Harriet Bedell vs. Thomas Gallaudet

Since they were both teachers, among other things, Harriet Bedell vs. Thomas Gallaudet can mean only one thing: Educational Armageddon! The winner of this penultimate (we just love saying that word) match-up of the Saintly Sixteen will square off against Harriet Beecher Stowe in the next round.

Yesterday Phillips Brooks defeated Catherine of Siena by a nose (head?) as preacher trumped mystic 53% to 47%. (okay, it wasn't that close but when else besides, perhaps, John the Baptist's feast day can we make references to disembodied skulls). He'll go on to face Julia Chester Emery in the Elate Eight.

With the conclusion of today's showdown the Round of the Elate Eight is nearly set. On Monday Thomas Merton takes on Charles Wesley for a crack at Anna Cooper. At this point, the others moving on are Basil the Great, Julia Chester Emery, Lydia, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Phillips Brooks, and Anna Cooper.

As we head into the weekend and yet another bout with LMW (Lent Madness Withdrawal) we leave you with a challenge. Help us get to 10,000 likes on Facebook before the 2014 Golden Halo is awarded. We're over 9,500 at this point so it's an attainable goal if we all pull together and compel people to like us during coffee hour, at the Peace, in the church parking lot, talking to strangers at IHOP, whatever. The Supreme Executive Committee likes big, fat round numbers.


Photo courtesy of the State Archives of Florida

Harriet Bedell

Whether she was riding horseback in Oklahoma, mushing on dog sleds to remote villages in Alaska or poling through canals in the Florida Everglades (in her high-topped, snake-resistant boots), Deaconess Harriet Bedell, though tiny in stature, lived a super-sized life for God.

The Deaconess, as she is still known among Episcopalians in southwest Florida, never wavered in her faith or in her complete devotion to native people.

About her first post, among the Cheyenne people at the Whirlwind Mission in Oklahoma where she served with Deacon David Oakerhater (Lent Madness 2012 alum), she wrote:

We open school with Morning Prayer... I then take my twenty little ones to my house...which has this advantage, that I am ready to answer any immediate call which may come to the house. There is no doctor within twelve miles, so we have to act as doctors, and nurses, besides being lawyers, amanuenses, and spiritual advisors.

Her work in Alaska between 1916 and 1931, first in Nahana and then after a year in Stevens Village, was similar. Except with snow.

When the mission closed in Alaska, the Deaconess was sent to Florida to drum up funds for mission work. She was appalled at the living conditions of the Seminole people and how the people were put on display for tourists, wrestling alligators, and staging mock weddings. Apparently an appalled deaconess was a formidable deaconess, and, within a year, she was beginning the hard, patient work of winning the trust of the Seminole tribe.

She supported her new mission with the assistance from leaders of the Collier Corporation, a citrus concern that owned great swaths of the Everglades. One executive, George Huntoon, suffered the brunt of her “persistence.” He recalled, according Marya Repko’s her excellent 2009 book, Angel of the Swamp, “that she would come tromping up the stairs...to request help. In an attempt to avoid these confrontations, his secretary would say that he was not in while he snuck down the fire escape. It did not take long for the Deaconess to realize the ruse and meet him at the bottom of the steps.” Years later Huntoon observed, “When the Deaconess got after you for something. I found it was best to acquiesce and comply with her request because she would keep after you until you got it done for her.”

Margory Stoneman Douglas, a historian and of the Everglades, wrote of the Deaconess in 1947, “The deaconess, like a small steam engine in dark-blue petticoats, walks fast in and out of the trail camps, speaking to everybody by name, asking about sick babies, bringing some old man a mattress pad for his aching bones...taking somebody to the hospital, or getting work for the boys.”

According to Repko, someone once asked a Seminole man if he had known the Deaconess. He replied, “Yes, and I loved her.” Then he pointed to the heavens and said, “she knew God.”

-- Heidi Shott

unnamedThomas Gallaudet

One of the great things about Thomas Gallaudet is his amazing family. His grandfather, Peter Wallace Gallaudet, was the personal assistant to George Washington while the Presidency was in Philadelphia. His father, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, is considered by many to be the father of manual (i.e. sign-language based) Deaf Education in the U.S.

Gallaudet’s mother, Sophia Fowler, is a woman Gallaudet rightly held in high esteem. In a sermon, Gallaudet describes how his mother, who was deaf from birth, taught him sign language. “I learned this powerfully descriptive method of communicating ideas from my mother. I remember well how I watched her face and hands as she affectionately tried to train me in the right way.” Among other things, she taught him that deafness was not an impediment to intelligence or achievement, as she actively lobbied members of Congress to support the Columbia Institution for the Deaf (now Gallaudet University). Gallaudet’s youngest brother, Edward Miner Gallaudet, was Columbia’s president for 46 years.

Our Thomas Gallaudet was no slouch, mind you. It’s worth noting that, in a time when one could not receive communion without being confirmed, and one could not be confirmed without reciting the Lord’s Prayer, the sacraments were almost completely denied to those who could not speak. Gallaudet’s work in providing signed services made it possible, not only for the deaf to “hear” the service, but allowed them to be confirmed, receive communion, and become ordained.

“There is no reason, therefore,” Gallaudet preached, “why deaf-mute men, fitted to be admitted to priest's orders, should not minister among their own kind in the language which makes prayer and praise common to those who have assembled (intelligently, notwithstanding their terrible deprivation) around the table of their Lord and Master, the Christian altar, and as they stretch forth their hands so eagerly and earnestly to receive the consecrated elements, and to spiritually feed on the Body and Blood of Christ, to know in their inmost souls the meaning of the encouraging word, ‘Ephphatha.’”

Gallaudet changed the hearts and minds of people in the Episcopal Church to believe that the deaf could and should, not only be welcomed, but lead and minister to others. That he did so while remaining beloved by all throughout his life is a testament to how he practiced what he preached: “In all works of practical benevolence, zeal must be combined with discretion, and earnestness must be controlled by judgment. And let us ever be ready to say in our hearts, that if this work, which is so dear to us, is not of God, let it not prosper, but let providential circumstances bring it to a speedy termination. This is looking at our labor with the eye of true Christian philosophy.”

P.S. Happy Deaf History Month!

-- Laura Darling


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121 comments on “Harriet Bedell vs. Thomas Gallaudet”

    1. Thomas to be "haloed." Deaf President Now movement is celebrating 25 years. Thomas -- the man of self-determination that roused the kiddies to protest and take their university into themselves -- no political hearing crony for them. What guts! What bravery! Of course, Thomas spirited them forward then and continues now! May we all seek self-determination when fighting for social justice for all!

        1. It was the toughest of choices. I finally went with Harriett because she made me look up "amanuenses." That's unfair, I know, because I also had to look up "Ephphatha."

  1. Thomas Gallaudet -- spreading the Gospel -- (so did Harriet Bedell), but I go with Thomas. (Note about one of yesterday's contestants -- if you go to Sienna, you can see the relics of St. Catherine, including the Finger that the Pope gave Sienna!) I gave my vote to Catherine because anyone who tells the pope to move his tush deserves recognition. And congratulations to Philips Brooks on his victory -- we are all winners because of all the saints in the bracket! Thanks to those who put this together -- much more interesting that 10 guys running around and throwing a ball through a hoop.

    1. I thought that Siena had partial remains but that the primary location is in Rome at Santa Maria sopra Minerva church near the Pantheon.

  2. I don't have anyone left on my bracket but Anna, Basil, and Thomas. it has been rough, rough I tells ya. I'm starting to feel like the little kid in the room that never gets to pick the TV show the family watches. However, I recall Paul's encouragement to "run with perseverance the race" and to "build up one another" I hesitantly cast a vote, and a hope.

    1. Same here--I only have Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lydia, Julia Chester Emery, and Charles Wesley!!

    2. I've missed almost every one of this round. Thanks, Basil and Lydia. I don't really understand how I can be this out of step with the voting public, Oh, wait. I'm a Democrat in Texas. I should be used to this.

  3. Forgot I'll have the chance on Monday to vote between two of my picks: Merton and Charles W.

  4. Our Lent Madness Team
    Please consider allowing the many wonderful "candidates" who were defeated in early rounds over the past years to be resurrected and included in future contests. If you do this already I am appreciative

  5. As one starting hearing loss (my son comments that instead of saying "eh?" I now say "B?"), it's Thomas Gallaudet for my vote. Sorry Deaconess. As much as I admire your work, that's the way it will be.

  6. This was pretty much outrageous to make a choice- both are big winners in any way you chose to set the standards. There should be the draw option- mess up the brackets, but madness requires absurdness. Give thanks for such wonderful examples of doing God's work in spite of obstacles and adversity.

  7. Harriet's missionary work was inspirational, but there are so many that have walked this path. Thomas chose a unique path, so he got my vote.

  8. Boy this was a hard one! Let me cast my vote for resurrecting saints in future years that didn't move up this year. Oh, and the vote the time? Harriet Bedell, who appears to be a social worker at heart. But under other circumstances Thomas would have gotten it.

  9. Harriet reminds me of a little lady in our community who was so persistent, business owners and leaders of organizations would see her coming and tell the underlings, "Just give her what she wants!" I admire the deaconess, but Thomas 'moves me closer to God' this morning as I imagine the son and the mother and their graceful, dancing hands. Thomas helped light shine in to the church and out to the world. I shimmer my hands to you, Thomas.

  10. I don't see sainthood in either, but much to admire. I voted for the man because he's a man, but am in awe of the Deaconesses that stayed among the people who priests would only come visit from time to time. I've read several memoirs and biographies of the men involved in Virginia's mountain missions, but it was the Deaconesses who worked in relative obscurity through whom Christ dwelled. Some may even be saints. As I said a few days before, the most saintly among them will be best known as saints when we're all together in Paradise. Still, one born on Charles Wesley's feast day (guess my vote tomorrow) has a special affection for the Deaf through yet another born that day, who also founded the National Geographic Society where my father worked most his life -- Alexander Graham Bell. But mostly because Thomas has a Y chromosome. Neener neener.

  11. As much as I love Thomas' activist mission for awareness of the handicapped in the Episcopal church, Harriet was more effective in bringing souls into the Kingdom.

    1. Maybe I'm not understanding Walter. Like Lee, I am the only deaf person at my church but I do have an interpreter. Um "Thomas' activist mission for awareness of the handicapped in the Episcopal Church, Harriet was more effective in bringing souls into the Kingdom??" Surely this doesn't mean deaf/Deaf don't have souls? He didn't just bring awareness of people with disabilities ("handicapped" is very outdated.) He invited us to worship and even ordained a deaf man. Hopefully, I'm misunderstanding this post.

  12. Two amazing people. I vote for both in my meager heart. Of course... That doesn't count... So Harriet got my vote. Just love this madness!

  13. This was a hard one. Both worked with God to right wrongs. I had a special sympathy for the indians.
    The deaconess was strong and caring. People with her determination must be one with God.

  14. In a way, Thomas was like Christ. Christ made the blind see and Thomas made the mute speak. I cannot imagine anyone being denied communion because they could not speak the Lord's Prayer.

  15. I have a friend who is deaf, and owes a lot of her freedoms to Thomas Gallaudet. He inspired MANY organizations - not just the Episcopal Church - to change and accept deaf persons in all levels of life! Truly a faith hero!

  16. I reasoned that since Deacons are called to serve n the world, Harriet was living into her vows. However, Thomas brought millions to the Lord's table who may have been left adrift through neglect and apathy. I can not imagine being deaf. Further, I can not imagine being deaf, needing God's love, and being rejected by the church that I dearly love.

    1. Completely agree! Would that every church had someone on their staff proficient in sign language.

  17. This time I had trouble deciding, because both worked with those marginalized by society. I use to go to a church that had a sign language interpreter during the service. I learned sign language so I could talk with the folks needing the interpretation. What swung my vote to Harriet, is Mr Gauladet already has a "golden halo" with university in his and his family's name. Harriet does not. I had to laugh at the tenacity of her - reminded me of the Jesus' story about the persistant visitor late at night getting what they wanted because of their persistance. I voted for Harriet because of her tenacity.

  18. Though my disability is visual, and is partly corrected with contact lenses, I feel called to the cause of enabling those with any kind of disability to participate fully in Christian communion and community. Therefore, I make the difficult choice to vote for Thomas Gallaudet.

  19. I think the picture of Harriet arriving at the Seminoles and becoming appalled at how the Indians were put on display for the tourists marks her as someone who was moved by the Holy Spirit to see what others could not see and act to correct the injustice. This picture has captured my heart today. Would that there were more Harriets in our own day.

  20. That was a tough one. But had to go with Harriet this round. Both were just amazing though!

  21. If only Harriet, or someone inspired to follow in her footsteps, could have been around when MinuteMaid and others created the "Harvest of Shame" in Florida. It might be a better place today. I vote for Harriet although Thomas and his family have also made an important mark.

  22. “In all works of practical benevolence, zeal must be combined with discretion, and earnestness must be controlled by judgment." How very Episcopalian!

  23. As usual, I'm on the losing side, but as a former special education school bus driver, I have a lot of sympathy for those who work with the handicapped (or, to be politically correct, the "differently abled"), and as a musician, a special sympathy for those who work with the deaf, who have to experience music in ways I cannot imagine.