The poet, essayist, novelist, and playwright Sarah Pogson Smith, born in England in 1774, spent portions of her life in a number of Atlantic port cities, including Charleston, New York, Hartford, and Philadelphia. This experience added depth and thematic interest to her writing, but it also meant that when her short and troubled marriage to a New Yorker ended in 1826, the network of friends and relations she could petition for support was geographically scattered. As a single woman who spent most of her early life in Charleston, Pogson Smith also faced particular obstacles in claiming the domestic credibility or northern sympathies that characterized the most commercially successful women writers of her era. She could not realistically expect to live off the profits of her writing, but she recognized that nonmonetary forms of profit, including what Mary Kelley calls "tokens of friendship" in the form of social and material support, might accrue to the savvy woman writer who wrote in support of a charitable cause (388). In 1826, the year her marriage failed, she donated the profits raised by selling a collection of her poems called Daughters of Eve to the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb via the New York Female Association, a women's charity created to support the school. The New York Institution, based near the home Pogson Smith briefly shared with her husband, developed a practical curriculum that attracted local students as well as students from Charleston and other southern cities. By linking her poetry with the school through the donation, Pogson Smith thus aligned herself with a national Deaf community that cut across regional sympathies, found authority to write in a concerned maternal voice for a group of people infantilized by disability, and ingratiated herself with print professionals eager for the New York Institution to produce both cheap labor and a steady stream of customers for their schoolbooks.1 [End Page 18]
In this essay, I will first examine the history and especially the curriculum of the New York Institution and other early American schools for the Deaf, which taught skills of broad applicability in both northern and southern seaports and thus helped to create a national Deaf community that spanned the North and South. I will then show how this transnational appeal created opportunities not only for deaf students but also for the charitable women (including Pogson Smith) who organized to support the schools. Pogson Smith enjoyed modest success as a writer, but she was able to enjoy remarkable social comfort, given her status as a single, childless, and itinerant woman. She also garnered support and donations for a school that would enable the development of a thriving Deaf World in America, especially in its maritime urban centers. I argue that Pogson Smith figures as an early and important example of the charitable woman writer, the literary and social force that would increasingly shape literature and American life over the course of the nineteenth century. Her success in melding the profits of writing with the profits of charity in the 1820s presages, and perhaps helped make possible, the great success ambitious charitable women writers like Sarah Josepha Hale would have in effectively merging the two professions over the next several decades.
More than "interesting Coincidence": The Rise of Deaf Education in Maritime Communities
In just two years, from 1817 to 1819, schools for the deaf sprang up in Hartford, Philadelphia, and New York City. Each was situated on a major waterway, and not coincidentally.2 Maritime centers were logical sites for the schools. Their large populations naturally included correspondingly high numbers of deaf and other disabled individuals; furthermore, maritime laborers and their families were at high risk of injury and illnesses that could cause deafness. Although the growing body of scholarship on Deaf education in the United States has not yet taken up the relationship of these schools to their maritime surroundings, that inquiry is overdue. American schools for the deaf enjoyed the greatest success when they equipped students with marketable skills—notably, skills related to the burgeoning print trade—of particular relevance...