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. When I read Thomas Gallaudet's words, " 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" that did it for me. So often we think that whatever we want to do must be God's will, when it so often isn't.

  2. Have to go with tom. I work with children with special needs and hate to see them denied anything because of their needs.

  3. For the times when I feel the institution of the Church makes no progress- I will remember that we once denied Eucharist to those who could not speak the Lord's Prayer. Inch by inch

  4. Interesting (and sad) that it took another 100 years to ordain the next deaf priest, after Henry Winter Syle. Gallaudet for the Golden Halo!

  5. Wow!!!! I re-read the original bios, read today's piece and read every comment listed. I thought the other pairings were tough, but this is the toughest yet!! After a great deal of thought I find that I must vote for Thomas since an entire world of people was allowed access to something that I take for granted every time I enter our church. Harriet certainly did a lot as well, but Thomas won out in this set. Like so many others, they are both winners no matter what!!

  6. I can imagine no worse prison than deafness. To see, but not to hear--to be barred from participating in the rites of the Church, to be in the midst of God's people yet strangers to the intimacy of communion! Was it not shameful that this exclusion lasted any length of time at all? Who were the deaf in this story, those without hearing or those who had ears but listened not to the brothers and sisters in their midst? Who opened all our ears? Thomas and his "encouraging word" Ephphatha!

  7. Thomas Tuthill, Gigi, and others express very eloquently why I was compelled to vote for Thomas. Having been a vocational deacon who was later called to priesthood, I have seen so many deacons do the sort of wonderful, much needed ministry that Harriet did. But Thomas advocated for baptized WITHIN our church who were denied the basic right to receive the sacraments. His work for deaf ordination is admirable - but I can't get past the injustice of baptizing a baby who can't make an informed choice to be baptized and then is denied paticipation of the sacramental life of the church that's supposed to represent and show God's love. It was Thomas all the way for me

  8. As it did for many others yesterday today a quote helped me to decide.

    “There is no reason, therefore 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.’”

    If you have the ears to hear (spiritually) listen...

  9. Many of these pair ups were not easy determinations. This one really tough. I finally went with Harriet. A pioneer during her time. In those days a man's word was acknowledged & adhered to, almost without question. Harriet accomplished much good from one end of the continent to the other. No easy feat in early 1900s. WOW _ of small physical stature rendered dynamite works!

  10. Thomas - In great thankfulness of the Ephphatha ministry of central NY state and the past work of Mother Ginger and current work Fr. Peter. Harriet did much to bring justice to the Seminole people. The work of Thomas Gallaudet and the need of the church to remember the plight of the deaf needs to be remembered and continued. "He made the lame to walk..." Healing does not necessarily mean the deaf have to be able to sense auditory signals, but being able to be part of the larger faith community can also be healing; signing at the church service, making it possible for our deaf brothers and sisters to participate in all aspect of worship and at the Diocesan convention...thanks be to God.

  11. That was one the toughest one yet. Harriet for me - I would love to have known her personally - just the thought of her at the bottom of the fire escape made my decision.
    It was her determination and her great love of native people, but most particularly that they knew "she knew God."

  12. Tough one. Chose Harriet upon further reflection after hearing a presentation by the AZ State Museum on how it was women like Harriet that brought not only God's love to the Seminoles, but dignity and respect.

  13. must say that i am so disappolnted in today's result. gallaudet's work restored humanity to persons considered less than human-people whose only language was dismissed as a joke or a trick. the stalwart deaconess is a truly saintly person but gallaudet won my heart and my vote.

  14. If I could 'ave, I would 'ave...voted for them both. I think I'll go sing "I Sing a Song of the Saints of God" because these two both are in tune with the Heaven I believe in.

  15. While I found most, if not all, of the match ups difficult this season, this was the hardest of all for me. Harriet was a woman with a cause and, like water lapping at a rock, she wore down her opposition gradually, but with certain determination. Having said that, Thomas gets my vote.
    As a three year old, I had chicken pox which broke both ear drums leaving me totally deaf. Fortunately I was old enough to already be speaking. I learned to lip read very well(and apparently still resort to it at times). During that silent period, my parents, my greatest blessing, tutored me, instilled a love of books, and took me to the Sympony for Children so that I would also develop a love of music. Although I couldn't hear it, I could feel it if I could place my feet on the floor. It was after nearly three years of treatment with no results that a new experimental surgery restored my hearing. The abrupt return to the hearing world was a double edged sword. (Music is still one of my greatest joys - alas, how could Bach be knocked out???!!)
    I thought I knew my church history. I was appalled, shocked and moved to tears to learn that my own church denied sacraments to those unable to hear. In an earlier time frame my surgery would not have existed and I, too, would have been denied confirmation. To be excluded from one of the greatest elements of our faith would be crushing. For righting this massive wrong, Thomas gets my vote. My greatest regards to Harriett as well.

    1. Hello Kathleen,
      Your story touched my heart in a way that nothing I've read here has done.
      This Sunday, when I'm robed and singing with the rest of the St. Andrew's choir, I will remember you and put forth my best effort!
      Thanks for helping to inspire me.
      Peace out,

    2. Rev Grace

      I thought the 'neener neener' cast my comment as tongue in cheek. Right now, I'm reading Rev. Ribble's book, having read Ms. Scruby's and Rev Howell's. Perhaps when we next cross paths, you can point me to other tales of the mountain missions.

      Nursing Homes Swing! --- Bob C

  16. Both our saints served special communities for the love of Christ. Thomas' work was perhaps more visible to the world, while Harriet's work in remote swamps and backwoods was perhaps not well publicized. I guess it's the image of the loving and spunky little lady that sways my vote for Harriet Bedell.

  17. Harriet Bedell served as a Christian spiritual advisor while respecting the culture of Native Americans. She walked a difficult path, yet she showed compassion, respect, and tenacity all along her journey. The mainstream Americans who knew her were impressed with her determination, while Native Americans were influenced by her spirituality ("she knew God"). Bedell wins my vote.

    1. Kim, there you are...

      I like your inference there-- actually considered one like it-- but followed the quote in front of my eyes to Gallaudet. I still see a screenplay in Harriet Bedell.

      Thanks for the link!

  18. Kim,
    While I appreciate your comments, they apply equally to Gallaudet. The deaf were no less marginalized in society at the time than Native Americans and had their own culture to be respected as well.

  19. Oh, this is difficult! I voted happily for Harriet last time, and also for Thomas. I'm nearly deaf but I don't sign--still, Thomas's work had a ripple effect that has made my life better because it changed how people see deaf people in general. And increased the amount of effort others were willing to put in to communicate with us.

    But I don't know! Being on the ground as "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" --

    Maybe I'll wait to see which way spouse votes and then vote the other way, lol.

  20. Harriet moved to Florida in 1933 when she was 57. This "small steam engine in dark-blue petticoats" was doing this mission work at an age when most of her generation were sitting in rockers. She was known to pole a dugout canoe to get to some of those she worked with. She was forced to officially retire in 1943, but she continued her mission work until 1960 when Hurricane Donna destroyed her mission post. She was then 85 years old. The last 9 years of her life were spent at Bishop Gray Inn (an Episcopal retirement home) in Iowa where she "took charge" of the locals. You can't keep a good woman down.

    1. Can't keep a good woman down, that's dadblame right!! My mom worked for the city of Detroit for many years and loved her work so much that she didn't want to retire.
      When she finally had to, she turned her attention to her 5 children, 10 grandchildren, etc.
      Here's to you,
      Barbara Baier!
      I love you mom!!

  21. A deaf uncle & aunt taught me to sign as I learned to read & write, & the family table at holidays was a chaos of oral conversation mixed w/ signing so all were included. I had no idea till I took deaf ed as an adult that was not the norm as deaf members of hearing families are often relegated to what they can "pick up" from lip reading & writing short notes, etc. All in our family signed some, & we felt it was a travesty that the only church which provided full service for the deaf were the Southern Baptists. Thanks to the Gallaudet family, the Episcopal church was an early proponent of services for & ministers from those who were deaf. I must cast my lot with dear Thomas despite my affection for Harriet.

  22. I haven't been receiving the Lentmadness posts.........is anyone else having trouble?