Karen Christie and Nancy Rourke
LAURA CATHERINE REDDEN (SEARING)1
Deaf poet, biographer, newspaper reporter
One of the most prolific and well-known Deaf Womxn3writers published works under the pen name of Howard Glyndon. Laura Catherine Redden (Searing)(1839-1923) was a graduate of the Missouri School for the Deaf and published in a wide variety of newspapers, such as The Silent Worker and The New York Times. In 1861, she wrote about the injustices of unequal pay for men and Womxn in the St. Louis public schools. As a Civil War correspondent for the St. Louis Republican, she travelled to Washington, DC and interviewed both President Lincoln and General Grant via pen and pencil. One year later, she published a book, Notable Men in the House of Representatives followed by a volume of poetry, Idylls of Battle and Poems of the Rebellion. While much of her work addressed patriotism and the Civil War experience, she wrote poetry honoring figures from Deaf history such as Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and celebrating the work of Deaf sculptor, Douglas Tilden.
By the time it became known that Howard Glyndon was a Deaf Womxn, it did not deter some who went on to publish her works. However, Deaf poet and scholar John Lee Clark (2005) states: "When critics did learn of the fact (that she was Deaf), …many of them lowered their earlier opinion of Redden's poetry" (p. 165). Redden used this experience in creating her short story, "The Realm of Singing." The story presents an allegory in which a bird's singing is criticized only after it was noticed that the bird had a 'defective' wing. She is regulated to the lower branches ('down low') with the high branches symbolizing status and recognition in the world of poetry. These voices say,
What have we here? A crippled bird that tries to sing? Such a thing
The story is successful in revealing the patronizing social attitudes toward disability and being Deaf. In addition, the trope as a bird representing a Deaf person appeared in many Deaf literary works hereafter.
Many of Redden's poems explored love and intimate relationships. Concerning her poem "Corinna Confesses," the editors of a book on Redden's poetry note "The first verse of this poem contains the only literal description of the female orgasm in nineteenth-century women's poetry" (Jones & Vallier, 2003, p. 187). The poem contains fifteen stanzas, we reproduce the first, third and final stanzas here:
To think that my eyes once could draw your eyes down for a moment,
Too dark was the shadow that fell from your face bending over me—
And yet, if I went to you now in the stress of your toiling—
In addition to expressing sexual excitement and pleasure, Redden also wrote about the social pressures upon young Womxn in the nineteenth century. The epic poem "Sweet Bells Jangled" is over 275 stanzas long and structured into over 70 sections. It describes a girl maturing into womanhood experiencing conflicts of love and work. Early on, the verses challenge the marriage expectations placed on young Womxn, pressures to keep up appearances, and the denial of her right to intellectual pursuits.
'Wilt thou be an ancient maiden?'
And later…in a stanza describing her nineteenth year:
I pore above my books
The poem contains hints of autobiography, as Redden did not marry until later in life, and then, only briefly. She was one of few Womxn poets of her time who made writing a career, taking on audism, sexism and the right of an independent Womxn to celebrate sexual experience.
1. This writing appears in a slightly different form in Christie, K. & Wilkins, D.M. (in press). Listen to my hands: Deaf womxn's liberation through
the poetry of American Sign Language and written English. In A. Cruz (Ed.). Culture, Deafness & Music: Disability Studies and a Path to Social Justice.
Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.