Lucy Read


Miss Lucy Read


Although Deaf, Dumb and Blind From Early Childhood, Miss Lucy Read of Danby Knits, Sews, Pieces Bed Quilts and Does Many Other Seemingly Impossible Things.

Our portrait this week is that of a most remarkable woman—Miss Lucy Read of this village. Although deprived of the senses of seeing, hearing and speaking since a small child, she has performed work of various kinds all her lifetime that seems impossible for one in her condition to accomplish unaided, and it is impossible to make many people believe that she actually does the things accredited to her till they see her at work.

When five years of age an attack of scarlet fever left Lucy—as she is still familiarly called—totally deaf, and inflammation in her eyes, as a result of the fever, soon impaired her eyesight, and she became totally blind at the age of eleven. Being so young when she lost her hearing, she soon lost the power of articulation and became unable to form sounds into intelligible words. It is possible, too, that the disease which deprived her of her hearing and eye-sight also impaired the organs of speech; but be that as it may, she has been unable to utter an intelligible word nearly all her life.

Miss Read was born October 25, 1827, and will therefore be seventy-six years old this coming October. When fourteen years of age she was taken to Boston for treatment and special instruction, but after being there about six months her health became so impaired—principally through homesickness, it is thought—and the doctors fearing consumption would result, she was brought back to her home here, and no further attempt was made to give her special instruction. At the same institution in Boston where Lucy was taken, and at the same time, the since famous deaf, dumb and blind scholar, Laura Bridgeman, was also an inmate. Dr. Howe, who had charge of the institution at that time, expressed his regret that Lucy was obliged to return to her home, and said her intellect was far superior to that of Miss Bridgeman at that time.

Lucy’s sister, Mrs. Eunice Fish of this village, remained with her nine weeks in Boston, but was then compelled to return to her home and leave the afflicted girl entirely to the care of strangers. Lucy’s illness developed soon after the return of her sister, and this leads her friends to believe it was largely homesickness that caused the decline of her health.

Without much of any special instruction, Lucy acquired the art of sewing wards she used the self-threading species of needles that came into use, but of late years her sister has threaded her needle for her much of the time, on account of her wastefulness of the thread if left to do it herself. Mrs. Fish uses a sewing machine for doing much of her own sewing, and although Lucy has never undertaken to operate it herself, she appreciates its utility, likes to feel the goods passing through with rapidity under the needle, and now prefers to have all the sewing done upon it that can properly be done, even to the making of her aprons, which task she formerly always performed herself.

Green is Miss Read’s favorite color, but prefers all bright colors to the darker and duller ones, and is very fond of flowers. She is also as fond of pictures as if she could see them, and delights in possessing and examining jewelry with her fingers. She loves children, and the little ones seen to be as fond of her as she of them. She also forms a great attachment for those of her neighbors whom she comes in contract with frequently, and delights in “going visiting.” Some time ago one of her nearest neighbors, Mr. John Minett, and family removed from town, but she could not understand that they had gone away till she went to the house, tried the door and found it locked.

Another thing that Lucy is particularly pleased to possess is the bone from a fish’s head, commonly called a “lucky bone.” These she treasures up and zealously guards against their loss, and shows them only to her most trusted friends. She is also very careful of her money, consisting of pieces of silver of different denominations, pennies and nickles; and she has the different pieces so firmly fixed in her memory that it is impossible to substitute another piece of the same denomination as hers without detection.

Some years ago a gentleman gave Lucy some five hundred sample buttons—no two alike—and she took great delight for a long time in feeling them over with her fingers for hours at a time. She became to know them so well that it was impossible to remove a single button without her detection. A gentleman who was calling at the house some years ago related an interesting incident in connection with these buttons while in conversation with the writer a few days ago. It seems that Lucy brought out her buttons—which she had on several long strings—and showed them to the visitor. The gentleman removed a button well down on one of the strings and handed them all back to the owner after a little time. Lucy took up one string after another and went over them carefully, and after she had gone over the string from which the button had been removed, she stopped a bit as if wrapped in thought; then she went over the buttons again, and after reaching the end of the string, hit the gentleman a quick but slight blow. The caller did nothing, but waited for further developments. She repeated the blow more spitefully, and the gentleman handed her the missing button. Thereupon she removed the buttons from the top of the string and, apparently, placed it in its original position. After that, our informant says, she trusted him implicitly and was free to show him her money; but if he had kept the button, it is very likely she would never again have trusted him with any of her trinkets and valuables.

Lucy has a special faculty of finding lost articles, and whenever anything about the house cannot be found, she is made to know what it is by the proper sign—a separate sign being employed for the common things in use about the house—and she generally finds it very readily. In going about the house and feeling her way with her hands she never knocks over and breaks anything, never burns herself around the stove or lamps, and can be trusted to fully look out for herself in that respect.

The picture which we show of Miss Read is the only one that has been made of her since she was nineteen years old, a very good one of the daguerreotype species having been taken at that time. The photograph from which our picture was made—and it is an excellent reproduction—was taken by Photographer Hurd, who has had for some weeks a tent studio on the corner opposite the Fish home, where Lucy resides. By feeling of the pictures, frames, etc., she seemed to understand that she was going to have her picture taken, but would not hold her head at any greater elevation than the picture shows, she always having been somewhat sensitive about people seeing her sightless eyes. The photograph tent was a new thing to her, and she made her sister understand that she thought it a very queer house.

Another form of fancy work which Miss Read does with much deftness and skill is the covering of cigar boxes and the like with plush, lining them handsomely and finishing them in a manner that rivals those that are made by the special manufacturers in that line of goods for the regular trade. She pastes or glues the plush upon the box very expertly and even makes a neat fastening attachment. Sometimes she finishes the boxes with a glass set in the top, cutting the glass herself to the proper size with a glazier’s tool. She is also very ingenious in the repairing of broken articles of household use, and everything is done as neatly as any one with mechanical training could do it. Lucy has also braided many hair fishing lines of the finest quality and has taken delight in performing many difficult tasks of this nature that would sorely tax the patience of an ordinary person. The order, neatness and regularity of the work she performs is unsurpassed.

Mrs. Fish has had the care of her afflicted sister for many years, and it has been indeed a most arduous labor of love. Previous to the death of her mother and the scattering of the other brothers and sister, she lived most of the time on the home farm, in the vicinity of Danby Four Corners. She is the daughter of Timothy Read, who came to Danby from New Hampshire in 1826, and who died from heart disease in 1849, aged 52 years. Her mother lived to be 86 years old, and was of a remarkably frugal and industrious nature. Besides her sister Eunice, with whom she now resides, she has two brothers, both living—Edward J., post-master and merchant of this village, and Charles T., who is a farmer and resides in Manchester.

Miss Read has failed considerably in the past year or two, but from her physical appearance few would suppose that her age is as great as it is. She does not care to knit stockings and other articles now, and is disposed to let others make some of her wearing apparel—which she would not consent to have them do in her younger days.