Julia Brace In Remembrance Part IV: Julia at ASD and Beyond

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Welcome back! Here is the second picture. This is also in black and white. This is Julia Brace in the year 1825. She's seen seated here at a 45 degree angle, with her hands resting on each other. 


She is a white woman with brown hair that is parted down the middle and pulled back, with the exception of a looping braid on each side. She has on a white collar at the base of her neck that is laid over a black rope. There is a brooch pinned to the middle of her chest. She has a very serious look on her face. She also has a small earring on her right ear. Her cloak has different shades of black fabric, thick stripes that come to a V in the front of her chest. She's also wearing fingerless gloves. 


Entering ASD

On June 11 1825, Julia entered the American Ssylum for the Deaf and Dumb. She was escorted by one of the students who gave her a tour of the school. After her first run through the building, she was able to navigate her entire way through the school on her own. She measured a room by counting the steps it took to reach one end of the room to the other. In the hall, she would count the doors. 


Julia was well known for not missing a single step or even going into the wrong door. She always knew where to go. People around her were very impressed with how she memorized the school's layout so quickly. 


Julia used various ways to use letters like blocks or pins on a pin cushion to spell out different words. She used them to feel the different letters. And then she was able to make words. She could associate certain words with objects. 


The Matron

However, the school decided that teaching her anything beyond that would be too costly. And in the end, it would really not benefit her. Despite that, She was able to learn sign language, and she read it quite well. She read the language tactically and became proficient. 


There was a woman by the name of Matron Dudley. Matron Dudley supervised the children and wrote about how well Julia understood tactile at the school. Here is an excerpt of her memoir. 


(exerpt shown in English) It reads: "I told her to go upstairs and take off her boots, and put them in the closet, on a high shelf, by the side of her bandbox. Leave them there for the winter, and put on her shoes. I was curious to see if she understood all I said. She instantly laid down her work. Rose and stood a moment. I took her hands again and made the same signs. She went directly up the stairs and did as I bade her." 


So, because she could follow directions so well, Julia began to take on more responsibilities at the school. She cleaned the silverware, And she would set the tables for mealtime. And she'd make beds in the girls dormitory. 


The Golden Needle

Julia would hone her sewing skills five to six hours every day. She could make clothes, blankets, and towels. Julia often made her own clothes. But you have to remember that, in order to make your own clothes for somebody like Julia she had to work twice as hard and she took pride in what she made. She had to be careful of the measurements, to make sure that the length of the sleeves were proper, as well as the girth of the waist. 


There were many people who visited the school. And many of them were very interested in seeing Julia's progress, as she was the first DeafBlind student at the asylum. They would watch her do her sewing. But oftentimes, their interactions with her were a disruption to Julia which made her frustrated, to the point she would just leave. Some visitors who were moved with compassion donated material goods to Julia. 


However, Julia was reluctant to accept the gifts if she was unsure of the person's intentions. Julia had a good sense of righteous justice. She would not accept something that was not hers and will return items back to the rightful owner. 


Mine vs. Yours

There were a couple instances where this was evident. The first instance had to do with a particular box that  was placed at the front of the school for people to donate material goods or money to the students. If Julia had particular needs or wants people could donate and put the money in that box. The money would be used for things like room and board and other things. Julia would become very excited when they brought her the box that belonged to her. The weight of the box would tell her someone had donated for her needs. 


Now, according to Matron Dudley from her memoirs, Julia was very good about saving her money. However, one day, another student only identified as student "D" allegedly took some of Julia's money out of her box. Julie counted the money and realized the money had been missing. She was so angry she started to pound on the table. 


When Matron Dudley went up to see what was wrong, Julia explained that much of her money was missing, and suspicion fell on student "D". That student was called over and Julia was able to distinguish between what was rightfully hers and what belongs to the other student. 


Another example of her keen awareness was at mealtime. Julia would bring her tea cup into the kitchen when she was done with it. After placing her cup on the counter she resumed her work. When she went back for another cup she realized that the cup was not hers. Now it's important to remember that all of the cups in the dining room were exactly the same except Julia had such an acute sense of touch she knew which cup was hers and which one was not. 


Night or Day?

When Julia first began school at the asylum she struggled to distinguish the difference between night and day. This was because of her profound blindness. She was known to stay up all night,  then sleep during the day. 


The staff tried to work with her to get her on a normal sleep schedule. It took them as long as seven months to finally change her sleeping schedule, where she could sleep during the evening. Julia learned something really important. When the sun rose, and it was warm outside it was time to be awake. 


Julia enjoyed activities like riding a boat, carriage rides, and attending social events, accompanied by staff and other children. She did all kinds of recreational activities in the community. The students would write letters to send home with their families and would share information about Julia and how remarkable she was. 


Those letters were sent far and wide to various families until it began to catch the attention of other educators, who wanted to see how Julia was getting along and learning. 


The Visitors

Some time in the 1830's, she began to have several visitors. One in particular wrote a children's book about Julia - about the girl who was both deaf and blind. 


Now, on paper, it did not seem like Julia had learned much which I believe could be argued. Some people believe she learned good life skills. She learned how to live with a  community, she learned how to share life's joys and sorrows with the others around her. She also learned how to solve problems through either compromise or intervention. She learned these skills by the various activities that she was engaged in. 


In 1841, A man by the name of Dr. Samuel Howe, who worked at the Perkins School for the Blind, took interest in Julia. He had engaged with another DeafBlind student over the past four years. This student  was Laura Bridgeman. Dr. Howe thought it would be advantageous to bring Laura along to pay a Julia visit. Upon meeting Laura, Julia was so excited to meet someone else who was DeafBlind like her. The school thought  since Dr. Howe was well known for his work with DeafBlind children, why not have Julia go to the Perkins School for the Blind? Maybe Dr. Howe could instruct her differently than the school was. 


To Perkins We go. . . 

So, Dr. Howe helped Julia bring her things to the Perkins School for the Blind. Julia was able to learn how to read short sentences. However, she struggled with retaining new information. 


She stayed at the school for only one year, and then decided to return to her old school where her friends and familiar community were. She also preferred sign language over the laborious task of writing. 


In 1843 Julia left the Perkins School and went back to her former school where she stayed until 1860. She lived a very quiet life, helped out where she could and continued her sewing. 


Life After ASD

In 1860 Julia left school and went to live with her sister in Bloomfield Connecticut. She stayed there until 1884, when she  passed away on August 12. 


Julia Brace lived to be 77 years old. 73 of those years were lived in absolute darkness and silence. 34 years of her life was spent at the Hartford Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb. 


Later, the school changed its name to the American School for the Deaf. It is unfortunate that our institutions have forgotten about Julia. She may have lived a very quiet and simple life. But she was a very hard worker. We take this time to honor and remember Julia for paving the way for others in our community.