Julia Brace In Remembrance Part I: Early Life

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Hello everyone. My name is Jesse Stanley. My pronouns are he, his and him. I am a white man with brown hair that is pulled back wearing a dark long sleeved button down shirt. I am DeafBlind and reside in Connecticut. I'm currently the president of the DeafBlind Support Access Network, commonly known as DBSAN. 

Thank you for joining us today. One of DBSAN's end goals is to continue to expose people to DeafBlind culture. We also want to continue educating people and have them become more aware of DeafBlind people their needs, support, and access. We want people to become more aware about DeafBlind people and recognize that each person is unique and has their own needs. 

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Who is Julia Brace?

Now, when many people see the word DeafBlind. The first person that comes to mind, of course, is Helen Keller. Helen Keller is definitely the most famous DeafBlind person in our community. However, Helen Keller was not the first DeafBlind person. The first documented DeafBlind person lived long before Helen Keller was on the scene. 

Her name is Julia Brace. We don't know Julia Brace’s sign name.  So for today, we will simply be abbreviating it JB. Julia was the first DeafBlind individual to attend a school. So today we will highlight her story. 

Early Life

(Slide: Part I, Julia’s Early Life.)

Julia Brace was born on June 13, 1807. She was born here in the US. In the state of Connecticut. In a very small town called Newington. She was born with the ability to hear and the ability to see. Her family was very poor. 

Her father was a shoemaker. Her mother likely stayed home to care for the family. At the age of five Julia attended the school where she learned to read and write.  She also learned how to sew. Julia spent time helping her mother take care of Julia's siblings. 

Now that's a lot of responsibility for a young girl who was only five at the time. You have to remember that back in those days, children had a lot more responsibility and one of those responsibilities was caring for the family. 

The Sickness

At the age of five and a half Julia became sick with typhus fever. In the week that she was sick, her vision and her hearing began to deteriorate very quickly, until she could not hear anything. or see anything. Julia did not understand why everything was so silent and so dark. She did have the ability to speak. However, her family would respond. and Julia didn't understand what they said. 

Julia was sick for quite some time. She was bedridden for much of it. And Julia would continue to ask her parents things like. "Mother, why doesn't the lamp ever get lit anymore?" She would wait and wait for an answer, but never received it. So in Julia's mind, it was like night never ended. She would continually ask questions with what seemed like no response she tried to connect with her family as best that she could. 

She would tell her family her wants, needs, and frustrations, however. She could never hear her family's responses. So she just stopped speaking. It took Julia a long time to recover. Her family developed a very basic way of communicating with her using gestures to communicate wants, needs and emotions. 

When she was finally well, Julia would try to navigate her way around the house and her father's shop. She would do this first through touch. However, she found out that her sense of smell was her best map. When she would go into a particular room, and smell it, she knew exactly where she was. 

She continued to help with the housework using her sense of smell as a guide. She also tried to take care of her siblings, and she tried to discipline her younger siblings and care for them, but sometimes her approach was not always appropriate. Despite her condition she continued to support the family. 

Going to School

Some people in town heard what happened to Julia and felt sympathy for this young DeafBlind girl in their midst. They took a collection to send her to school. 

At school, she would also learn skills like sewing and knitting. Which were very common skills for girls in that day. Julia wanted to read things like newspapers and magazines, like other children, But was frustrated when she could not, because she simply couldn't see the paper. 

Although Julia had very basic communication skills, she never really learned language. She could only communicate her very basic needs. She stayed at that school until she was 17 years old. 

At that time, her father had passed away in 1825 and there was no one financially available to support her education. Mother had to care for her other children. So some people took up another collection and sent Julia to another school. 

This school was called The Hartford Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb. On June 11th In 1825 Julia was admitted to the school  merely two days before her 18th birthday. 

I'm going to talk about Julia's experience at the Hartford Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb. But before I do that, I'm going to turn it over to Darlene Borsotti. Darlene currently works at the very same school that Julia went to, but now the school has a different name. It's known as ASD - the American School for the Deaf. She is going to talk about the history of the school for the Deaf and explain how it came to be in 1817. Through this, you will get a picture of what life was like back then.