I FIRST ENCOUNTERED Laura Redden through my work as a historian of women when the National Women’s History Project in California offered, and I purchased, a book written by Mabs Holcomb and Sharon Wood entitled Deaf Women: A Parade Through the Decades (San Diego: DawnSignPress, 1989). An endnote on page III told of a Minnesota town, Glyndon, allegedly named for a writer whose pen name was Howard Glyndon. As project director of the Minnesota Women’s History Month committee, I began to verify the reference to use this site for a future public history event, or for potential inclusion in one of our biography curriculums honoring Minnesota’s herstory of women. Eventually, I found Glyndon on a map, in northwestern Minnesota’s Red River Valley, 260 miles from St. Paul, where we were based.
Next, I went hunting for a library reference. The documentation was clear. In 1872 a Civil War veteran named Luman Tenney founded and named a railroad expansion town “for writer Howard Glyndon.” But Howard was not a he, Howard was a she, named Laura C. Redden, or so veteran newsman Roy Johnson announced in 1958 in a Sunday column in the Fargo Forum. Johnson retold the 1872 tale and added the “remarkable fact of Laura Redden’s deafness,” new information gleaned from his recent discovery of a book written by Redden’s daughter Elsa. Next Johnson offered a poetic excerpt, a verse from a poem titled “Elsa,” which began, “My baby, My baby, there’s so much you must teach me;” and continued with more lines about dimples and cute smiles. Perhaps Johnson meant it as tribute to Elsa or, in what might be deemed typical male fashion of the times, a traditional example of themed verse authored by a woman poet. The poem certainly is not lyrical enough to send anyone searching anthologies to see other examples of the skill of a poet/mommy/town-namesake. However, Glyndon, Minnesota, is the only town in the United States named for a woman writer during her lifetime, and one visionary teacher in Glyndon, Lucia Schroeder, began an annual pageant with her ﬁfth graders depicting this historic event.
Thus another newspaper columnist met deadline and the story languished until Mabs and Sharon and I. I later learned from the family that Roy Johnson sent neither a thank-you note nor a copy of his column back to Elsa Mc Ginn, who had helpfully sent him a copy of her 1921 tribute to Howard Glyndon, her mother—Laura Redden Searing. That book, Echoes of Other Days, was the source of “Elsa.” So, the family itself, never knew of Luman Tenney’s honor of the pen of Howard Glyndon. However, Roy Johnson did pass Echoes of Other Days along to the local library, where in 1992 I acquired it through interlibrary loan.
Thus I began my quest for additional information on Laura Redden. The journey has taken me through a myriad of incredible doors into the world of nineteenth-century Deaf culture and history. Within this deaf world lie a vast number of historic places, movements, and people that must be woven, when possible, into American and world histories, for the deaf experience complements and illuminates history as written by hearing people. For example, we can trace the growth of deaf education in the United States and better understand the still-ongoing communication controversies by following one ﬁercely independent deaf woman’s life journey. Throughout her eighty-four years, Laura Redden traveled extensively at home and abroad, using her gifted pen to earn her way as an observant journalist, insightful poet, and accomplished translator during a time when the majority of women were restricted by society into a domestic economy. Laura Redden’s nontraditional life easily compares to that of Susan B. Anthony, Margaret Fuller, and Jane Grey Swisshelm and without their detractors!
The remarkable network among the state schools for the deaf has been a wonder and a privilege to explore. My husband and I have visited and done research at eleven state-run schools since the day in 1994 when I ﬁrst drove cross-country to Gallaudet University in search of primary materials on Redden. Two of our daughters had taken ASL in high school and had made several deaf friends, but I knew no sign and, in fact, had had my hands slapped hard by my mother over my lifetime as she admonished gestures with “Don’t point! It’s not polite.” My four days in the Gallaudet Archives and Michael J. Olson’s generous use of pencil and paper to aid me as I encountered a world where “the mind hears” (Harlan Lane) and “where the ear of the soul is always awake” (Laura Redden) changed my life’s work.
I now believe the spirit of Laura Redden waited, impatiently, for someone like me, with a passion for the history of women’s stories, who would persist in a search too complex to detail here. Eventually, I found Laura’s California family (Smith’s no less, with unlisted telephone) and a wealth of materials to excite scholars for, I hope, decades to come.
Just as Laura’s daughter Elsa detailed in the introduction to her 1921 Echoes of Other Days poetry collection, there are letters, journals, diaries, scrapbooks, photos, and more, including her riding saddle, which is now in the Missouri School for the Deaf Museum and has been restored thanks to a Laurent Clerc Cultural Fund Grant. Over the past four years, these primary papers have been appraised, photocopied when possible, and painstakingly transcribed, studied, and researched. Thanks to the generosity of Laura’s family, all materials have been, with my recommendation, entrusted to the Women and Journalism section of the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the University of Missouri-Columbia, a short distance from Laura’s beloved alma mater in Fulton, the Missouri School for the Deaf.
The ﬁrst complete poem of Laura’s I read touched my soul and brought tears to my eyes. I found “Which Is Best?” quoted in an 1884 Harper’s Magazine article that asked, “Can the Deaf Write Poetry?” By that point in time, Laura had been publishing poems for over 25 years; yet today, some 120 years later, many of us who are hearing are probably still unable to answer such a question. It is my hope that this volume will dispel any doubts as to the answer.
Among Laura’s wealth of letters between her peers in the nineteenth-century literary world were six from Celia Thaxter, the Isle of Shoals bard and artist. Jane Vallier, my coeditor and now cherished friend, has spent much of her career restoring Celia Thaxter to the esteemed reputation she now holds in the genre. Laura Catherine Redden Searing, also known as Howard Glyndon, stands ready to take her own place as one of our most prominent foremothers in nineteenth-century literature and journalism. I am so fortunate to have Jane Vallier’s expertise and guidance as together we relaunch Howard Glyndon to today’s astute audiences.
JUDY YAEGER JONES
A multitude of high-waving ﬂying ﬁngers for giving me the initial clue, to Mabs Holcomb and Sharon Wood, of Deaf Women United;
Special accolades to Marie Vestica (of San Mateo, California) and Violet Johnson Sollie (of Glyndon, Minnesota’s Johnson family) who each presented Keys;
To a house discovered and photographed by Dr. Marna Skaar, former Minnesota friend, now of Hillsborough, California; and Andrew Kislik, Esquire, her husband;
Which led me to Thomas Mc Ginn Smith, Laura Redden Searing’s great-grandson and his family: No better character can be presented by a man than that respect and tribute he pays to Treasures In the Mind’s Eye of the women who nurtured his life. May his generous gifts now provide an illuminated reality of respect richly deserved by each and every Laura in past and future Smith generations;
And, to Leila Foster Smith whose gracious hospitality, support, and friendship made this long task so pleasant and fun, especially at Elvis night!
My deepest appreciation goes to Marthada and Richard Reed—historians, educators, Gallaudet alumni, tireless workers on behalf of Deaf history, and former staff at the Missouri School for the Deaf—whose support, pride in, interest, generous introductions to numerous others within the Deaf world, continued friendship, warm southern hospitality, and willingness to make sure I see what is there, cannot be acknowledged more emphatically: Without your generosity in opening doors, this would not be possible!
And to Peter Ripley, former MSD superintendent, and the entire MSD staff for opening my eyes to the rich and diverse tapestry of deaf culture.
To researchers and friends
—Marianne Neal in Port Byron, New York, who sets the standard as the best researcher I’ve ever found. Whether it is in Brooklyn or Dublin, Ireland, she will ﬁnd it!
—Meg Galante-De Angelis, Sara Bartlett, and my other sisters in the Society for Women and the Civil War, my warmest Huzzah! Huzzah!
—Nancy Goodman of Stillwater, Minnesota, a historian, editor, navigator of perhaps thirty round-trip drives to Glyndon over the years, garden designer, and polish-sausage eating friend who loves maps and obscure references: Here’s to you!
—Anne Klejment, Ph.D., longtime WHOM friend and willing reader; Sally Roesch Wagner, Ph.D., of Fayetteville, New York, and Aberdeen, South Dakota, always faithful and fearless; and Maurine Beasley, Ph.D., University of Maryland, College Park, who all personify the best that collegiality and scholarship with feminist ethics can provide.
—Jeanne Barker-Nunn, Ph.D., above-and-beyond;
—William E. Parrish, Ph.D., who honored me with his support, as did Toni McNaron, Ph.D., in the long ago beginning;
—Susan Burch, Ph.D., at Gallaudet University, my auxiliary parachute;
—Harry Lang, Ph.D., in Rochester, New York, who challenged and cajoled me.
To my friends in Life, Judee Ryan Krogstad and Karen Engstrand Celepli;
To the indominitable Margaret J. Holden, Esther Lerman, and my MWHM Board;
And, ﬁnally, to my patient, supportive, friend and husband, Robert L. “Bob” Jones, who traveled these women’s lives alongside me and warmed my tired hands.