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Mrs. Sigourney of Hartford

Poems and Prose on the Early American Deaf Community

Edith Edna Sayers and Diana Moore

Publication Year: 2013

Lydia Huntley was born in 1791 in Norwich, CT, the only child of a poor Revolutionary war veteran. But her father’s employer, a wealthy widow, gave young Lydia the run of her library and later sent her for visits to Hartford, CT. After teaching at her own school for several years in Norwich, Lydia returned to Hartford to head a class of 15 girls from the best families. Among her students was Alice Cogswell, a deaf girl soon to be famous as a student of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc. Lydia’s inspiration came from a deep commitment to the education of girls and also for African American, Indian, and deaf children. She left teaching to marry Charles Sigourney, then turned to writing to support her family, publishing 56 books, 2,000 magazine articles, and popular poetry. Lydia Sigourney never abandoned her passion for deaf education, remaining a supporter of Gallaudet’s school for the deaf until her death. Yet, her contributions to deaf education and her writing have been forgotten until now. The best of Lydia Sigourney’s work on the nascent Deaf community is presented in this new volume. Her writing intertwines her mastery of the sentimentalism form popular in her day with her sharp insights on the best ways to educate deaf children. In the process, Mrs. Sigourney of Hartford reestablishes her rightful place in history.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-11

We are most grateful to Harlan Lane, who generously gave usa complete copy of the notes and sources on Lydia Sigourney that he had gathered over the years, beginning with his earliest work toward When the Mind Hears, but which had never found their way into any of his publications. Thanks, Harlan! Gary Wait, Archivist at the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, likewise gener-...

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pp. 1-36

Lydia Howard Huntley Sigourney (1791–1865) of Hartford, Connecticut, was an internationally known poet in her day, the author of fifty-six books, some of which ran up to twenty editions; thousand articles to magazines; and a supporter of nearly every progressive cause known to the age, including deaf education, a wrote but also her role in American progressive activism are all ...


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pp. 37-48

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About the Texts

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pp. 49-50

All of Sigourney’s poems that were published more than once were altered, if only very slightly, at nearly each new appearance. Except in the case of “On Seeing the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Girl of the American Asylum, Hartford, at a Festival,” for which alternate opening stanzas are given, no attempt has been made to show such We have retained Sigourney’s spelling and punctuation in all cases ...

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Part 1. Alice

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p. 51-51

Alice Cogswell (1805–1830) was naturally the subject, the addressee, or the impetus for many of Sigourney’s poems about deaf people. Her early childhood and seven years as a student at the Asylum are relatively well documented, but we know nothing about her life between the time she completed her studies under Clerc and Gallaudet and her early death, just as we know nothing of her ...

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“For Alice” (1815)

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pp. 51-53

This poem was composed when Sigourney was twenty-four-yearold Miss Lydia Huntley, during her first year of teaching Alice and fourteen other Hartford girls in Mrs. Wadsworth’s house. It is not clear whether Sigourney first met Alice in her new schoolroom in the fall of 1814 or whether...

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“To Alice” (1826)

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pp. 53-56

Like the 1815 “For Alice,” “To Alice” was never published or titled, the phrase “To Alice” being the opening inscription. The only known copy is in Alice’s autograph album, held by the Archives of the American School for the Deaf, West Hartford. This “Album” also contains a second hitherto unpublished poem by Sigourney, the ...

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Excerpt on Alice from Letters of Life (1866), including “Les Sourds Muets se trouvent-ils malheureux?” (1827)

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pp. 56-59

When Sigourney’s autobiography appeared in 1866, a year after her death, it would have surprised the reading public that a woman would even think of writing the story of her life. Sigourney was likely trying to soften this response by framing the book as a series of letters to a “dear...

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Untitled poem beginning “You ask ‘how music melts away’” (1828)

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pp. 60-61

This is the second of two unpublished poems to be found in Alice Cogswell’s autograph album. Sigourney begins with a prose quota-tion of a question from Alice, now twenty-three, which the poem attempts to answer. Question and answer are both given in lovely ...

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“Funeral of Dr. Mason F. Coggswell” (1835)

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pp. 61-63

Mason Fitch Cogswell (1761–1830)—the name usually thus spelled, with only one g—would have been remembered in medical and local history even had his daughter Alice not been deaf and had he not therefore been one of the founders of the first residential school for the deaf in North America. Trained in medicine during the Ameri-...

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Excerpt on Alice from Letters to My Pupils (1851), including “Excuse for not Fulfilling an Engagement” (1815) and “Alice” (1831)

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pp. 64-75

This excerpt comes from a section entitled “My Dead,” in which Sigourney provides a prose “sketch” of each of her twenty-six former pupils who had died by the date of this book (1851) and, in some cases, a “tribute” in the form of a poem. The sketch of Alice is the Sigourney begins her sketch of Alice by saying that “the depri-...

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Part 2. Deaf Hartford

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pp. 76-78

The Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons, subsequently the American Asylum at Hartford for the Education and Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb, and now the American School for the Deaf, was the first of the state residential schools for deaf children that dominated deaf education until the late twentieth century. The story of its founding has been ...

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Excerpt on the American Asylum from Scenes in My Native Land (1845)

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pp. 78-82

continental Europe had long been an established element of social polish, the notion of touring picturesque spots of the American landscape, where access roads were so poor, could not have emerged before the refinement of the steamboat after 1800, when the establishment of regular steamboat service could bring tourists upstream and inland. By..

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“To Fanny” (n.d.)

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pp. 82-99

This undated poem to an unidentified “Fanny” was never published: a photocopy of the manuscript, in Sigourney’s hand, is held by the Gallaudet Archives (Eastman, box 5, folder 10). There is no location given for the manuscript...

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“Opinions of the Uneducated Deaf and Dumb” (1827)

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pp. 82-88

...Asylum’s Eighth Annual Report (for 1824), from which Sigourney quotes in her prose introduction to the poem. Though Sigourney does not say so, that source essay was composed by a twenty-seven year- old woman who had been a pupil at the Asylum. This young woman’s essay is...

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“Prayers of the Deaf and Dumb” (1828)

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pp. 89-92

This poem, given here in its 1845 incarnation, had first been published in the Ladies’ Magazine in 1828 under the title “The Deaf and Dumb at Prayer.” Because the subject is a group of deaf people (“yon mute train”) observed by the hearing, the poem may well have been inspired by the sight of Laurent Clerc and the Asylum’s ...

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Memoir of Phebe P. Hammond, a Pupil at the American Asylum at Hartford (1833), including an untitled poem about Phebe Hammond in heaven

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pp. 92-107

This brief memoir of a heartbreakingly brief life of twelve years devotes far more pages to little Phebe’s death from tuberculosis than it does to her life. Passing lightly over the physical suffering of tuberculosis, Sigourney provides the details of Phebe’s mental suffering, as she worries and prays every day, alone in a separate ...

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“Marriage of the Deaf and Dumb” (1834)

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pp. 108-110

This poem first appeared in Sigourney’s 1834 Poems, and was one of her most widely reprinted poems about acquaintances in Deaf Hart-ford. The identity of the bridal couple is unknown, but the poem is likely a composite, since marriages among former pupils of the Hart-reprinted above, Sigourney says that more than one hundred former ...

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“The Mute Boy” (1835)

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pp. 110-113

This sentimentalist story pulls out all the stops: an uneducated deaf child who has lost both parents and an only sibling and is raised by an elderly blind grandmother who can neither see his signs nor convey to him the notion of the Creator. The story reuses material Sigourney had earlier developed in “Opinions of the Uneducated ...

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“La Petite Sourde-Muette” (1848)

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pp. 113-116

...for teachers of the deaf is anyone’s guess, but the English translation unfortunately obscures the feminine gender of the French noun phrase, which might better be translated “The Little Deaf-Mute Girl.” The other poem with a French title reprinted in this volume, “Les Sourds Muets... ...

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Excerpts from Sayings of the Little Ones (1855)

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pp. 116-139

These two prose depictions of deaf children are a late effort of Sigourney’s. In the first anecdote, she unrealistically depicts the deaf would see, smell, and feel, and as communicating with his little hearing sister by writing on a slate, an unlikely mode of communication between young siblings, considering how quickly children invent or ...

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Part 3. The Deaf-Blind Girls:Julia Brace and Laura Bridgman

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pp. 140-120

Laura Bridgman (1829–1889) has been the subject of two excellent books, both published in 2002, one by Elizabeth Gitter and the other by Ernest Freeberg, to which interested readers are referred. In contrast, what we know about Julia Brace (1807–1884) is little more than what we learn from Sigourney’s essay reproduced here, which she wrote for children and which bears signs of having been ...

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“The Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Girl” (1828)

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pp. 120-127

...Sigourney has an important insight at the end of this essay about people who have been deaf or blind from a very early age: it’s not just that they do not hear or see, and have not been able to do so for a very long time, but more importantly that they have had no opportunity to store up...

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“On Seeing the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Girl of the American Asylum, Hartford, at a Festival” (1827)

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pp. 128-134

This may be Sigourney’s darkest poem about a deaf person, as she considers Brace’s plight, her loneliness and habitual “gloom,” and the “moral night of deep despair” that the poem’s speaker—and everyone else who recorded their observations of Brace—imagines must descend over her mind. Brace is shown responding happily to ...

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“On Seeing the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Girl, Sitting for Her Portrait” (1834)

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pp. 134-136

This lovely poem, written when its subject, Julia Brace, was in her late twenties, was published only once and shares no lines with any other poem of Sigourney’s, an unusual departure from her normal practice. The poem is addressed to the artist who is drawing Brace’s portrait. We do not know who this artist was, or whether the por-...

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“Meeting of the Blind with the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind” (1834)

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pp. 136-139

This poem first appeared in Sigourney’s 1834 Poems, so if it de-scribes an actual event, as it seems to, it must have been occasioned by Howe’s first visit to Hartford to meet Brace in that same year. If so, Howe must have been accompanied on that visit by a group of his pupils, not including Laura Bridgman, of course, whom he was ...

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“Laura Bridgman, the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Girl, at the Institution for the Blind in Boston” (1838)

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pp. 139-141

...Sigourney made to the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston to visit Laura Bridgman. It is, unsurprisingly, less detailed in its description of its subject than are the poems about Julia Brace. The reference in stanza 3 is to young Laura’s loss of her sense of smell, which, as we’ve seen, played an important role in Brace’s ability to ...

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Part 4. Gallaudet

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pp. 142-143

Throughout her life, Sigourney was generous to Gallaudet in her praise for his work with Alice, the Asylum, and “the insane,” as well as for the books he wrote. As we have seen in the introduction to this book, Gallaudet himself had high regard for Sigourney’s poetry and for her work with Alice, though the makers of his post humous reputation did not. After their respective mar-...

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Excerpt on school rewards from Letters of Life (1866)

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pp. 142-143

This brief passage explaining Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet’s “system of ethics” comes from the same section of Sigourney’s autobiography as the excerpt on Alice given in part 1. Gallaudet had been out of deaf education for the last twenty-one years of his life and, by the time this passage was...

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“A Little Girl to her Friend” (1834)

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pp. 143-145

This poem was written during the years after Gallaudet resigned his position at the Asylum. In 1834, the year he was finally ordained, he was intermittently preaching at a state prison and a county jail and was turning out children’s books at a rapid pace. The Child’s Book of the Soul, which...

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“Hymn” (1851)

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pp. 145-148

This elegy, composed after Gallaudet’s untimely death in 1850 and read at his memorial service in 1851, was first published in Barnard’s Tribute to Gallaudet. The portrayal of Gallaudet is squarely in the sentimental tradition of the meek, patient, self-effacing, almost an-drogynous man whose life was devoted to service to others less for-...


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pp. 149-152

Works Cited

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pp. 153-160

Index of First Lines

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pp. 161-190

E-ISBN-13: 9781563685583
E-ISBN-10: 1563685582
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563685576
Print-ISBN-10: 1563685574

Page Count: 128
Publication Year: 2013