(HOST)This week – in recognition of Women’s History Month – VPR is honoring Vermont women who made significant contributions to our culture and history. The women telling their stories are notable in their own right. Today, commentator Cyndy Bittinger has the story of Caroline Yale – a Charlotte native who revolutionized education for the deaf.
(BITTINGER) Most of us learned to read by using phonics, the association of letters with their appropriate speech sounds. You may not have realized that a Vermonter, Caroline Ardelia Yale, created the vowel and consonant charts for phonics during the 1880’s. She was also the first woman in America to train teachers of the deaf a method of lip-reading.
Born in 1848 on a farm in Charlotte, Caroline was the youngest of five children tutored by Mt. Holyoke College graduates who lived with her family. She later recalled that her other sources of education were the pulpit and the Scriptures. Mt. Holyoke was the only New England college open to women and Caroline asked if she could go there. Her family agreed, but after two years she was needed at home and she never finished college. Even so, she began teaching in Brandon and was soon invited to Northampton, Massachusetts to teach deaf children. And it was there that she found her life’s work.
Miss Yale plunged into the challenge of teaching deaf children to speak at the Clarke School, the first school established to apply the oral method. Her work was arduous and for one year the young teacher taught the most difficult boys – even mending their stockings until midnight each night. Fortunately, she worked with Alexander Graham Bell when he came to experiment with phonetics. In all, she started teaching there at age twenty-two and stayed sixty-three years! She grappled with issues concerning children with hearing impairment: when should they start being educated? Should they live at the school? Should they use natural language? Should they have more contact with hearing children? What should begin first: speaking, reading or writing? What should the class size be? She inspired her students and encouraged them to see their handicaps as hurdles to be leaped. Her goal was to help deaf boys and girls become part of a society with people of normal hearing.
In the book Years of Building: Memories of a Pioneer in a Special Field of Education Caroline described her innovative work in the formation and development of elementary basic English sounds. Her curriculum was adopted in every school for the deaf. She was proud that so many of her students went on to college; fulfilling one of her fondest dreams.
Running the school always involved fund raising and she was grateful when a teacher she trained started a fund to endow the school. As a young woman growing up in Burlington, Grace Goodhue had become friendly with Caroline Yale’s niece, and after attending the University of Vermont, Grace asked Miss Yale if she could train as a teacher of the deaf in Northampton. It was that training that turned Grace Goodhue Coolidge into a lifelong advocate for the deaf.
During the final months of husband Calvin Coolidge’s term as president, Mrs. Coolidge raised two million dollars to support education of the deaf– a sum she proudly presented to Caroline Yale!
Cyndy Bittinger is executive director of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation. Her new book is titled, Grace Coolidge, Sudden Star. Our music is by deaf percussionist, Evelyn Glennie.