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The benevolent education of maritime laborers at America's first schools for the deaf.

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)

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.


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 in maritime communities throughout the nation. These schools then relied on the charitable support of women and men enriched by maritime commerce and their savvy use of print circulation to augment and extract value from the flows of transatlantic capital.

The New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb opened in 1818, and from the outset its maritime location and the investment of its administrators in maritime commerce shaped its curriculum. The first president of the school's board of directors, DeWitt Clinton, left the post two years after he took office as governor of New York, where he transformed New York's port and Atlantic shipping routes with the construction of the Erie Canal. This further enhanced the prominence of the city, giving the school the ability to attract students, faculty, and charitable supporters from around the transatlantic world. (3) This makes the New York Institution a particularly useful location to study the development of deaf education and the charitable workers who organized to support it in locations stretching as far south as Pogson Smith's Charleston.

In this maritime setting, the school developed a curriculum that offered a liberal education as well as training in marketable vocations: sewing, horticulture, carpentry, or bookbinding. This curriculum, selected with the assistance of members of the New York Female Association who monitored the progress of deaf children at school, reflected the school's administrators' and charitable supporters' recognition that Deaf community generated by the school could follow maritime trade routes and elide traditional geographic, political, and social barriers between the northern and southern United States. In an era when charity workers in the North and South had fundamentally different approaches to charity, including fundamentally different perspectives of what charity was and to whom it should be applied, the New York Institution was unique in attracting national support in the form of tuition and charitable donations by highlighting shared circumstances in American maritime communities. Every state in the nation had impoverished deaf residents, and the trades taught at the New York school had tremendous value in communities along all of America's major waterways. This curriculum broadened the professional and social prospects of the school's diverse student body, and it offered a rare and valuable marketing opportunity to Pogson Smith. She could capitalize on the school's national, rather than local, appeal to style herself not just as a writer but as a charitable woman writer. Pogson Smith built her literary career as she visibly supported a benevolent curriculum that promised not only to convert and educate deaf children but also to transform them from dependents into skilled laborers capable of bolstering maritime commerce in the diverse communities from which they hailed.

Maritime laborers and their families living in populous seaport communities were painfully familiar with the diseases and injuries that could cause disabilities including deafness. (4) Poor living conditions, inadequate or contaminated food and water supplies, and extremes in coastal weather made mariners and their families easy prey for fevers carried by traveling bodies, commodities, and vessels through port cities. And the accoutrements of the iconic seaman in the nineteenth-century popular imagination--the peg leg, the hook as prosthetic hand, the eye patch--spoke to the hazardous working conditions that made disability a daily reality rather than a romantic fancy for many seamen. When disease or accident suddenly transformed a hearing seaman into the only deaf member of an extended family, community, or workforce, deafness could be an immensely isolating and debilitating condition, but deafness was not inherently a disadvantage in competitive maritime economies. Beginning in the late seventeenth century, a large community of individuals who were born deaf thrived on Martha's Vineyard, a center of maritime industry during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. (5) According to Nora Ellen Groce, "Their tax returns and statements of personal assets were no different from those of other Islanders, year in and year out. Almost all of the deaf people were neither wealthy nor impoverished but fell into that broad category of middle class" (85). The major difference for these deaf individuals was the presence of a language shared by deaf and hearing people that allowed them to communicate with their families, neighbors, clergymen, and teachers--and, just as importantly, with current and potential employers, customers, and fellow laborers.

But this easy commerce between deaf and hearing people was exceptional; the responses to deafness in most of America, and certainly in its competitive seaports, ranged from pity to scorn. In Daughters of Eve, Pogson Smith represented the views of many Americans when, in the poem "The Deaf and Dumb," she called deaf children "Nature's lone helpless son[s]" (line 44). Wealthy parents of deaf children often ignored them and neglected their education, and impoverished families who could not care for deaf children or simply declined to do so took advantage of orphanages or poor houses. (6) This created a social problem not only for the deaf but also for the hearing parents and family members of deaf children and leaders of cities where the ranks of the so-called indigent deaf and dumb swelled as the population grew. Additionally, this plight drew the interest of wealthy and well-off white women who saw a chance to apply their managerial capabilities or professional skills to a benevolent project--part of the accepted purview of Christian women--that could address a social problem, alleviate a strain on local economies, and extend their circles of public influence. These interested individuals began searching for tenable solutions, and the success of the Deaf on Martha's Vineyard suggested one that could benefit both deaf individuals in maritime communities and their hearing benefactors. If the deaf could learn the principles of English writing and grammar from instructors using sign language, they could engage productively with both a unified Deaf community and the able-bodied laborers who supported American industry.

In 1817 the Reverend Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc, a tinguished graduate of the prestigious Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets a Paris, founded the nation's first school for the deaf in Hartford, Connecticut. (7) The male directors of the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb, along with a number of women similarly "impelled by a sense of duty" who answered the directors' appeal for support from "a charitable and benevolent public," were granted an act of incorporation for a school for the deaf and dumb on 15 April 1817 (Circular of the President 3). One nineteenth-century historian commented, "By an interesting coincidence, this was the same day that the school at Hartford was opened for the reception of pupils" (History of the New York Institution 11-12). In 1819 Philadelphian David G. Seixas began educating and boarding deaf children in his home, and by 1821 he had attracted enough sympathy from prominent citizens to secure a charter for "an asylum and school in the city of Philadelphia, where the children of the rich for a moderate compensation, and of the poor gratuitously, laboring under the privation of the faculty of speech are maintained and educated" ("Act to Incorporate" 30). (8) The opening of three schools in quick succession and the location of each--in an urban center supported by maritime commerce--raise some doubt as to whether this sequence of events was indeed merely "interesting coincidence." Funded by tax dollars, charitable donations, and grants made possible by the profits of maritime commerce, these schools were necessarily invested in and connected by the capital circulating around the Atlantic world.

The histories of the schools in Hartford, Philadelphia, and New York suggest that these institutions attracted support because of their economic potential in seaports, but New York was uniquely positioned during the decade the New York Institution began operation. Its fortunes were rising at the same time that southern ports, particularly Sarah Pogson Smith's Charleston, were flagging under a sluggish recovery from the market crash of 1825. (9) The disabled and members of other marginalized groups particularly suffered in the depressed economy. South Carolina did not have a school for the deaf until one opened in Spartanburg in 1849, and there was never a school for the deaf in Charleston. The Kentucky Asylum for the Tuition of the Deaf and Dumb, founded in 1823, was the only school for the deaf in the South until a school opened in Virginia in 1839. It struggled initially to secure a qualified teacher and was considered far less prestigious than the schools in the North. Because New York City's relative prosperity, combined with the New York Institution's reputation, encouraged many southerners to send their deaf children to the city to be educated, an instructive place to study the cultural and professional experiences of Deaf southerners is in the North, where many developed both a shared Deaf culture and a social and professional future.


The conventional framework that considers American ports in the North--connected by physical proximity, climate, agricultural conditions, political sentiment, and industrial infrastructure--in relation to ports in the South, similarly united by shared conditions, is one that by default originates from a hearing center. The nineteenth-century American maritime world is organized quite differently from a Deaf perspective. From this vantage point, commerce in port cities, trade among domestic and international ports, and even economic and political developments take place within the organizing framework of the Deaf World, one that does not necessarily align along a north-south axis.

Hannah Joyner's illuminating research on southern families who sent children to study at the New York Institution demonstrates how deafness created communal alliances that cut across the associations of the hearing world and produced an alternative map of the maritime world. In 1833, Thomas Tillinghast was born in North Carolina to a white slaveholding family of ample economic resources. When his parents discovered that he could not hear, they sought medical attention in New York City, a move that seemed advisable to them given the reputation and experience of physicians in the North but that offended the pride of their extended family members. When a second son, David, lost his hearing at age four, the family let their regional loyalties dictate their advice. "I dare say he may be cured without going to the North which as you observe would be attended with heavy expense," David's maternal grandmother wrote to his parents. "As far as observation and experience, or rather recollection, goes, I have been told to doubt the superior skill of Northern to Southern doctors especially in regard to Southern patients and I think at least you ought to try to get all the advice and information you can before you take that step" (qtd. in Joyner 23). The disapproval of their family notwithstanding, the Tillinghasts consulted with doctors in New York about the diagnoses of both their sons and attempted to enroll Tom in the New York Institution.

The application was rejected because of limited space, so Tom began to study with a private tutor. He then transferred to the Virginia school for the Deaf, but his parents were not satisfied; they still felt that the New York Institution was more prestigious, entirely superior to the Virginia school. In August 1853, Samuel Tillinghast was finally successful in enrolling both his sons in the New York school: David began his formal education, and Tom studied bookbinding in the school's advanced class. Even if the New York Institution, like the schools modeled after it, adopted an ideological framework based on paternalism and a disability model of deafness, Tom and David Tillinghast thrived among a community of students who shared a common language and confounded popular expectations of what so-called deaf mutes could accomplish. (10) More importantly, their education transformed their professional prospects, mitigated the significance of the so-called defect that threatened to wrest them from the socioeconomic classes of their parents and siblings, and galvanized an increasingly successful and visible cultural group.

However, the strength of the burgeoning Deaf community, with its disruptive influence across the borders of a maritime world that otherwise bifurcated itself latitudinally over political, social, and economic issues, was not greeted with universal approbation. The Deaf could celebrate a newfound identity and enhanced social and economic potential gained in residential schools, but if their families viewed the northern epicenter of the Deaf World with distrust, the percolation of Deaf culture seemed implicated in more sinister political machinations. "I fear that they will make an abolitionist of you way off so far from your home," one of David's hearing sisters wrote to him at the New York school (qtd. in Joyner 132). In fact, as Joyner notes, Sarah Ann Tillinghast's fears were not unfounded. "Deaf individuals often did not have well-developed bonds with their families," she writes. "They had not necessarily absorbed a strong proslavery southern identity at their families' hearths" (104). At school in New York, David had indeed forged associations that superseded his connection to his slaveowning family's lifestyle and philosophies. In North Carolina's socioeconomic milieu he could never become a master of a plantation, even if he supported the system of slavery that undergirded that economy. But in the North, in the shadow of his school and within a thriving community of its graduates, he could prosper economically and socially. His family pleaded for him to return home, as his brother Tom had, when he finished school. Instead, he accepted an appointment as instructor at the New York school and wrote to his family, "I think I had better stay where I can be useful and have employment" (qtd. in Joyner 135). Although David was born in the South, his education at the New York Institution realigned his cultural and political affinities. But while his family viewed his newfound identity in the Deaf World with unease, they saw the benefits of supporting his education in New York. When the Civil War bankrupted his family, David was able to send money home to them and to secure a job for Sarah Ann as head housekeeper at the New York Institution, demonstrating in material terms how a Deaf student's education in the North could profit his family in the South. And David Tillinghast's experience was not exceptional. Within the New York Institution's classrooms and dormitories, many Deaf individuals--hailing from cities and towns across the United States and even from Canada and Mexico--forged associations that would prove stronger than familial bonds. These associations, however, could benefit their families and native communities as students learned how to negotiate a maritime world and engage more profitably with the people and commodities circulating within it.


Soon after the New York Institution opened in 1818, a group of women established the New York Female Association. "[I]mpressed by the claims of the Deaf and Dumb upon the benevolence of the community," the society formed in 1824 and declared its mission: "to administer aid for the support and instruction of such indigent Deaf and Dumb persons as may be selected and placed in the Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb in the city of New York, and who, for want of adequate provision, cannot otherwise receive the benefits of instruction" (Address and Constitution 3). The women of the New York Female Association supported deaf education at least in part because they saw that it could give them real influence in the marketplace. To understand this potential influence, we must first examine the curriculum of the school, which the school's administrators, teachers, and charitable supporters shaped. It was carefully designed to resonate with the economic realities, aspirations, and anxieties of white Americans living along the eastern seaboard and even along the nation's western frontier. By the middle of the nineteenth century, every "indigent deaf-mute in the State, between the ages of twelve and twenty-five, was entitled to education at the public expense," but private funding, including donations collected by the New York Female Association, allowed the school to finally accept students from the South like David and Tom Tillinghast (History of the New York Institution 18). It was what the school taught, as much as how it was financed, that attracted the interest and then the patronage of these wealthy southern families.

From the year they entered the New York school until they graduated, students could receive specialized training in one of four skills: sewing, horticulture, carpentry, or bookbinding. These skills were not chosen at random. Students should learn, the school's administrators concurred, "such trades as from local circumstances, can be most remuneratively carried on, and which promise the best assurance of future support to the pupils" (Biographical Sketch 32). These four skills, uniquely suited to the demands of maritime economies, suggest that the school's administrators saw an important commonality among the students' local circumstances: All were connected, directly or indirectly, to the tides of maritime commerce. The school equipped Deaf students hailing from communities along the Atlantic and major North American rivers with skills that would benefit them--and their future employers and benefactors.

The New York Institution offered classes in sewing to both its male and female pupils. Women students received extensive training in dressmaking, and young men learned to make shoes and tailor clothing. (11) Vocations that depended on skill with a needle--upholstery and clothing construction, cobbling, and garment alteration--were especially viable in urban seaports, with their high populations, large numbers of well-to-do residents, and steady stream of sailors and travelers needing to be fitted out for ocean voyages. Sewing had value as a domestic skill in maritime communities, but it was central to shipboard life as well. Skilled men and women on shore might provide the shoes, clothing, and other equipment necessary for a water voyage, but on board the ship sailors sewed and patched sails, mended their clothing, and wove fishnets. All seamen, including disabled seamen, used sewing skills to support maritime life. Their work was demanding enough that weary sailors might sew as a form of recreation. Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs, an exploration of maritime life in a quiet northeastern community, describes an "elderly, gaunt-shaped great fisherman," a survivor "of an earlier and more vigorous generation," knitting a stocking from blue yarn with such expertise that he doesn't look at his work as he sits near the doorway of his home (128). "There was something delightful in the grasp of his hand," the narrator says, "warm and clean, as if it never touched anything but the comfortable woolen yarn, instead of cold sea water and slippery fish" (131). Indeed, as the charitable supporters of the New York Institution must have recognized, woolen yarn was as necessary to sustaining sea life as the fish, and deaf students on land and at sea could expect to find a market value for the sewing skills they developed at school. The ability to sew would serve students well as they competed for jobs in economies bolstered by maritime commerce, where tailored fabric swathed bodies, adorned homes, and trimmed the masts of ships.

The programs in carpentry and horticulture, like the classes in sewing, were highly innovative not just in the language in which they were taught but also in the way they adapted to maritime commerce and appealed to the unique economic condition of the antebellum American South. The carpentry classes taught skills of basic woodworking, which were of obvious value to employers in the nation's centers of shipbuilding in New York and Massachusetts but of little consequence to Charlestonians; shipbuilding in Charleston was in decline, and the eight master shipwrights left in the city by 1833 used more slave carpenters than white journeymen (Pease and Pease 44). But the school also offered special emphases on cabinet and furniture making, two trades of far greater interest to southerners. While large-scale manufacturing failed to grow in southern cities in the 1820s, mechanics in the construction trades, who were producers of consumer goods such as furniture and carriages, flourished. When white southern families saw the prospect of their uneducated and uncommunicative deaf children finding employment as skilled carpenters, many warmed to the idea of sending their children north to the New York Institution.

The school's horticulture program had a similar effect. In the 1820s, a trade in rice and cotton sustained Charleston's port. Charleston was the nation's only major port city whose chief exports were agricultural goods, and it had learned how a single innovation in the industry--such as the development of short-staple cotton and a method to process it--could transform the region's economy. Equipped with knowledge of plant cultivation and familiarity with standard and innovative agricultural methods, the New York Institution's graduates were far better positioned to benefit from the South's investment in agricultural trade than they were before they entered the school, without training in horticulture or a command of written English. In some ways, they were even better positioned than hearing laborers who did not have formal training in the latest agricultural technologies. The school's records show that more of its graduates became "Farmers working their own farms" or "Farm Hands" than entered any other occupation (History of the New York Institution 54). As late as 1890 and 1900, census records show that the largest number of employed deaf American men were still in agricultural jobs (Van Cleve and Crouch 158). 'While carpentry and horticulture were useful skills in the communities surrounding the school, they had special relevance to communities in the South--including the Southwest, where a number of Deaf students eventually settled--which depended on craftsmanship and agriculture long after those industries had been supplanted by large-scale manufacturing in the North. Because of proximity and government involvement, the school could count on a large enrollment of students from New York and surrounding states, but this specialized curriculum helped it attract students from the South, like David and Tom Tillinghast.


Perhaps the most innovative and influential of the New York Institution's courses of study were those in bookbinding, printing, and engraving, and Sarah Pogson Smith's biography demonstrates how these courses attracted interest in the New York Institution from large port cities in both the North and South. Pogson Smith, an English emigrant to Charleston, separated from her husband in 1826, the same year she published her volume of poetry, Daughters of Eve, and donated the proceeds to the New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb. (12) Pogson Smith's decision to return to writing at this fraught period of her life is somewhat surprising. She needed money, since her husband seemed determined to interpret his legal obligation to his estranged wife in the narrowest way possible. She needed a way to supplement the meager annuity he provided her, but writing was a risky way to do it. As she likely realized when she began writing in Charleston and certainly saw when she moved to New York, writing was an unreliable way to earn a profit, even under the best of circumstances.

Nor was Pogson Smith working under the best of circumstances. All American writers suffered from Americans' preference for cheap pirated copies of British and European texts in the first decades of the nineteenth century, but as a southerner Pogson Smith was at a particular disadvantage in an era when writing tended to highlight regional affiliations. "[G]iven the 'tyranny of distance' the vast American continent imposed on a scattered population with inadequate means of transportation," Robert Gross writes, it was "hardly surprising" that print could heighten sectional resentments and carve audiences "into segments according to class, region, religion, occupation, ethnicity, gender, and race" (5-6, 5, 4). For women writers, circumstances tended to be especially challenging. Joanne Dobson and Sandra A. Zagarell argue that "the circumstances of literary production and distribution," including selling texts in advance by subscription, as Pogson Smith attempted to do, "continued to make income sporadic well into the nineteenth century"; they also "favored the growth of the specialized and fairly local audiences that constituted the principal readership for women's writing" (372). Pogson Smith's identity as a southerner would not necessarily win her any readers in the North, and in Charleston readers did not necessarily show a preference for an American author. The Charleston Library Society prided itself on favoring books from London, and in 1826, 60 percent of the 5,057 items in its collection came from England (Gross 27). To compound her disadvantages, by the late 1820s most women writers were writing not about "the dialogues of public life," which had engaged women of the Revolutionary period like Mercy Otis Warren, but about "the domestic"--"motherhood and family, the education of children, morality, household management, and daily life" (Dobson and Zagarell 373, 373-74). How might a childless woman with no husband authorize herself to publish in a literary marketplace increasingly preoccupied with such domestic concerns?

Pogson Smith, though at a marked disadvantage in the literary marketplace, was sensible enough to recognize these liabilities and shrewd enough to compensate. Immediately following her separation from her husband, she determined to stay in New York City rather than return to her family and friends in the South. Her choice was surprising: She had lived in Charleston for the majority of her life and in New York for only three troubled years. But it was a canny choice for an author in the 1820s, when New York City--thanks largely to the early success of Harper Brothers Publishing, started in 1815--was becoming the capital of the print world. Its fiercest competition came from nearby cities, particularly Philadelphia and Boston. The print trades were risky ventures, to be sure, but if authors and publishers were making money anywhere, it was overwhelmingly in northern seaports. She made another careful calculation when she published a book on behalf of a certain charity, the New York Female Association, and in support of education for the deaf. "Publishing projects were most effective when particular groups in the population could be singled out for notice and engaged with materials addressed to their special interests," Gross finds (36). The title page of the volume reads, in all capital letters, "Published in aid of the New York Female Association, for the support and instruction of the indigent deaf and dumb; there being at this time Seventy Applicants who cannot be received at the institution from inadequate funds." The letters of the words "deaf and dumb," perhaps by the choice of the printer, are larger than the letters of the title, "Daughters of Eve." Pogson Smith's biography suggests no particular reason why she should be a proponent of education for the deaf. Her letters speak of no deaf relative or friend, and her other charitable projects dealt with seamen, like the seaman's floating church to which she donated the profits of another drama, The Arabians, in 1844. As a lifelong traveler, she was more connected to mariners than to the deaf, but her connection to both was likely through the marketplace: Books sold when they were marketed to a group united by a special interest, and Pogson Smith did not need a reason beyond the economic to support a cause with her writing.

But Pogson Smith's selection of a charity to support was remarkably perceptive in the connections it mined between the print trades and education for the deaf in New York. The New York Institution was training students as bookbinders, and print professionals were surely warm toward any training programs that would supply them with cheap, qualified labor. But the deaf were potential customers as well as potential employees. The deaf, even more than other students, depended upon reading as a primary form of apprehension in a formal school setting. Teachers were not necessarily fluent in American Sign Language and so relied on a huge array of books to present and explicate information. Professionals in the print trades were primed to see educators of the deaf as invaluable customers. Savvy publishers were largely responsible for an enormous increase in the consumption of schoolbooks over the first half of the nineteenth century. Gross found that during the 1820s and 1830s "[s]o many new [school] texts were introduced so frequently that parents raised a familiar complaint: all the changes were calculated to improve the profits of publishers, rather than the education of children" (43). Still, teachers and administrators continued to purchase texts, eager to show they embraced "the rapid circulation of new ideas and information" (42). Students at the deaf schools in Hartford, Philadelphia, and New York were often featured in exhibitions where they demonstrated their transformation from silent, mysterious dependents to rational and fully expressive beings, but if they were in one sense presented as a kind of commodity--a product that a subscription to Pogson Smith's book or a donation directly to a school might purchase--the students were also customers. Their transformation was effected as they consumed as many books as school administrators could be persuaded to buy. Pogson Smith, even if she wasn't an expert on Deaf culture or education, must have surmised that print was necessarily an essential medium of a deaf child's education. Writing in support of a local school for the deaf was an astute way for her to ingratiate herself with the print professionals who determined whether to publish an author's work. Daughters of Eve made it likely that not just her friends but also publishers, printers, and booksellers in America's capital of publishing saw her as a supporter of lucrative print-based education for the deaf.

Advertising her support of the New York Institution also allowed Pogson Smith to overcome the problem of sectional resentments that dogged other women writers of the era. Aware that she couldn't claim to be a "New Englander" with any credibility and familiar with the challenges plaguing all writers--male and female--in the South, Pogson Smith chose instead to follow the geographic boundaries limned by the Deaf World. As the Deaf World traversed traditional political, social, and geographic divides by uniting a group of people who were deaf or had a deaf person under their care, it also worked to mitigate strong regional loyalties. To be sure, families from the South might still be wary when their deaf children went to study in the North, but students at the school found that their shared deafness superseded the political and regional identities of their families. The use of American Sign Language, the dormitories, and the curriculum of the school--which highlighted what port cities along the nation's oceans, rivers, and canals had in common and prepared students to labor in them--forged a strong Deaf community that cut across the nation's north-south divide. Pogson Smith, born in England, raised in Charleston, and married in New York, lived a life that also traversed these divides, and when she dedicated Daughters of Eve to the support of deaf education she found a viable framework within which to market herself as a transnational writer to a remarkably diverse national audience. The list of subscribers at the back of the volume shows that she obtained subscriptions for more than three hundred copies of the volume in a range of cities: New York, Hartford, Boston, Salem, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Annapolis, Fredericksburg, and Charleston. And a record from the New York Female Association shows that Mrs. Colden, the society's first director, sold seven dollars worth of copies of Daughters of Eve in New Orleans (Address and Constitution 10). If one of the persistent problems facing women writers of the 1820s was that they tended to appeal to "fairly local audiences" (Dobson and Zagarell 372), Pogson Smith overcame this challenge by marketing herself not as a resident of New York or a product of Charleston but as a champion of the Deaf World that cut across both.

As her affiliation with the Deaf World allowed Pogson Smith to market her work to a group united by a single cause across geographic boundaries, it also allowed her to exercise her authority as unconventional mother within an alternative conception of domesticity. Deafness, like many other forms of disability, awakened a paternalistic response in observers. This gave Pogson Smith a way to command some credibility on domestic matters, even if she lacked children and a husband. The title of her volume, Daughters of Eve, immediately conjures images of domesticity. The titular "daughters" are in fact mothers, and specifically mothers of deaf children. A stanza of one poem, "The Deaf and Dumb," reads:
Mothers well know what mothers feel:
A child forever dumb!
Forever deaf! 0 but to heal,
Would they not supplicants come? (101-04)

Pogson Smith did not have a deaf child, but the widespread paternalism surrounding the deaf allows her to speak not just for mothers of deaf children but as a mother of deaf children. In doing so she makes larger suggestions about the threat disability poses to domesticity, particularly the ideal of domesticity as centered around a productive male head. Describing the deaf child, she imagines in "The Deaf and Dumb":
He saw! and felt he must not seek,
What others sought and won:
Forlorn the hope, he could not speak;
Nature's lone helpless son,
Dared not a Lover's look to glance;
To earth, his trembling fell:
Ah! had he speech to tell,
Or ear to hear,
How soon from fear,
Might love's fond suit advance.

With manly pride
May seek a Bride. (41-50, 58-59)

Pogson Smith takes for granted that the deaf boy can never marry or function as the head of a family; instead, he is doomed to become a social outcast--"Nature's lone helpless son." Of course, Pogson Smith might have been seen as a threat to domestic norms herself, a "lone helpless [daughter]" and a very plausible charitable claimant. But instead she assumes the posture of concerned parent for all deaf boys who might change their fortunes by attending the New York Institution (where, it is implied, they can learn a marketable skill and socialize with deaf girls), and in doing so casts herself as part of the charitable solution to this threat to stable domestic life rather than a single, childless woman in need of financial assistance herself.

Perhaps Pogson Smith's most useful strategy as a woman writer was to see that, even if she found ways to transcend sectional loyalties with her fidelity to the Deaf World, and even as she presented herself as a seeming parent of the deaf, concerned about their destabilizing influence on American domesticity, her payoff as a woman writer would likely come in forms beyond the strictly monetary. Dobson and Zagarell point out that only "for a fortunate few," like Hannah Anderson and Susanna Rowson, did writing "become a possible source of cash" (368). But cash was only one form of compensation, and Pogson Smith had real use for other forms. Mary Kelley found that editors of literary magazines like Thomas Willis White, who founded the Southern Literary Messenger in 1834, relied on friends to fill the pages of their magazines, and "[t]hose who wrote for White were less likely to receive money than tokens of friendship, which ranged from free issues of the magazine to china tea sets to pens, paper, and ink" (388). For Pogson Smith, who was set back but not financially ruined in the wake of her separation, "tokens of friendship," extended by some whose names also appear on the subscription lists of her published texts, were a form of compensation for writing at least as valuable as cash. White offered these tokens to professional writers, but even if Pogson Smith's friends and family members were not her editors, they were certainly her patrons, and they enabled her career with their support. Such tokens were not merely symbols of appreciation or regard for her work; they could also constitute a viable medium of exchange, vouchers extended by individuals or interested groups that could be redeemed at an opportune moment for the material and nonmaterial appurtenances of respectable social life otherwise denied to divorced, childless women. Pogson Smith had a social network that, if she could strategically maintain it in the aftermath of the separation, might ensure her comfortable subsistence within this network of exchange. Her well-off and generous friends in New York, Connecticut, Philadelphia, and New Jersey would invite her to stay with them for parts of the year. Her stepson had the authority upon his father's death to increase her annuity, and he had expressed an inclination to do so. Finally, her brother and sister-in-law in South Carolina, with whom she corresponded frequently, promised to look after her financial security" and sent the well-wishes of her old friends in Charleston (Pogson). Pogson Smith decided to seek these forms of aid not as a beggar but as a writer who could be compensated for attending to the domestic and economic challenge of disabled bodies--one problem all her friends, living in port cities or urban areas supported by maritime commerce, shared despite their geographic diversity--with charity recast as "tokens of friendship."

Because of a curriculum designed to support maritime industry in all American maritime communities, the New York Institution was unique in its broad appeal along the eastern seaboard. In addition, it had particular appeal to the individuals in Pogson Smith's life with the greatest potential to aid her materially. Her stepson, Gerrit Smith, then a businessman and aspiring politician, was attuned to the actions of the state's former governor DeWitt Clinton, including his tenure as president of the New York Institution's board of directors. Judging by the length and geographic diversity of the subscription list for Daughters of Eve, the fame of the school and the rise of interest in Deaf education generally captured the attention of her friends in states hosting the largest Deaf schools: New York, Philadelphia, and Connecticut. Not surprisingly, these are also the states named most frequently in Pogson Smith's written correspondence detailing her travels to stay with friends. And the New York Institution was particularly suited to appeal, as a charitable initiative, to her brother and sister in South Carolina, where agricultural skills like the ones taught at the school were in such demand and where cheap labor--as Deaf workers would probably be classified--was especially welcome in a foundering economy. In the years following the publication of Daughters of Eve, Pogson was enjoying "tokens of friendship" in both material and nonmaterial forms partly because of familial bonds and social relationships but also quite possibly as a reward for her carefully calculated literary efforts. Gerrit increased her annuity to twelve hundred dollars a month when his father died in 1836. They exchanged warm letters until she died, all of which he carefully preserved. For the rest of her life, she traveled frequently to stay with friends around the country who welcomed her to their social gatherings, and she spent a decade living with her widowed sister Frances in Charleston until her death in 1870.

In carefully selecting a topic, a cause, and an audience for Daughters of Eve, Pogson Smith had finessed a brilliant transformation from potential charitable claimant to charitable benefactor. The money, food, board, and social protection she enjoyed from friends and family along the eastern seaboard--actually forms of charitable aid--could be refigured as "tokens of friendship" extended as compensation for her own laudable charity work on behalf of the " indigent deaf and dumb." In a note at the front of Daughters of Eve, Pogson Smith expresses her thanks to the subscribers "for enabling her to become an humble, but gratified instrument of contributing towards the moral and religious improvement, utility and happiness, of the truly destitute, the indigent Deaf and Dumb." And she is not coy about who these subscribers are: "The contents of this little work are only calculated for the partial eyes of friendship," she says, after thanking the subscribers "with ... much personal regard" (4, 3). Pogson Smith's audience would always be disproportionally made up of friends, but so would the audiences of many women writers of the era, charged to sell advance copies of their work by subscription before risk-averse publishers would agree to print them. Pogson Smith approached this not as a disadvantage but as an opportunity to market herself--especially to her friends--as a woman committed to sustaining domestic norms by addressing the threat of disabled bodies on social and economic relationships and therefore deserving of not merely subscriptions to her literary work but also forms of compensation that transcended the monetary. Scholars are right to point out that all women authors of this period demonstrate "the extraordinary fact that they had gained access to the published word" despite the formidable barriers to their entry into the literary marketplace (Dobson and Zagarell 367). Pogson Smith's savvy professional calculations allowed her to publish her only novel, Zarah, The Believing Jew, in New York in 1837 and another drama, The Arabians, or, the Power of Christianity, in Philadelphia in 1844. But beyond these few successes in publishing, Pogson Smith's literary career is remarkable because, in addition to being published, she was able to use her writing to shore up tremendous social support from geographically diverse locations despite the fact that she lived outside domestic norms and across regional divides. She was shrewd enough to see that, if she marketed her work to the right group, her writing might allow her credibility as a domestic authority, transcend the sectional loyalties that dogged many women writers during her life, and compensate her both financially and, more importantly, in "tokens of friendship" from influential friends who could preserve her standard of living and protect her social respectability.

Pogson Smith accomplished on a small scale what literary giants like Sarah Josepha Hale would perfect over the course of a professional career--the careful melding in the public's mind of women writers with charitable initiatives that bolstered traditional domestic ideals and created capital in the nation's most prominent seaports. But if Pogson Smith's literary achievements were relatively modest, it is still notable that she used her literary work to support an educational institution that would transform life for many of the nation's deaf residents and the concerned parties who grappled with the challenge of disabled bodies. The New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb was tied from its inception to these larger literary and economic concerns of the country and the transatlantic world. One of the first and largest hubs of the Deaf World and a major locus of Deaf culture and community, the New York Institution followed the tides of the maritime world to cut across geographic and political bifurcations and equipped students to labor in both the industrializing North and the persistently agrarian and craftsmanship-based South. Supported by the efforts of women, including Pogson Smith, who positioned themselves to capitalize on the profits of charity work among the disabled, the school's skilled deaf graduates contributed value to centers of maritime commerce and strengthened the perception among white, Christian Americans (given expression in poems like those in Daughters of Eve) that theirs should he an exceptional nation of blessed bodies.

The benefactors' devotion to this ideal, however, began to work to the detriment of the school as the century wore on. Surrendering its pragmatic commitment to the growth of transatlantic maritime economies to the tide of xenophobia sweeping the nation in the last decades of the nineteenth century, the New York Institution abandoned its classes on sewing, horticulture, carpentry, and bookbinding in favor of a strict military curriculum in the 1890s. Amid growing fears that deaf students, flashing signs in a mysterious language, were becoming clannish foreigners rather than more capable Americans, the school's administrators banned the use of American Sign Language. Without a full language in which to teach students marketable skills, the instructors at the school instead devoted full days to precise military drills and fruitless exercises in English articulation.13 The suffering of deaf Americans during this "Dark Age" of deaf education was also the nation's misfortune, as it lost a large number of employees specifically trained to provide competitively priced goods and services to employers and customers in maritime economies (Blume 67).

The period now called the "Golden Age" of American Deaf education, exactly corresponding to the years when the New York Institution developed and promoted a curriculum specifically adapted to the demands of a transnational maritime economy, was a brighter age for hearing supporters of deaf education as well (Bauman, Nelson, and Rose 242). During the years from 1818 to 1880, the school carefully analyzed the economic needs of a diverse group of people in communities along America's waterways. As it trained deaf laborers to be at the point of profits reaped from the water trades, it promoted the growth of American maritime economies and the personal fortunes of potential donors who saw the material--not just spiritual--value of organized charity work among the deaf. Individuals, families, and local governments were no longer saddled with the burden of providing for uneducated and impoverished deaf children and adults. Deaf language and culture flourished, becoming the foundation for a rich and thriving Deaf World. The school, its students, and its supporters thus capitalized on flows of commerce that transported capital, ideas, cultural texts, and bodies--able and disabled--around the Atlantic world.


"An Act to Incorporate and Endow the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb." Acts of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsyslvania. Harrisburg: Gleim, 1821. 30-33.

Address and Constitution of the New York Female Association, to Aid in Giving Support and Instruction to the Indigent Deaf and Dumb. New York: Conrad, 1830.

Akerly, Samuel. Address Delivered at Washington Hall, in the City of New-York, on the 30th May, 1826. New York: Conrad, 1826.

--. Observation and Correspondence on the Nature and Cure of Deafness, and Other Diseases of the Ears. New York: Conrad, 1824.

Bauman, H-Dirksen L., Jennifer L. Nelson, and Heidi M. Rose, eds. Signing the Body Poetic: Essays on American Sign Language Literature. Berkeley: U of California P, 2006.

Beck, Theodric Romeyn. Beck on the Statistics of the Deaf and Dumb: Statistics of the Deaf and Dumb in the State of New-York, the United States, and in various Countries of Europe. New York: n.p., 1837.

Bellows, Barbara L. Benevolence among Slaveholders: Assisting the Poor in Charleston, 1670-1860. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1993.

Biographical Sketch of Harvey Prindle Peet LL.D., President of the New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb; with a History of the Institution. New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1857.

Blume, Stuart. The Artificial Ear: Cochlear Implants and the Culture of Deafness. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2009.

Buchanan, Robert M. Illusions of Equality: Deaf Americans in School and Factory, 1850-1950. Washington, DC: Gallaudet UP, 2002.

By-Laws of the Directors of the New-York Institution .for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb; with the Act of Incorporation, and Other Legislative Acts. New York: Brown, 1831.

Circular of the President and Directors of the Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb. New York: Conrad, 1818.

Dobson, Joanne, and Sandra A. Zagarell. "Women Writing in the Early Republic." Gross and Kelley 364-84.

Groce, Nora Ellen. Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language: Hereditary Deafness on Martha's Vineyard. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1985.

Gross, Robert A. "Introduction: An Extensive Republic" Gross and Kelley 1-52.

Gross, Robert A., and Mary Kelley, eds. A History of the Book in America. Vol. 2, An Extensive Republic: Print, Culture, and Society in the New Nation, 1790-1840. 5 vols. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2010.

A History of the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb. New York: New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, 1893.

Jewett, Sarah Orne. The Country of the Pointed Firs; and, The Dunnet Landing Stories. 1910. Ed. Deborah Carlin. Ontario: Broadview, 2010.

Joyner, Hannah. From Pity to Pride: Growing Up Deaf in the Old South. Washington, DC: Gallaudet UP, 2004.

Kelley, Mary. "Introduction: Genres of Print," Gross and Kelley 385-88.

Krentz, Christopher. Writing Deafness: The Hearing Line in Nineteenth-Century American Literature. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2007.

Lang, Harry G. "Genesis of a Community: The American Deaf Experience in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries." The Deaf History Reader. Ed. John Vickrey Van Cleve. Washington, DC: Gallaudet UP, 2007. 1-23.

Lee, Jessica. "Family Matters: Female Dynamics within Deaf Schools." Women and Deafness: Double Visions. Ed. Brenda Jo Brueggemann and Susan Burch. Washington, DC: Gallaudet UP, 2006. 5-20.

Padden, Carol, and Tom Humphries. Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1988.

Pease, William Henry, and Jane H. Pease. The Web of Progress: Private Values and Public Styles in Boston and Charleston, 1828-1843. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985.

Pogson, Milward. Letter to Sarah Pogson Smith. 12 Nov. 1825. MS. Gerrit Smith Papers. Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Library, Syracuse.

Pogson Smith, Sarah. ["By a Lady."] Daughters of Eve. Schenectady: Ritchie, Jr., 1826.

--. ["By a Lady"; misattributed to Maria H. Pinckney.] The Young Carolinians; or, Americans in Algiers. In Essays Religious, Moral, Dramatic and Poetical, Addressed to Youth; and Published for a Benevolent Purpose. Charleston: Archibald E. Miller, 1818. 58-118.

The Poor Laws of the State of New-York. Albany: Croswell, Van Benthuysen, and Burt, 1832.

Rowson, Susanna Haswell. Slaves in Algiers; or, A Struggle for Freedom. 1794. Ed. Jennifer Margulis and Karen Poremski. Acton: Copley, 2001.

Van Cleve, John Vickrey, and Barry A. Crouch. A Place of Their Own: Creating the Deaf Community in America. Washington, DC: Gallaudet UP, 1989.


(1.) It is now conventional in Deaf studies to distinguish between the physical and cultural dimensions of deafness. Following a formulation suggested by James Woodward in 1972 and adopted by most scholars, I use "deaf" to refer to an individual or group distinguished by an audiological condition and "Deaf" to refer to an individual or group of people who identify as a linguistic minority and share a common culture and language. For more on this distinction, see Padden and Humphries 2-5.

(2.) In 1825, 568 deaf individuals under age twenty-five lived in New York (Beck 6). About two-thirds of that number were deemed "[o]f sufficient ability to support themselves," and about a quarter were [s]upported by charity" rather than their families (7). In 1830 New York had the largest deaf population in the nation, followed closely by Pennsylvania and Virginia, but most states had several hundred deaf children and adolescents (Beck 8).

(3.) Although the majority of the 3,345 students who attended the New York Institution during its first seventy-five years were from New York, a notable minority hailed from twenty-eight states, including California, Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Illinois, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Some of the students were members of another minority group in addition to the Deaf community. Five deaf students came to the school from the West Indies, along with one each from Africa, South America, India, and Mexico (History of the New York Institution 63-64). Krentz coined the term "the hearing line" to invoke the parallels between the experiences of the Deaf and African Americans during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but these statistics show that histories of deaf Americans and Americans of color are not merely parallel but are intertwined (2). Lang finds multiple "reports of deafness" among Native Americans (3). According to the 1830 census, the country had 5,363 white deaf people, but also at least 743 black deaf people who navigated both the "hearing line" and the "color line" throughout their lives (Beck 8; Krentz 2).

(4.) Any illness accompanied by high fever, such as "scarlet fever, measles, whooping cough, mumps, yellow fever, and typhus," carried a risk of deafness in addition to the threat of death. Smallpox and meningitis were relatively common causes of deafness, particularly in children, and even a case of the "cold, or sickness, or sore throat" could result in deafness if it produced symptoms severe enough (History of the New York Institution 60; Akerly, Observation 7).

(5.) Residents of Martha's Vineyard, particularly in Tisbury and Chilmark, tended to intermarry, and many carried a recessive gene for deafness. Consequently, as Groce observes, "For over two and a half centuries the population of this island had a strikingly high incidence of hereditary deafness. In the nineteenth century, and presumably earlier, one American in every 5,728 was born deaf, but on the Vineyard the figure was one in every 155" (3). The islanders used Martha's Vineyard Sign Language, which fell into disuse by the end of the twentieth century.

(6.) New York State's poor laws of the 1820s and 1830s contained sections devoted exclusively to the "deaf and dumb," one of many indications that deaf individuals who did not have access to education or language could not hope to replicate the success of the Deaf on Martha's Vineyard. For more on this, see Poor Laws of the State of New-York.

(7.) Some might dispute this point since the first deaf school in the United States was technically opened by William Bolling near Petersburg, Virginia, in March 1815, but the school struggled to operate for a single year and closed before the fall term was under way in 1816.

(8.) Shortly after the establishment of the Philadelphia school, Seixas was forced to resign after he was accused of sexually assaulting female students. "In one respect, then," Krentz says, "we can see the new schools as colonizing institutions that sought to propagate the values of the hearing majority and created disturbing opportunities for exploitation"

(9.) Pease and Pease write: "By 1828 economic stalemate seemed the city's lot. ... And while New York, whose trade had thrived since the Erie Canal's opening in 1825, was also in the doldrums, New York's impasse was an interruption of a decade's growth, while Charleston's was a continuation of decay" (W. Bellows argues that Charleston's economic recession particularly affected the lower classes and inhibited charitable activity. "The Charleston Poor House, a familiar landmark for almost a century, no longer stood as a symbol of community aspiration," she writes. "Its grim facade ... loomed as a constant reminder of the erosion of Charleston's place in the national hierarchy" (67).

(10.) Many scholars identify the ways disabled groups were infantilized according to white, able-bodied notions of the so-called norm, but Krentz specifically talks about the disabling of deaf bodies during Pogson Smith's lifetime (1-20).

(11.) Students who were able to afford tuition were required to provide their own "clothing and bedding," but students supported by "[c]harity" received clothing and bedding made by deaf students, using the materials supplied in sewing classes (By-Laws of the Directors 7; Akerly, Address 3). This comports with Lee's finding that "most residential schools expected students to provide some of the maintenance including the maintenance of clothing and linens (8).

(12.) It was not her first publication, nor the first time she wrote in support of a charity. In Charleston she published plays, essays, and poems and donated a portion of the profits to the Ladies Benevolent Society and the Protestant Episcopal Society of Charleston. But she also wrote to support herself; her play The Young Carolinians was one of many popular Barbary captivity narratives that imagined, as Susanna Rowson wrote in Slaves in Algiers, the "rude ungoverned passion" of North Africans (64).

(13.) This education, Buchanan argues, "left them ill-prepared to assume anything more than marginal positions in agriculture, industry, and commerce" (xiv).


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Author:Eyring, Mary
Publication:Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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