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



Harriet Bedell vs. Thomas Gallaudet

  • Harriet Bedell (58%, 2,553 Votes)
  • Thomas Gallaudet (42%, 1,818 Votes)

Total Voters: 4,371

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121 comments on “Harriet Bedell vs. Thomas Gallaudet”

  1. Both of these saints are truly, truly amazing, and I cannot possibly choose one's saintliness over another. Therefore, I am going to go with Harriet, the little lady with incredible spunk and determination. I am 5 feet tall and tend to shy away from challenges. She inspires me to be, as my mama always encouraged, "dynamite in a small package."

  2. "Voted for the man because he was a man" interesting, honest comment...
    As former vicar of mountain missions in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia that were founded and served by Deaconesses for decades, I have to vote for Harriet. Thomas has received plenty of fame and accolades over the years, but the Deaconesses, who were incredibly brave and faithful, are largely unsung heroes of the faith.

    1. It would be interesting if someone who has the time (I don't) could go back through the 2014 comments and count how many people said they voted for the woman because she was a woman. It wasn't only one.

  3. This is a really tough one. I was leaning toward Harriet, but Gigi's comment swayed me into the camp of Thomas.

  4. My choice is Harriet. When women had two strikes against them as far as influence goes she managed to convince others of her concerns and get them to participate. Remarkable women are an inspiration and thanks to Lent Madness I am learning more about them. Go Harriet.

  5. As a deacon of nearly 25 years of service, I am in awe of the deaconess. Yet, I feel strongly for the Gallaudets for recognizing the need for respect for and recognition of the deaf, a neglected population, even in our Church. Their service to this "forgotten" population goes beyond belief that anyone could have been so horribly ignored and mistreated. In addition, like many others who taught music for years and served as church musician, my hearing has gotten worse and hearing aids.....well, the least said, the better..never mind $$$ down the drain. Gallaudet today, tomorrow, always.

  6. Well I had a VERY hard time with this one. These are just 2 terrific saints!! I think the spitfire deaconess will win but since I just did a presentation for disability students yesterday for our annual Youth Employment Expo I had to go with Thomas Gallaudet. Our oldest son is a person of autism.

  7. Both reached unreached people, neglected people. But the shame on the Church is greater, to deny Communion to an entire people group because they cannot speak. How incredibly awful! Gallaudet today.

  8. Though I'm part Cherokee (and please remember Indians are from India not North America) I must vote for Thomas who opened all the sacraments to those who could not speak with their tongues but used their hands instead.

    FYI: If you visit our National Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul up on Mount Saint Alban's in DC, you'll find Helen Keller & her teacher Miss Sullivan entombed in the Saint Joseph of Arimathaea Chapel.

  9. The story of Harriet and George Huntoon reminds me of the Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge. And blessings on her for delivering the Seminoles from the ghastly exploitation they were subjected to.
    However, I voted for Thomas. That people should be denied Communion because they couldn't speak is shocking. Thomas changed that and that won my vote.

  10. Floridians, especially those of us in the south part of the state must vote for Harriet. She was a feisty, determined missionary who cared for indiginous people in Oklahoma, Alaska, and Florida. What an inspiration

  11. Wow, definitely one of the hardest choices so far. I wish they haven't had to oppose each other. But I had to pick Thomas Gallaudet because his ministry extended across all races to help the deaf. I find that so hard to believe that deaf people were denied the sacraments because they couldn't "speak". Just horrible.

  12. Give me a break! All right, I know it's not supposed to be easy. I finally voted for Harriet Bedell because my email signature includes "Luke 18:1-8." The Unjust Judge never had a chance, and neither did George Huntoon.

  13. Must vote for Thomas Gallaudet.... and remind folks that his work goes on... the Episcopal Conference of the Deaf is the national unifying and educating body for Deaf work and is made up of Deaf, deafened, hearing, hard-of-hearing, priests, deacons, lay readers, laity and anyone who is interested.

  14. Ginny Doctor & I are talking about Amelia Hill , the "Angel of Allaket " who overlapped with Harriet in her 30 years of amazing ministry as Deaconess, Nurse, Catechist, Postmistress & everyone's personal rep of Jesus love.

  15. Had to go with Thomas because my deaf sisters and brothers in Christ are constantly excluded so I deeply value anyone who extends a hand in fellowship towards them. People with disabilities are the largest minority in the country and yet also the most overlooked. The church needs to really work on its theology of disability. Go Thomas!

    1. Thank you. Being deaf in a hearing church, I am often left out. Even though the BCP and printed collect/lessons make it easier, I still miss out on sermon. Oh how I wish I can laugh, cry, or whatever with the rest of the parish.

      I must say this,, THANK YOU GALLAUDET, GOD BLESS YOU.

      1. Lee, When I preach I have copies of my sermon and they are distributed to anyone who needs a visual as well as a spoken text. It means I have to have my sermon ready and in print form, but I think it is worth it. Those who use it are very thankful. And it was a Holy Spirit nudge that give me the idea.

        1. Johannas, wonderful idea !! I think I'll pass it along to my rector.
          Peace out,

        2. Thank you Johannas. Thank you for sharing your wonderful idea. 🙂

          For some odd reasons, many priests in my diocese tend to give sermon without note. Without notes, I am forced to lip-read. Lip-reading is hard work.. often after so long of focusing, I stop retaining and forget what I lip-read.

          Yes having notes help, but priests rarely follow it exactly. so if there's something that was suddenly thought of and not in note, I miss something.

          Maybe it's just that I am sad. My rector is leaving next month. She voices and signs her sermon and I guess I am fearful of wondering how will I fare with new rector who probably can't sign. I pray that the new rector will do what you do..

  16. Difficult choice, indeed. The story of Harriet's persistence reminded me of tales of Mother Teresa's. I was ready to vote (again) for her when I read of how Thomas made it possible for a whole segment of the Episcopal Church finally to receive Communion. I agree with Mary Ann Grennen and so voted for Thomas (again).

  17. Seems to me that Tom HAD to learn sign language to talk to his Mom. Not exactly a "calling". Harriet, on the other hand, chose to follow a saintly path.

    1. I wouldn't say "had to",, many children of deaf parents learn to sign before they started talking. Later, when they become older, some became bi-lingual (speak and sign). some decide to dump ASL (sad, I know). Both of my children started "talking" when they were about 4 months old. Signing in natural to them.

      Also, Thomas already knew he want to be priest, but his dad encouraged him to be teacher for the deaf instead So what's to do? He took the best of both professions and became first in USA to preach to the Deaf.... This alone is a calling, the calling to teach about God to the unreachable at the time.

      Thomas started St. Ann Church for the Deaf in NYC. Today, that church is still going strong. 🙂

  18. having some knowledge of the Mystic Oral School, in Groton, CT., I am in awe of this man who fostered the need for education of the the deaf. while we lived near the school, my eldest Son played basketball for a nearby High School, and this team often played Mystic Oral's team. It was unbelievable to watch these boys with their ability to communicate with our hearing team. Our boys learned a lot about communication through exposure to these fabulous athletes. Knowing that our Thomas had no connection to this school, I am still compelled to vote for him today.

  19. 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.
    That absolutely got my vote!

  20. Sometimes, like today, I vote for the underdog. Not that anyone in this race is a loser. On the contrary! All the contestants have already won and certainly do not need our puny approval.

  21. Very difficult choice but I went with Thomas, for bringing communion to so many, then and now. May I also put in a pitch for basing future decisions on something other than the gender of the persons involved? We should be past that now, one would hope.

  22. Harriet Bedell's spitfire energy makes me feel like I'm standing still -- I'm 18 years ordained as a deacon, and no business tycoons have been cowed simply by my appearing at their office!

    But more than that, today Thomas Gallaudet's active inclusion of people who were denied Communion strikes my heart. One of the earliest duties of deacons, after all (see Acts 6), was to ensure no one was neglected in the table fellowship.

    Thomas Gallaudet's signing for the deaf was in fact sacramental, not just pointing to the spiritual reality of Communion, but accomplishing it. He's got my vote today.

  23. Very hard to choose. I have a grandson with a hearing impairment and a Native American Great- Grandmother. I chose the deaconness.

  24. Easy. Both did good works. Yay. For oppressed people. Hooray. That showed rare empathy and imagination. Excellent.

    I don't ask for two miracles, but-- no soul, no vote-- I do ask for an explicit link between faith and action. Gallaudet's bio supplies the best imaginable evidence of such a link--

    “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.”

    He's right about that. Gallaudet.

  25. After working for the Episcopal Conference of the Deaf ( both employee and volunteer) and serving as Vicar at Holy Spirit Church of the Deaf ... of course I voted for Thomas Gallaudet ! Seriously folks, he is deserving of the Golden Halo! He helped to bring a faith experience to the Deaf in their own language! He encouraged the Episcopal Church to ordain the Deaf as deacons and priests. As a result, the Episcopal Church was the first denomination to do so over a hundred years ago. The first deaf woman was ordained in back in the 1980's!

    1. Glad to see you speak for our deaf family & friends again as you have so often, Elsa. I'm so glad a got to share CREDO with you a decade ago in order to be able to thank you in person for the wonderful Council for the Deaf in our church. May you be ever blessed.

  26. Although Harriet is as deserving, my vote today is for Thomas. His work (and that of his family) gave a voice to the otherwise "silent" deaf community. I'm married to a CODA ("child of deaf adult") and I have been privy to the challenges my in-laws faced while raising their "hearing" children in a speaking world. My mother in law was born "hearing" in San Antonio, Texas, but somehow a childhood disease took away her hearing/speaking abilities. At the age of 7, from first grade through high school, she attended boarding school at the Texas School for the Deaf, in Austin, as her family was not properly equipped to deal with the special needs of their now deaf child. My father in law was born in New Iberia, Louisiana, to a humble farming family, and he did not attend school until the age of 14, when the authorities compelled his dad to send him to school. They met, married and lived productive lives, and through family support and sheer drive and determination, were able to offer their two hearing children a loving and stable family environment. The movie "Love is Never Silent" beautifully depicts a family's struggle between the deaf and the hearing worlds during the Depression era; rent it, if interested. Sign Language is an expressive and warm language (I encourage everyone to attend a church service for the deaf if available in your community; it will change your life!), and it has allowed the deaf people to develop their own unique culture and sense of community, and live to their highest potential. While much work needs to be done in terms of educating others that deaf/mute does not equal "dumb;" providing technology access as well as employment and education opportunities, etc., Thomas' work paved the way for the betterment of a much deserving sector of our society, and for that, I'm very thankful.