restricted access Lyric Underheard: The Printed Voice of Laura Catherine Redden Searing
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Lyric Underheard:
The Printed Voice of Laura Catherine Redden Searing

At the 1858 graduation ceremony of the Missouri School for the Deaf (MSD), an aspiring young poet and writer named Laura Catherine Redden stood before the gathered students, teachers, legislators, and parents and performed her poem "A Farewell" in sign language while its stanzas of rhymed iambic pentameter were read aloud in English for the hearing audience. As a state-funded school, MSD held many such public events to demonstrate the capabilities of its deaf students and the viability of its teaching methods.1 Redden's biographer Judy Yaeger Jones explains that, as the school's star pupil, "Laura was frequently exhibited as an example of what deaf education could achieve" (4). Such exhibitions were particularly significant in deciding the controversial question of which system of deaf education—oralism, manualism, or a combination of the two—was most successful for deaf students.2 As Jennifer Esmail has established, oralists claimed that the lack of speech in a manualist sign language education would hurt students' abilities to acquire English, to think abstractly, and to function in the hearing world of work (348, 350). Interestingly, the poetry written by deaf students was often used to refute these oralist arguments. Famed deaf educator Edward Miner Gallaudet defended the use of sign language before the British Royal Commission on the Blind and the Deaf and Dumb in part by reading a sonnet written by deaf poet Amos G. Draper and also by submitting to the commission his survey of "The Poetry of the Deaf " (Esmail 348-49). Esmail argues that the deaf poetry of this period thus acted as a counternarrative to the oralist denigration of signed language and signers, demonstrating these students' mastery of written English and abstract thought and language (350).

Laura Redden went on to disprove such oralist ideologies about the limitations of sign language education through her life's work as a writer.3 Turning [End Page 62] down a teaching position at MSD after graduation, she became the art and literary editor for the Presbyterian, a church-sponsored periodical in St. Louis. By 1860 she was writing pro-Union editorials for the St. Louis Republican under the pseudonym Howard Glyndon. Although a rival Southern-sympathizing newspaper, the State Journal, published a scathing front-page exposé revealing that Howard Glyndon was not a learned statesman but rather a young deaf woman, the attack merely had the effect of making her byline and true identity widely known and accepted throughout Missouri (Jones 5). When war broke out, her status as a journalist and writer continued to rise. She left Missouri in September 1861 to become the official war correspondent for the Republican in Washington, dc, where she thrived. As Jones writes in her biographical introduction to the collection Sweet Bells Jangled: Laura Redden Searing: A Deaf Poet Restored, "During the war Howard Glyndon communicated troop and battlefield incursions, reported the political news, and wrote about noted Washingtonians, including Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, various generals, and politicians. Redden never hid her gender nor her deafness. She was well-known and respected by other journalists and mention of her presence can be found in a number of Civil War memoirs" (6).4 In addition to her journalism, under the pseudonym Glyndon she edited and published a book of biographies of the elected members of the House of Representatives in 1862, and in early 1864 she published her first book of poetry, Idyls of Battle and Poems of the Rebellion, possibly the first volume of poetry to appear about the Civil War.5 These poems were apparently widely read in anthologies and magazines as well. Jones explains that the author frequently received "fan letters from soldiers, their sweethearts, family members, and the public" (7). In perhaps the best testament to the poems' popularity, a Civil War veteran founded the city of Glyndon, Minnesota, in 1872 "in honor of Civil War poet, Howard Glyndon." It may be the only town ever named for a woman writer in the United States during her lifetime (Jones 18n24).

Laura C. Redden (later Searing) continued to publish poetry, journalism, and translations throughout her life as...