written by his sister while in high school
This was written by Janet Chapman, Tad’s sister, in 1940 during her senior year of high school. This was assigned by the teacher as a South Dakota History report because Tad’s story was included in “Heroes and Hero Tales of South Dakota” by Barrett Lowe and edited by N.E. Steele. This book was a South Dakota textbook published in 1931 and part of the South Dakota curriculum. This textbook is still published, still a part of South Dakota’s curriculum and available on Amazon. Find it on Amazon [click here].
Some furniture had just arrived. The wood shavings and paper in which it had been packed were piled against the back of the house when Mother and Dad were called away for a while. The two boys solemnly promised to be good, but when mother came back, she discovered that the house was on fire! The little boys had set fire to the paper and wood shavings. No very serious damage was done. Mother looked all over to Tom and Tad, but they just weren’t to be found. She finally discovered two pairs of frightened eyes peeking out from under the honeysuckle bush. One pair of eyes was very blue; the other, very brown.
The owner of these beautiful brown eyes, Tad, was stricken with spinal meningitis when he was four years old. He was critically ill in the hospital for about four months. Tad lost his hearing three days after the onset of his illness; sight, five days after the onset. During this time, he was like and invalid, not being strong enough to walk or play. He completely forgot the little speech that he knew.
This period of time seems to have been the hardest for my parents. They seldom speak of it. Tad’s illness came soon after the war [World War I] in which my father served when my folks were just getting started. They had to rush back and buy the only available house in town. It was necessary to have a permanent home so that Tad would become accustomed to his surroundings. Tad didn’t even have light perception and had no idea whether it was day or night. Therefore, he would often sleep all day and play all night. There was no method of communication whatsoever. Once my folks knew he wanted something and brought him everything of which they could think. Finally they brought him a flashlight. That was what he had wanted. He took it, turned it on, and shone it directly into his eyes. He knew it was on because he could feel the warmth of the bulb. When he couldn’t see the light, he threw it across the room with all his strength. It was a very long time before he would touch a flashlight. Mother spoke of this only once, but I have never forgotten it.
When my parents found that this brought little boy was to live, they determined to do all they could to make his life a happy one. Very little had been done for the deaf-blind except Helen Keller. There were schools for the deaf and for the blind, but none for the doubly handicapped. However, the State [of South Dakota] assumes the education of all who are capable of being educated [per the South Dakota State Constitution]. There was a little hope of education for Tad after all.
Tad gradually became stronger. Someone taught him how to make flowers out of wire, crepe paper, and paste. He also learned how to make long chains out of paper. When he was strong enough, Mother took him to the School for the Deaf in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Tad once wrote, “I cried very hard and did not want to go to school; my parents felt very sad about it.” He has a remarkable memory. My parents felt that Tad should be educated as he wouldn’t be happy without an education. He is very quick and intelligent.
In order to educate him some method of communication had to be found. Helen Keller was taught manually (spelling by hand) and only taught speech (orally) after she was ten or twelve years old. Dad and Mother maintained that if speech could be taught at all, why not omit the manual method and start by speech and lip-reading? This lip-reading would have to be done by touch, of course, because Tad had no sight. This was the beginning of a long struggle. No one believed that this would be possible. My parents could have easily given up the fight, but they aren’t that kind of people. [In 1919, when Tad became deaf-blind, Helen Keller was age 39.]
Then came the problem of finding a teacher willing to try this method of teaching. Tad had had a teacher for one or two hours every day for six months. She taught him to string beads, mold clay, and kindergarten work. Sometimes Miss Harmening would take him to the Lutheran Church. (Miss Harmening had been Tad’s nurse and my parent’s friend. She voluntarily undertook to be a sort of guardian to him and followed him wherever he went. She is the kind of friend one reads about in books.) They took some pieces of paper and scissors to church with them, so he could play with them during the church service for he was “a little boy who was restless, but a good, quiet, small child.”
Mr. Welte was superintendent of the School for the Deaf at that time. He was a very progressive man and an ardent advocate of speech and lip-reading. Mr. Welte felt that teaching Tad was worth trying. He found Miss Sophia Alcorn from Kentucky who had taught Oma Simpson, and he persuaded her to come. Tad didn’t know any words until Miss Alcorn began to instruct him. He had learned a little sign language from the other deaf students. This was much against my parents’ wishes as they didn’t want him to become dependent on this sign language. Today, we sometimes use a few signs when we are teasing him. Although he chuckles, he becomes rather provoked and indignant because we used it.
The “Tad-Oma” Method was used in instructing Tad. It gets its name from Tad and Oma Simpson. Oma Simpson was a deaf-blind pupil of Miss Alcorn’s. Oma died at an early age. [She moved from Kentucky to New York. Although I have not searched out her death certificate, I assume she died during the influenza outbreak of 1918.] Tad and Oma were the first to have ever been taught by the oral method from the start. The oral method is a method by which one is taught to understand speech by means of vibration and to speak elementary sounds, recognizing them from sandpaper letters. Tad puts his right hand on the other person’s left cheek with his thumb slightly on the [omitted word – should be “chin”]. This avoids the use of the fingers on the mouth to which people object. He uses both hands equally well, but prefers using his right hand. The first thing done is to acquaint the child with the fact that there are noises that they can feel and that mean something. They first teach the child commands, such as “Close the door.” Then the word elements: “t”, “c”, “sh”, “aw”, etc. are taught. These sounds are combined to form very simple words. Take the word “top”. “T” is a sharp, quick sound. “Aw” is formed with a flat tongue. Sometimes [while learning speech] a little inquiring finder will go into the mouth to see just what the tongue does. “P” is made by closed lips and an expulsion of air. The three sounds are gradually put together and a top is brought out and spun. They then learn to write it on both the typewriter and the braille machine. One word and its meaning is learned. There is great rejoicing after the completion of each step. This was a revolutionary method which many teachers of the deaf felt could not be done. However, Tad learned very quickly and in only a few months he had a vocabulary of 30 to 50 words.
Miss Alcorn stayed with Tad until she had speech firmly established. When she came, it was with the understanding that she wouldn’t stay any longer than it took to give him a good vocabulary so he could start in with a good teacher of speech. During the next year and a half, Tad forgot all that he had learned. Miss Alcorn returned to the school as supervising teacher, and Miss Margaret Grady took charge of him under her supervision.
Miss Grady taught him for three years, but he was sick most of one year. She was a very good teacher, yet she felt she was giving Tad useless work and passed him on to Miss Inis B. Hall. Tad had several other changes of teachers, but I don’t remember them. These changes were very hard on Tad, for he had to become used to the teachers and they to him. Almost a year was lost with each change.
I think Tad came home in the summer and at Christmas, but I really can’t remember because I was very small then. [Janet was 8 years younger than Tad, 10 years younger than Tom.] When he was home, Mother would take him walking downtown with her. He had a very cute trick of sniffing the air as he passed each store and saying aloud, “A shoe store. A bakery.” He did this until he discovered that people laughed and were amused at him. Tad’s sense of smell is very keen. He can tell when we drive past a river and sometimes when we are entering a town.
Miss Hall stayed with Tad until he finished the eighth grade. By this time he had learned also to read and write braille and to use the typewriter. He uses an ordinary typewriter, the same kind we use. Tad attended the School for the Deaf for ten years.
At this point, it was felt that for high school work it would be necessary for Tad to have the equipment that could only be found at a school for the blind. They have many things in their equipment which aren’t necessary in a school for the deaf. A school for the blind has raised maps, braille literature, and other things that aren’t needed in a school for the deaf. Therefore, Tad was transferred to the [Perkins] School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. As far as I know, “Perkins” is the best equipped and most progressive school for the blind in the world. Mother said that Americans should be very proud of it because when she was overseas among educators of the blind she discovered that they all knew of Perkins.
My parents seem to regret the fact that Tad wasn’t in a school for the blind from the start. It was hard work for him, for the deaf are physically free, but the blind are more or less tied to a chair or the immediate surroundings. [In my opinion it was also hard because Tad was not allowed to learn manual signing or fingerspelling and so could not communicate well with the other deaf students.] However, it was still harder for him to leave home and his friends. He said, “I felt very unhappy to go away from home, among strangers. Miss Harmening told me that Miss Hall would not be my teacher in Perkins. I was sorry to lose Miss Hall as an instructor because she was one of the few people who understood my ways. We had been very happy in Sioux Falls. It seemed like a second home to me. I like to see* new places, but I did not like to go so far from home that I could not come back for Christmas. I like to study and learn. I did not know what school was best for me so I sent wherever my father and mother told me to go.”
When Perkins admitted Tad, they regarded the deaf-blind as a nuisance. They wondered if the results would justify the time and money. I don’t know why, but they insisted on teaching Tad the manual alphabet. This was soon discarded as he made better progress by lip-reading. They expected to keep Tad only a year. By the end of that year they were not only anxious to keep him, but were willing to take another deaf-blind child, which they did.
This change of school was very hard for Tad at first. He enjoyed the braille library. He learned various crafts: weaving, pottery, leather craft, caning, and many others in addition to the regular high school courses. Many people think they aren’t taught arithmetic, algebra, history, civics, and other subjects which are required for the average high school student. Tad did all his algebra mentally without using paper and pencil. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Tad knew more about history than I do. The deaf-blind must be kept mentally alert to keep them from slipping back into idiocy. [aka – mental illness, depression, isolation]
Tad also learned to play the piano. I don’t know why, but he wanted to learn. Perhaps the reason for this is because I play. He wants to know how to do anything that normal people do. Being very determined, he finally insisted. One of the teachers said that if he really wanted to learn, she would give him free lessons if he would come regularly. He is not an advanced musician, but spends many hours playing. It is hard for us to understand just what he gets out of playing music that he cannot hear. When asked, he usually says, “The sound goes up my arms to my heart and sings to me more beautifully than I can sing.” He gets a great deal from the vibration. We didn’t realize this until one day when he was playing for some friends. They were gathered around the piano and were leaning on it. Tad began to make mistakes. After Mother asked the friends if they would please not touch the piano, Tad played on without a single mistake. Tad has to memorize all his pieces. Naturally, he can’t read notes as we can. He uses braille music. First he learns the notes in one measure, position of the notes, and the time value for the left hand. The same is done with the right hand. He learns a phrase, playing at first with both hands separately, and then putting them together. Tad doesn’t realize that I don’t have to memorize all of my music as he does. Sometimes he starts on the wrong notes. He will play for a short time, and then, saying nothing, he will move and begin over again in the right place. I’m afraid I take Tad too much for granted, but this never fails to make me marvel. I wonder how he knows when he makes a mistake. However, there is one hymn in which he always plays the “Amen” incorrectly. I haven’t yet convinced him that it is wrong. One just can’t say to him, “It is wrong because it doesn’t sound right. Sounds that are pleasing to the ear are usually correct, and those that aren’t pleasing to the ear are usually incorrect.”
Religion plays an important part in Tad’s life. He reads his Bible every morning. Someday he wants to own a whole Bible. [Later in life he did – it took up a whole wall of shelves] He has almost all of the books. The average person doesn’t realize that a braille book is almost three times as thick as a textbook and two times as long and wide. Tad was once asked if he understood the phase, “God is the light of the world.” He quickly answered, “It means that God is our sight and understanding.” Tad’s religious belief is based on deep-rooted convictions. He enjoys reading the “Christian Science Monitor” and other magazines.
At Perkins, Tad was taught to be very methodical. He puts everything back in its proper place as soon as he finishes using it. Obviously, this is done so he will know where to find it the next time he wants it. Sometimes he says, “Mother, where is _____.” Once in a while Mother asks him where he put it last and tells him to look for it himself. She does this to make him independent. And he certainly is independent.
Tad took a course in salesmanship. Most of the blind take this course. They learn how to write sales letters and, in a general way, how to sell their articles. One thing that I have to say against Perkins, is that the students receive the impression that they can sell anything very easily. They [the students] don’t realize the world is a large place full of struggles. They seem to think life is like a bed of roses and forget roses have thorns. The teachers at Perkins do nothing to discourage this belief. On the contrary, they almost encourage it. It is very unfair and cruel to the blind students. Articles are hard to sell. Tad made an altar cloth at Perkins. One was needed and his was chosen because it was so beautifully finished.
One Christmas in Boston Tad accompanied three blind girls on the piano. I remember seeing his picture in the paper. The three girls sang in a trio.
Tad took high school in five years in order to get more advanced weaving and caning. He was the first deaf-blind person to graduate from the regular high school course. Helen Keller did not, as she was privately taught. She took the high school work, but Tad graduated with the class and took his classwork right along with them. His class was very disappointed when they learned he was staying for another year and would not graduate with them. [I question this story but my research has not gotten to those years of his life.]
A deaf-blind department had been started at Perkins. This came about through Tad. They became so enthusiastic about Tad’s development that arrangements were made for the opening of this new department. There are now [in 1940] about twenty deaf-blind students. A blind school in New York City has also started the same thing. [Perkins now has both day students and residential deaf-blind students and there are many more educational opportunities for those who are deaf and blind.]
The association of other deaf-blind children was very beneficial to Tad. He enjoyed being with people who are also double handicapped. Little Leonard Dowdy was the second deaf-blind child taken by Perkins. Tad love lively Leonard very much. Tad is very gentle with everyone and has a very sweet disposition which is very unusual with the deaf-blind. He has great affection for all children and animals. One day Miss Harmening was trying to make Leonard to do something. When he wouldn’t, she spanked him. Tad didn’t like this a bit, but one day he was trying to make Leonard sit still. Leonard wouldn’t, so Tad decided he would spank him also. Miss Harmening teased Tad about this for a long time.
After Tad graduated, he said to Mother, “I am not your little boy anymore. I am a young man.” It is rather touching to see all the blind when they become young men and want to feel independent. When Tad said he was a young man he asked what time he would have to go to bed. Mother told him he could go to bed whenever he wished, that there were no rules now like there were in school. One night he took her at her word. It grew late and everybody said “Goodnight, Tad” and hinted quite plainly that it was time to go to bed. He just told everyone goodnight and went on with his work. Mother said that the hardest thing she has ever had to do in all her life was to turn off the lights and go to bed, leaving him working in the dark. It gave me a very queer feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Dad and Mother had been worrying about what was to become of Tad when he came home from Perkins. He would now be lacking the former opportunity to visit places of historic interest. Tad also saw many things at the World’s Fair that we are not allowed to touch. He has gone through many different kinds of factories and mills. Once, when he was visiting a steel mill, he said he heard music. There wasn’t any music and no one could imagine what made him think so. They finally came to the conclusion that the different vibrations from the machines made him think music was being played.
Tad has been used in experimental work. Dr. Gault, a professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, wanted to make some experiments with a deaf-blind boy. He wrote to an educator in New York asking them to recommend an outstanding deaf-blind person. Tad was recommended. He tested Tad’s quickness and accuracy picking out different vibrations. Dr. Gault said Tad could have been a very good musician if he had not lost his hearing. I think the basis of the assumption [sic] was that Tad’s ability to distinguish vibrations was so keen. If he was able to do this so well by sense of touch, he would have been able to do it much better by a sense of sound. He kept Tad there for several days, but they couldn’t work very well because of extreme heat. His report was too scientific for the ordinary layman to understand. Therefore, it was not very satisfactory.
Tad has given many demonstrations showing that it is possible to teach double handicapped people. He has given demonstrations in New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee. Tad gives a short speech which he has written himself without the aid of any other person. When he and Mother give the demonstrations, Mother usually explains how he understands people when they talk. She also shows how he can understand by vibration alone. This is done by placing his hand on the back of your neck, near the top of your head, and several other places. Sometimes she shows how he is able to understand by muscle movement, which is really whispering. Both of these, especially the former, are very difficult. It requires too much of a mental strain and makes Tad quite nervous after a little while. These demonstrations are very interesting and hold the attention of all who hear them. Mother and Tad gave a demonstration for our high school and the superintendent said he had never seen the students give their attention to the speaker so completely. I, myself, have never seen them be so quiet.
Tad and my parents were very glad when the opportunity was opened to him to go to Africa. Mr. Blaxall was a delegate from the Union of South Africa to the World Conference for the Teachers of the Blind in New York City about six years ago. Mr. Blaxall was to go with this group of educators to Philadelphia and then up to Perkins Institution [sic]. He met Tad and thought it was a hoax. To satisfy himself, he lived with Tad for two weeks. He was convinced and a warm friendship developed from this association. At the time of Tad’s graduation, Mr. Blaxall wrote and wanted to know if my folks were willing to send Tad to South Africa on a lecture tour to show how worthwhile it was to work with the blind and what they could do. Tad’s expenses were paid by the Association for the Blind in South Africa. This opportunity made Tad very happy because the greatest service he would wish for is to help his own kind. Three days after Tad’s graduation, Tad, Mother, and Miss Hall [from Perkins Institute] sailed for South Africa.
Tad says that the most interesting thing he saw in South Africa was the Kimberley diamond mine. He felt several diamonds, one of which was worth $35,000 [in 1938 dollars]. He wanted to go down into the mine itself, but was told it was too dangerous. In the July 1939 issue of the Volta Review there is an article called “My Visit to the Diamond Mine” by Tad. An editor’s note says, “This article was printed from Tad’s own typewritten copy, with almost no correction. It required far less editing than the average manuscript. There are no errors of diction and not one typewriting mistake.”
People were lovely to Tad and gave him many gifts. He carefully brought all of them home – even two huge ostrich eggs. [donated to Perkins Institute later]. Tad has a museum of his own where he puts all his things of this sort. He has quite a valuable collection.
I don’t know just exactly all of the things Tad saw and did. Tad enjoyed the trip very much. He is a very good sailor. He, of course, gave many lectures and demonstrations for both white and black people. Sometimes there were two or three interpreters standing beside him. Mother took many pictures, but I remember two pictures especially. One shows Tad holding a little native child, and the other shows him holding a snake. He took great glee in doing both. For some reason, his sense of humor developed wonderfully during this African trip.
Tad’s visit to Africa had a decided effect. Interest in the training of the deaf-blind increased very much and now several persons have been sent here to learn how to train teachers of the deaf-blind.
Tad and mother arrived home around Thanksgiving. Tad was very glad to be home because it was the first time he had been home for about three years. He soon left to demonstrate with Dr. Pittenger, a former head of a school for the blind. The demonstrated mostly in Cincinnati.
Since that time, Tad has been with the family almost continuously. He is never idle. Sometimes things become quite dull for him, but his weaving, practicing [the piano], etc. take up most of his time. He is also very busy writing over his diary of his trip to South Africa. It will be very interesting when it is completed.
It is sometimes hard to remember that Tad is afflicted because he grasps things so quickly and easily. He can often tell who a person is by talking with them or even shaking hands with them. On one of his visits in Appleton, he went to the Indian Reservation and met an Indian of the Menominee tribe. Tad said that shaking hands with this Indian was like shaking hands with a shy child. Once when traveling, Tad asked the name of the town where they were stopping. Dad said it was Montevideo. Tad immediately said, “Oh, no. You are mistaken. Montevideo is in South America.” Mr. Bob Neller explained all about ventriloquism to Tad. My parents think Tad understood this because it is difficult to comprehend. They were mistaken because Tad wrote a letter to Miss Harmening telling her all about it. He was once introduced to Dr. Oosterhous, principal of one of the schools in Appleton. We were afraid we would have to repeat the name many times, but Tad immediately said, “How do you do, Dr. Oosterhous.” He doesn’t always do this well, but does most of the time. When Tad met Mrs. Reeve, she began talking very fast. Grandmother didn’t think he had understood her and asked him what she said. He repeated everything almost word for word from beginning to end.
Instead of being completely isolated, Tad is now able to carry on an intelligent conversation with all people easily. [The advantage of Tadoma is that knowledge of signing or fingerspelling is not needed – only the willingness to have your face touched.] He takes an active interest in current affairs and is as nearly normal as possible. Sometimes when I get discouraged with my zoology or French, I remember how Tad overcame his great difficulties, and try harder. The struggle my parents made for Tad’s education has not been in vain.
*You will find that almost all blind people use the word “see.” They see with their fingers while we see with our eyes.
Written by Janet Chapman, edited by Jane Beavis 9/5/14. All rights reserved.