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Thank God he gave the unto us
To free us from our woe
And put the key into thy hand
One hundred years ago
aura Catherine Redden was born in 1839 in Somerset County, Maryland. Her family soon moved to Missouri, where Laura contracted Meningitis at the age of 11 and became deaf from the medicine used to treat her illness. Laura’s family decided to send her to the Missouri School for the Deaf so she could continue her education, as she could no longer attend the school she had been going to. After she graduated, she was offered a teaching position at the school but declined. Instead, she started publishing poems and was offered a position as editor for a St. Louis religious paper named the Presbyterian. She was only 19. Soon, she was writing for the St. Louis Republican as well. It was at the Republican that she started using her pen name, Howard Glyndon. It was no secret that this name was fake, as her real name frequently appeared underneath in small letters. At that time, many women wrote under male pseudonyms as women were expected to marry, raise a family, and dedicate their lives to the home. Using a pen name meant that they could be taken seriously in the literary world. Laura used this pen name for the rest of her writing career.
When the American Civil War broke out in 1860, Laura was sent by the St. Louis Republican to cover the war in Washington DC. She was strongly pro-Union, and wrote lots of patriotic poetry that was published in the papers in addition to her more serious articles. During this time, she interviewed President Lincoln and became personal friends of both Lincoln and General Grant, among other influential people in Washington. Laura also toured the battlefields with General Grant, a place in which women usually weren’t allowed. Her first book of poems, Idylls of Battle, was published during this time as well as the book Notable Men in The House of Representatives.
In 1865, Laura traveled to Europe to study languages. She continued to write stories about France and Italy for the Republican, and also started writing for the New York Times, and the New York Sun, as well as several well know magazines such as Harpers. She also collected information for the US Government on the silkworm and orange trades in Europe. Laura met Michael Brennan, an artist, in Italy. They quickly fell in love and became engaged, but they were never to be married. Michael died of an aneurysm shortly after Laura returned to New York.
Upon her return, Laura enrolled herself in the Clark Institution to study speech and lip reading. After a 2 year course, she then studied under Alexander Graham Bell for a year. She gained the ability to speak, but she never really learned how to lip read consistently. Although the process had only been partially successful for her, Laura felt very strongly that lip reading and speech were very important, and used her ability as a writer to advocate the teaching of speech and lip reading in all schools for the Deaf. Even though Laura placed great importance on Oralism, she also clearly believed in the benefits of Sign Language, as shown in her poem signed at the dedication of a statue of Gallaudet in 1889 on the Gallaudet University campus.
After a tour of Cuba, New Orleans, and the American West, Laura returned to New York and married Edward Searing, a prominent attorney, in 1876. They had one daughter named Elsa in 1880. Unfortunately, Laura’s marriage and her health both suffered in New York. She and Elsa moved to Santa Cruz, California, without Edward, and several years afterward the two divorced. Elsa soon grew up and got married herself, to another lawyer named John McGinn. Laura decided to live with her daughter’s family, first in Fairbanks, Alaska, then in San Mateo, California. Laura loved being near her two grandchildren, John Jr. and Laura, and wrote a lot of poetry about Santa Cruz and California in general during these years. She died in Elsa’s house in 1923 and is buried in Colima, California.
Laura C. Redden Searing was a woman full of courage. She didn’t let the stereotypes of the age dictate what she could and couldn’t accomplish, both as a woman and as a Deaf woman. She has left a lasting contribution to the world with her beautiful poetry, her insightful articles, and the knowledge that anyone can achieve greatness by ignoring negative expectations.