"An Autobiography of My Childhood"
By Alice T. Terry
[From: The Silent Worker, November 1920, Vol. 33, no. 2, pgs. 47-49.]
[Note: Alice Taylor Terry (1878-1950) attended Gallaudet University briefly and married the Deaf writer, Howard L. Terry. The first woman president of the California Association of the Deaf, she wrote a number of articles for The Silent Worker].
"(After becoming Deaf around the age of nine)...(m)y father was told about the State School for the Deaf, at Fulton, Missouri. He was anxious to send me there. But my mother refused---not for the worlds would she consent to part with me. In her very delicate condition, my father would not argue with her. So I was left at home and out of school-a veritable little weed run wild. Two years later (when Alice was about 11 years old), my mother died. That was February. The following September my father ushered me off to Fulton.
I liked my surroundings immensely. I knew the manual alphabet, but I had never seen the sign language before. Therefore, I viewed it with curiosity and charm. The happy expression on the faces of the sign-users told me more powerful than words have ever told me, that it, this sign-language, is the one reliable means in the world to drive away the sense of isolation and deafness. I gave up playing with the small girls as much as possible, in order to stand around with groups of larger and older girls-to watch them talk. In that way I picked up signs fast...Two years later I remember how proud I was to declare myself the MASTER of the sign language. Indeed that proud sense of accomplishment has not left me yet!
I suppose that the authorities classed me with the backward children when I first arrived at Fulton. Some one must have told them that I had not yet been to school six months in my life; for they placed me way down in the beginner's class, or the one just above that. My teacher, however, found that I could speak well, also read fluently out of the primary books. But that knowledge did not seem to move her to promote me---until I finally wore her out with my incessant pleading to go to a higher class. After that I went to an articulation class once or twice a day, which suited me so much better than in the beginners class where we had to forgo everything in order to watch the teacher's lips almost constantly. It gave me an expressive sense of void---because I was not cut out for lip-reading."
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"....It was the custom for the older girls to take turns waiting on the teacher's table in the dining room. For this service, while it lasted, a week at a time, we were privileged to partake of the teacher's menu, which was more varied and tempting than that served to the pupils. One of my girl friends, Louise by name, was inordinately fond of eating. She did not have an opportunity to wait upon the teacher's table much. So she was always asking me to take dainties for her. It was strictly against the rules to do so. And I knew it; but somehow I could not refuse Louise's pleadings. So I began the practice of smuggling generous portions of choice steaks and dainty desserts for her. Of course we were found out, and promptly summoned to the Superintendent's office to explain.
Thoroughly frightened and penitent, we did not have much to explain. Poor Louise got an awful whipping right before my eyes; as for me I merely got a severe scolding. But that hurt just as much, or worse, for I cried and cried for hours afterward and would not be comforted. Louise, on the other hand, after the matter of "the hardened criminal" (shall I say?) had quickly dried her tears."
"...At the end of my fifth years at Fulton, I graduated. The subject of my graduating essay was Duty. After the exercises, the President of the Board of Managers asked me if I would like to return to my alma mater to teach after first going to college. I did not encourage him because teaching was not my ambition..."