National Federation of the Blind, is the author of eleven books and recipient of the WoodrowWilson Prize and the Distinguished Humanist Award, among other honors.

Ernest Freeberg is an associate professor of the humanities at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire. After working as a public radio journalist and documentary producer, he received his doctorate in United States history from Emory University in 1995, specializing in American intellectual and religious history. His work on the education of Laura Bridgman was awarded the Sidney E. Mead Prize by the American Society of Church History, and has been supported by research grants from the Spencer Foundation in Chicago. In addition, he is currently researching and writing about the early history of education for the blind in the United States, and the cultural history of blindness in the nineteenth century. Freeberg serves on the editorial board of the History of Education Quarterly.

Elisabeth Gitter's academic background in philosophy and nineteenth-century literature equipped her both to understand and to explain clearly the cultural and philosophical context of Laura Bridgman's life. A specialist in Victorian studies, Gitter has published numerous essays on nineteenth-century literature, art, and history, including recent articles on deaf and blind women, one of which won the Monroe Kirk Spears Award for 1999. She received her BA in philosophy from Wellesley College and her PhD in English from Yale University. She is currently Professor of English at John Jay College, City University of New York.

Copies of the authors' books will be available for purchase during a book signing immediately after the panel discussion. American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation will be available as well as other ADA accommodations. Please call (202) 707-6362 or website, for assistance.

Both books are being produced in braille and audio formats for eligible borrowers through the NLS network of cooperating libraries. Ernest Freeberg's book, The Education of Laura Bridgman: First Deaf and Blind Person to Learn Language is available for circulation on audio cassette as RC 51875 and available for reserve in braille as BR 13354. Elisabeth Gitter's book, The Imprisoned Guest: Samuel Howe and Laura Bridgman, the Original Deaf-Blind Girl is available for circulation on audio cassette as RC 51840 and available for reserve in braille as BR 13353.

Over the past seventy years, NLS has emerged as a leader in the highly successful program to produce and distribute 23 million books and magazines to a readership of more than 759,000 blind, visually impaired, and physically handicapped individuals. NLS functions as the largest and frequently only source of public library materials and services for a segment of the population who cannot readily use the print materials of local libraries. The NLS International Union Catalog contains 375,000 titles. The average reader borrows 40 recorded books and magazines a year. As an integral part of the Library of Congress, NLS selects, produces, catalogs, and distributes millions of books embossed in braille, as well as talking books and magazines recorded on cassette tapes. Reading materials are distributed to a cooperating network of 138 regional and subregional libraries where they are circulated to eligible borrowers. Reading materials and playback machines are sent to borrowers and returned to libraries by postage-free mail.

The National Portrait Gallery collects and displays images of "men and women who have made significant contributions to the history, development, and culture of the people of the United States." It is the only museum of its kind in the United States to combine the aspects of American history, biography, and art. The museum's collection includes 18,500 works, ranging from paintings and sculpture to photographs and drawings. Its treasures include portraits of each of the U. S. presidents and portraits of Americans who have made outstanding contributions to American life and culture in their chosen professions. The NPG is housed in the historic Old Patent Office Building at Eighth and F Streets, NW, in Washington, D.C. While the building is currently under renovation, the NPG is partnering with other national institutions in Washington and around the country to present programs and exhibitions.

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Posted on 2011-01-10