Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Blessed Day

Although I’ve pretty much exhausted my collection of the cards and keepsakes saved among the papers of Agnes Tully Stevens, I’ll share a few more items in posts this Spring. Today’s keepsake, as yesterday’s, was not originally intended for use during this Holy Week, but still fits appropriately.

This card was obtained from a church organization in New York. Enlarging the inscription on the reverse of the card, I can see the insignia imprinted there identifies the organization as Seraphic Mass Association for Capuchin Foreign Missions.

The occasion for which the card was presented was not as joyous an activity as that which we commemorate today. The card, marked with William Stevens’ name, was dated May 14, 1946. This was just a few days after Agnes’ husband passed away—possibly a gift from a friend intended as consolation for the widow. By her choice to keep this card among her possessions throughout the rest of her life—Agnes, never remarried, lived to be ninety six—demonstrates her longstanding appreciation for that friend’s kindness.

Seraphic Mass Association
210 West 31st Street       New York 1, N.Y.

William Stevens
Has been enrolled in the
Association and will share in all
The benefits, especially in the
Fruits of 188,500 masses each year.

May 14, 1946,
Fr. Bruno, Delegate

Requested by Ceale Scott

Today, so many of us celebrate the occasion of Easter—our remembrance of Resurrection Day—joining with family, friends, and those we consider most important in our lives. It’s a time for many to head to church in gratitude for what the day signifies. Many spend this day joining with others for food and festivities.

In whatever way you commemorate this day, I wish you a Happy Easter.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Family History, Beliefs and Traditions

Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!
…ut cognoscatis quia in eo nullam causam invenio et purpureum vestimentum et dicit eis ecce homo
A commemoration carried down for nearly two thousand years, Easter—or, as some prefer to call it, Resurrection Day—brings with it a variety of personal history tokens of how countless families have celebrated the day.

While I have virtually nothing representing how Samuel Bean and his family observed the holiday, I do still have a number of keepsakes kept by the Irish Catholic Stevens and Tully families. In recognition of this special season, today and tomorrow, I’d like to set aside our story of Sam Bean, and take a holiday detour to share those items with you.

If you remember back to the stories I’ve posted of Agnes Tully Stevens, the woman saved everything. One way I was able to piece together the extended family’s rather commonplace life in Chicago was to sift through both the documents and the ephemera passed down from Agnes’ mother to her—and then through the generations, eventually, to me.

Though the small card, above, was not specifically presented to (I presume) Agnes on the occasion of Easter—or even the days leading up to Good Friday—it bears a graphic reminder applicable to this portion of the Church calendar.

Marked on the front, under the heading, “Ecce Homo,” was the legend,
Benziger & Co.          Déposé.          Einsiedeln, Schweiz.
Curious to know if there was anything listed online—after all, what a powerful research resource we have in the Internet—I entered those terms in the search engine. I found out almost immediately that Benziger started out as a Catholic Publishing house in 1792. Its founder was a man named Joseph Charles Benziger, and he was born—no surprise here—in Einsiedeln, Switzerland.

Through wars, pillage, and even famine, the patriarch of the Benziger line of publishers was able to continue the work of the company and eventually pass it to his sons, Charles and Nicholas. Over the next century, business expanded, including branches in the United States—among them an office in Chicago by 1887.

With such a heritage behind this tiny card—the ornate border expands its measurements to barely two-and-a-half by four inches—it is interesting to juxtapose its orthodoxy with the personal touch affixed to the reverse side.

I am presuming the note—writtten in pencil in a light hand—was addressed to Agnes, herself, or perhaps a sister. Possibly on the occasion of her first communion in 1897, the note to the girl read:
            O, my dear child, pray earnestly that you may understand fully and perfectly the nature and value of this Divine Life.
            After Communion, pray for Sister M. Evangela.
            May 30, 97

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Love Story Told Across the Continent

Shortly after Samuel Bean’s graduation from the California School for the Deaf and Blind, he embarked upon another life-changing adventure: he pledged “I do” to the love of his life.

Sam had met Maud Woodworth at the school in Berkeley sometime during his high school years there. Maud was the daughter of a southern California farmer, William C. Woodworth, and his wife, the former Effie Aurilla Williams. Maud had left her family home near Los Angeles to attend the school due to her own challenges with blindness.

While the story of Sam and Maud is probably a scenario which has been repeated by many high school students over the years—whether seeing or blind—what is interesting about their version is not so much that a blind student met and fell in love with another blind student, but that their tale was told not only in their hometowns, not only in the newspaper near their alma mater, but across the country.

I accidentally discovered—thanks to the website known as Old Fulton NY Postcards—that the marriage of the newlyweds was also reported in the January 28, 1921, edition of the Syracuse Herald. (Warning: this link loads very slowly.) Syracuse, by the way, is in New York—a long way from the Bay Area region Sam and Maud called home. For whatever reason, the editors of this upstate New York newspaper thought their local subscribers would find the occasion an interesting read.
            Oakland, Cal., Jan 28.—A love affair which began when both were totally blind and when Samuel W. Bean was unable to communicate with other human beings culminated in his marriage here to Miss Maude Woodworth. They met as students at the California State Home for the Deaf and Blind. Both are twenty-four years of age.
            Bean now lives in Alameda at 1807 Santa Clara avenue, although for the past seven years he was a student at the blind school. Miss Woodworth, with the aid of strong glasses, now has her full sight.
            Bean came to the school when he was sixteen years of age after an accident which destroyed both his sight and his hearing. It was months before Miss Mary Eastman, the young man’s teacher, could establish any communication with him. Now he is trained in the use of the deaf sign language and is able to converse with anyone.
            After the wedding ceremony, performed with the aid of the sign language, the young couple had luncheon with Mrs. Bean, the bridegroom’s mother and Miss Eastman.
            They will live in Alameda. Bean has written poetry which he sells to help earn a livelihood.
Samuel and Maud Bean hands sign language blind and deaf

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Postscript on a Teacher

For someone playing as significant a role in blind and deaf student Samuel Bean’s life as did his teacher, Mary White Eastman, there is not much else that can be found about her online. She evidently remained single and focused her entire life on education and advocacy for the blind.

In 1940, just a few days before Christmas, Mary suffered a cerebral hemorrhage—not at her home, but somewhere in the Mission District of San Francisco. A brief mention of her passing was included the next summer among the committee reports of the Proceedings of the Nineteenth Biennial Convention of the American Association of Workers for the Blind.
MARY WHITE EASTMAN, for more than thirty years pupil-teacher and teacher of blind "problem" children, recently passed away. A graduate of the California School for the Blind in 1892, she taught the ungraded class in the school until forced by ill health to retire in 1927. She worked as home teacher at her own expense. Miss Eastman attended our conventions for a long period of years and was a conspicuous figure. Financial independence enabled her to do many acts of kindness in assisting the needy.
While it was not surprising to see the committee’s characterization of Mary White Eastman as a “conspicuous figure,” there were a couple other notes that piqued my curiosity. Even then, a sense of the woman’s generosity made the comments about working “at her own expense” and doing “many acts of kindness in assisting the needy” seem quite in character. After all, among other philanthropic acts, Miss Eastman was noted in the Annual Report of the Woman’s Presbyterian Board of Missions of the Northwest to have been a Life Member since 1882 (at which point she was barely twelve years of age).

However, how did a woman—a single woman, incidentally—in that time period manage to achieve financial independence?

A couple of Salt Lake City area newspapers help reveal the answer to that question.

In an article stretching below the fold line in the September 10, 1908, Salt Lake Tribune, headlines claimed:
Suit Filed for Nearly a Million
Edward P. Ferry of This City is Defendant in Two Actions.
Former Litigation is Basis of Proceedings
Federal Court Is Arena Chosen for Contest Over Immense Fortune
The front page of the Deseret Evening News the night before explained, “Michigan Heirs of the late William M. Ferry file suit for a fortune.” Halfway down the page, the article named the heirs. Among those names was that of Mary White Eastman.

Miss Eastman, you may remember, was the daughter of one Galen Eastman and his Michigan-born wife, the former Mary Ferry. Evidently, it was that Ferry family from which Mary White Eastman descended.

By the time any inheritance remaining from the estate of her Ferry progenitor was settled and distributed among those of her remaining twelve siblings—not to mention any other relatives also named in the proceedings—the “fortune” had probably dwindled to a much more modest amount.

Still, given the economy of the time—and the comparatively frugal habits of the public in general during that era—whatever portion of the inheritance Mary White Eastman received would have enabled her to live with a modicum of comfort—and blessed freedom from worry about having to make her way in a world not yet accustomed to conceding that some women just might need to work to earn their way in life.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Tale of Two Classmates

sign language teacher and student Berkeley California
In learning a bit about the teacher who stood behind blind and deaf Samuel Bean’s success in high school, we are reading about a determined and energetic woman. Mary White Eastman, though blind herself, was not about to allow any deterrent to keep her from achieving what she felt were vital goals.

Not only was Miss Eastman a strong influence during Sam’s school years at the California School for the Deaf and Blind in Berkeley, California, but she devoted hours to related causes. A brief article in the Oakland Tribune on September 26, 1916, revealed her additional involvement on behalf of the blind:
The San Francisco Association for the Blind has added a [house] teaching department under the direction of Miss Mary White Eastman. Instruction will be given free to all blind or partially blind who want to become familiar with systems and appliances used by the blind. Classes will be held Wednesday afternoons at 1516 California street, San Francisco.
The amount of effort it must have taken to enable Sam to achieve what he did during his school years provides an idea of the level of commitment of this teacher—and that was regarding just one pupil. It seems this work with the blind—and, in Sam’s case, the deaf—was not merely a job for this forward-thinking woman; it was a life’s mission.

Of course, Mary White Eastman did not operate within an academic vacuum. She was surrounded by like-minded educators who were advocates of the very values she advanced. The California School for the Deaf and Blind, located in Berkeley, nearly intertwined with the academic milieu of the nearby University, benefiting from inspiration from the thought leaders at that institution. One mathematics professor there, Newel Perry—soon after Sam’s graduation to be appointed Director of Advanced Studies at the then-separated state School for the Blind—was a catalyst for the dawning of new opportunities for the blind.

Newel Perry’s paradigm was summarized by fellow professor, Jacobus tenBroek, speaking at a memorial service after Dr. Perry's passing in 1961:
The new system took cognizance of the need of the blind for adjustments on the social and psychological as well as the physical level. It permitted and encouraged them to strive to render themselves self-supporting. It applied the democratic principle of individual dignity to an underprivileged class of American citizens. It guaranteed them a fair measure of independence and self-respect in the conduct of their lives.
Such values and concepts as these were not the norm at the turn of the century in which blind Newel Perry had earned his doctorate in mathematics from the University of Munich—and then could not secure a position with any institution of higher education back in his homeland. Returning to the Berkeley area, he found a more sympathetic public willing to give credence to his philosophy of increased opportunity for the “handicapped.”

It is within this framework that Sam’s mentor, Mary White Eastman, also made her mark.

And yet, there were indications that Mary White Eastman might not have been as well-received by such like-minded leaders as one might have expected.

In an interview conducted in 1956 by Willa Baum, a proponent of oral history, Newel Perry reflected on the many changes at the California School for the Deaf and Blind during the years of Mary White Eastman’s tenure. Apparently, by the time Dr. Perry had returned to California in 1912, the School was in a turmoil following the resignation of its long-time principal, Dr. Warring Wilkinson. Among other comments, Newel Perry observed:
Two or three of the different employees wanted to succeed Dr. Wilkinson. They had some students, too, who made trouble. There was Miss Mary White Eastman, a blind graduate of the School, who was a teacher of the blind children, little children, in what they called an “opportunity group” for retarded children. She was a woman who had never had any experience or training except that she was naturally a very good teacher. She was very ambitious and wanted to be made the head of the blind department….
Whatever her aspirations might have been, Mary White Eastman did not succeed in being appointed head of the blind department following the political upheaval at the school. True, she hadn’t, following graduation from the school herself, pursued any form of higher education, as had others among her graduating class. You have to remember, though, the overall context of this time period: not many women of the time—blind or not—attained the educational level of college graduate, let alone received the advanced degree of training as had Dr. Perry.

Over the years since Mary Eastman’s graduation from the California School for the Deaf and Blind, though, many others from the school had accomplished that feat. Several such blind students were listed by name in the eulogy given at Dr. Perry’s passing in 1961. All of them, it may be noted, held one other characteristic in common: they were all men.

One other curious fact does present itself in reviewing the background on this snippet of information about how others perceived Miss Eastman. Going back to her own graduation from the school, the 1892 article in the San Francisco Call named each member of the graduating class. There, listed right after the entry for Mary White Eastman, was the name, “Newell Lewis Perry.”

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

See If This Sounds Familiar

Though Samuel Bean was deprived of both hearing and sight following an unexpected injury in childhood, every report of him during his high school years portrayed a cheerful character unfazed by the profoundness of these challenges.

Some of you, commenting on Sam’s situation as I’ve been documenting it this month, have surmised that the real story behind Sam’s success may very well have been owing to the determination and unwavering support of his mother, Ella Shields Bean.

That may be so. At least, it is probable that Ella Bean played a strong supporting role during Sam’s time post-injury and throughout his school years at Berkeley.

There was another voice which Sam was echoing during those same years, though. It was the voice of his teacher, Mary White Eastman.

Miss Eastman was an interesting case in her own right. She was not a California native, but was born on October 2, 1870, in Grand Haven, Michigan. On the Ottawa County birth records, her father, Galen Eastman, was listed as a “lumberman” from Massachusetts. Galen’s wife, the former Mary Ferry, was a Michigan native, and mother of twelve more children beside her namesake.

I have yet to determine just how—and when—Mary White Eastman became blind, but I do know that by 1892, her father and a brother (Thomas) were registered to vote 2,300 miles away in San Francisco. In that same year, a San Francisco Call article on June 8 reported on the graduation exercises at the Berkeley Institute, in which Mary White Eastman was among the eight students graduating—as well as participating in the special event with an organ solo “which was very cleverly done.”

By the time of the 1910 census, Mary White Eastman was living in a boarding house in San Francisco, listing herself as a public school teacher—very possibly at the California School for the Deaf and Blind.

In 1912, the California Voter Registration records show Miss Eastman signed up to vote—Republican, by the way—and living at 4021 Seventeenth Street in San Francisco’s Assembly District 26. While this may seem a surprise to those remembering the date as 1920 for passage of the nineteenth amendment, in California, full suffrage was granted by vote in passage of Proposition Four in 1911. Miss Eastman, no doubt, wasted no time in making her voice heard in matters of consequence.

Shortly after Sam’s graduation from the California School for the Deaf and Blind in Berkeley, an article about his instructor appeared in The Christian Register. The August 7, 1919, article in the Unitarian Church’s publication gave a short biographical sketch of Miss Eastman under the title, “The Undaunted Blind.” From all the newspaper reports I’ve read about her star student, I can’t help but notice how the outlook on life that seemed Sam’s hallmark was actually represented here in the article on his teacher and mentor.

See what you think.
            Miss Mary White Eastman, herself blind, is an active worker for the blind in California, where she is a teacher in the California State School for the Blind. She holds classes in the San Francisco Home for the Blind, and is a director in the Association for the Prevention for Blindness. Miss Eastman, aside from her classes, goes to the homes of the blind to teach them. In every case she tries to teach her pupil what he is best adapted to, be it cane-seating, brush-making, rug-weaving, geometry, or history,—whatever the pupil is most interested in. Miss Eastman’s pupils vary in age from eight months to ninety-four years. She refuses to admit that blind persons are to be pitied. If treated as normal, they acquire self-reliance and independence, and in most cases can continue to do, after blindness, all the things they could do before they became blind. In Miss Eastman’s opinion, the “loving friends and relatives” of the blind are usually a great hindrance to them and are in need of education in regard to the way the blind should be treated.

Monday, March 25, 2013

How He Did It

It may be remiss of me, now that I’ve brought you up past the point of high school graduation in Samuel W. Bean’s story, to neglect explaining just how Sam managed to turn his life around. After all, not only is it challenging to learn how to communicate, once having lost both the ability to see and hear, but it is also difficult to overcome that sense of anger and bitterness over what had happened to an otherwise healthy young person in such a formative stage of life.

Think about it for a minute. Sam’s twin challenges could have been stumbling blocks for many people. At the very start, it would be difficult to apply teaching techniques aimed at either the newly-blind or the newly-deaf, because the skills necessary to acquire one would be negated by the recent loss in the other. Sign language, after all, is a language made to be seen.

Apparently, Sam floundered in his progress at the first. This may have been due partly to his own response—and can you blame him?—to what had befallen him. But it also had to do with the fact that no educator seemed to know how to handle his case. While Helen Keller’s story comes immediately to mind—for us, removed by decades from the famous saga of Anne Sullivan’s intervention—at the time of Sam’s injury, these were not training techniques widespread in the West.

Sam’s Annie Sullivan turned out to be a young blind instructor, herself, by the name of Mary White Eastman. Born in Michigan in 1870 to a father with family roots in Maine, Mary was a resident of San Francisco when she graduated from the Berkeley school in 1892. Not possessing any academic credentials other than a strong sense of determination and a native ability to teach, Mary White Eastman devoted many years of service to the blind, both at the California School for the Deaf and Blind, and in other capacities.

So, how did she do it?

An article—once again in the Oakland Tribune, this time on May 5, 1918—explained Miss Eastman’s technique.
            Months of patient application…succeeded in teaching the boy a system of “talking,” which combined the deaf alphabet with a code made up of Morse telegraphic tappings communicated from the hand of the teacher to that of the pupil. In this way Sammy Bean now talks to a half dozen or more people, while others communicate with him by tracing the outlines of ordinary letters of the alphabet on the palms of his hand.
Before that moment in which Sam found his way out of his own personal prison, he was trapped without any way to communicate with others, no matter how much they might have cared for him.
            It was Miss Eastman who gave Sammy his first communication with the world after the latter suffered the accident which robbed him of two of his faculties. For two years the boy, then a child of 13, had no intercourse of any kind with the world. Although surrounded by loving relatives and friends, they found no way to penetrate his deafness and his blindness.
Approaching the date of his graduation from the California School for the Deaf and Blind, Sam wrote a poem which he dedicated to his teacher. He called it “Light in the Darkness.” The Tribune article which reprinted the poem remarked on his teacher’s “untiring efforts” which had “lifted him from the depths of despair to the heights of a happiness and contentment which he had never hoped to attain.”

Hyperbole? Perhaps. In Sam’s case, though, the despair may have indeed seemed never-ending—paving the way for such a boundless joy.

Beyond such dynamics, though, it appears there was more to the story than just the innovation of a communication technique that blended Morse code and finger spelling. Mary White Eastman brought much more to the education of this one Samuel Bean than just the ability to communicate once again.

instructor and student from the California School for the Deaf and Blind in 1920

Photograph above: Mary White Eastman with Samuel W. Bean; from Samuel Bean's booklet of poetry, "Light in Darkness," self-published in 1920; in the public domain.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Still Accident Prone?

You may be wondering how young high school graduate Sam Bean was faring after his promising launch out into the seeing and hearing world of adult responsibility. Granted, accolades were showered on him during those student years at the California School for the Deaf and Blind—and his accomplishments were, indeed, laudable.

Real life, however, does tend to put a different spin on dreams.

Can a poet really sell enough books of his own creation to raise the funds it would take to support himself? Would it provide for not only himself, but—as did happen soon afterwards with his marriage to Maud Woodworth in early 1921—also for a wife?

Thankfully, the Oakland Tribune persisted in its coverage of what seemed to be turning into “Sam’s saga” even after his graduation from the state school in Berkeley, California. One such report—accessible in the Tribune's November 2, 1920, issue for subscribers here—mentioned that Sam had been “touring the state selling books of poetry” that he had written.

The conclusion of that particular report, though, had a curious twist to it, which made me think back to newspaper articles from Sam’s childhood. If you recall my search to find any story covering the true reason for Sam’s blind and deaf condition, you will remember my alarm at finding an entry in the San Francisco Call regarding yet another injury. At the time, I had remarked that it seemed as if Samuel Bean was a child who had become accident prone.

I realize the incident that befell Sam in 1920 most likely was the result of his inability to see all the details of his surroundings, leading to an unfortunate—and costly—mishap. But I couldn’t help remembering my observation about those earlier incidents. As much as Sam’s theme in life seemed to be “I can do anything you can do,” it makes me wonder if a seeing, hearing Sam would have taken that same unexpected tumble.
            Word of a recent escape from drowning at a Los Angeles suburb experienced by young Bean has reached friends in the bay section. Falling from a wharf, Bean was rescued, but lost, however, a valuable gold watch presented to him at the time of his graduation at the blind school.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

An Unclouded Vision of Life

While Samuel Bean obviously was not in any shape to help “whip the Kaiser” after his number was drawn for the draft in 1917, he was able to add his solitary, individual impact upon the war effort.

The school Sam attended provided not only academic instruction, but also training of a more practical nature. In order to contribute toward their own future support, the young blind students were prepared through efforts in what we might call sheltered workshops. Apparently, one such applied learning opportunity came about through a government contract—most likely war-related—in which students could earn while they learned work skills.

An article in the Oakland Tribune on May 5, 1918, explained Sam’s training experience:
            Combined with close application to his school work, young Bean has been earning $4 per day splicing tent ropes for the government. Where a seeing person possessed of all his faculties is able to tie but 80 knots per hour, Sammy has been turning out 120 ropes.
            “At first it seemed a hopeless task to splice over 20 a day,” he says. “Eighty seemed a fabulous amount to do. But if others could do it I determined that I could, also. Before we finished the contract I could do 120 per day.”
Of course, once again, the newspaper seemed more than willing to gush over Sam’s accomplishments:
            In the workrooms at the blind school, young Bean holds the title of the most efficient worker among the scores of pupils who ply their tools. But for the fact that he necessarily needs more than ordinary time to accomplish his tasks [ his academic assignments] young Bean’s future would have been decided by his ability in the workshops.
A year later, the Tribune was once again focusing on Sam’s work ability, quoting him in another article on May 11, 1919:
            “I can work,” he declares, “even if I cannot see and hear. And I can support myself and help others besides.” As evidence of young Bean’s ability he earned more money than any other student at the school splicing ropes for the government during the war for use as tent fastenings. His earnings in this way went toward the support of a mother and several brothers and sisters.
Of course, this last statement is in error; Sam had only a twin brother and an older sister. While it is commendable that he was able to turn around and share in the support of his family—another report mentioned “young Bean has bought several Liberty Bonds and has contributed to the support of a mother living in Alameda”—his was far from the Dickensian vignette his journalist friends seemed intent on portraying.

However, in that era, self-support for the handicapped was indeed a question that needed to be addressed. Though the California School for the Deaf and Blind evidently made every provision possible for its students’ vocational training, societal pressures—and, perhaps, a modicum of reality—seemed determined to shunt those not considered “normal” into the back rooms of “sheltered” work. Perhaps that was what Sam himself had in mind when he remarked, “The world treats the blind and deaf with compassion—that should not be so.” That type of compassion may have seemed even too cloying for the very “victims” for whom it was intended to provide relief.

Perhaps the true picture comes out when the Tribune’s 1918 article admits:
            What his future holds for him his teachers and friends are trying to fathom. His handicap makes competition in a seeing and hearing world practically impossible. Were the government to furnish endless contracts for splicing and tying tent ropes his problem would have been solved.
In the face of that reality, there is no doubt Sam, himself, was intent on maintaining a firm grip on that positive attitude that had become his hallmark. In regard to his employment track record, the Tribune noted:
            This evidence of his ability is but another mark of the determination which has characterized his desire to be able to do the things which other people accomplish.
Before Sam graduated from the California School for the Deaf and Blind, the Tribune had noted,
            Sammy, with a cheerful philosophy of life which knows no obstacles in the way of success, is confident that his way will be cleared in making himself entirely self-supporting when he finishes his studies.
Following his graduation from high school, the Tribune continued to carry stories about Sam’s progress in various projects he had launched. For a while, it did seem like Sam would be as successful as he believed he’d be. Perhaps this positive thinking thing did really work—at least for him. After all, it was the newspaper’s observation about Sam,
            Of his ability to “make good” after he has left school young Bean has not a doubt. Despite his handicap he has an unclouded vision of life.

Photograph, above: closeup of the hands of Sam and Maud Bean, from their undated portraitseemingly as dark and blurry as the world in which they must have existed.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Only One Regret

With Samuel Bean’s high school graduation occurring in the aftermath of what was then dubbed the Great War, the Oakland Tribune was quite ready to characterize Sam’s response to the draft as if it were an echo of those famous words attributed to the American Patriot, Nathan Hale. Among the accolades poured upon Sam in the May 11, 1919, article leading up to the graduation ceremonies, the Tribune observed:

“Sammy” Bean has only one regret in life. And that is that he was not able to fight for his country. His name was the first one called in Alameda county during the first draft and twice he was summoned for physical examination. Each visit resulted in the [keenest] disappointment to him.
Revisiting that actual Tribune report just after the draft’s first drawing, we see the article providing what was then the colloquial term for Sam’s malady:

Samuel W. Bean, the second man drawn, is disqualified physically from serving. He is deaf, dumb and blind.
Of course, since we know the rest of this saga, it’s quite obvious that Sam was not “dumb” in that era’s sense of the word, for he not only recited poetry—including his own—before public audiences, but later embarked on a speaking tour to promote his writings.

He was, however, disqualified from military service—as one would expect. The Alameda County draft board, in addition to having to deal with the “muchly married” situation noted in yesterday’s post, reported to the Tribune on August 16 that of the seventy-five names drawn, they were obliged to disqualify twelve men. Of those twelve names listed in the article, the very last name belonged to Sam Bean.

Remembering the skeptical note included on Sam’s draft registration card—“seems to be deaf and blind”—it appears, at this point, there was no doubt of the medical conclusion. The draft board officials must have gotten over any residual apprehensions of having been duped by yet another draft dodger.

Sam, however, had an entirely different take on the matter, according to his words quoted by the Oakland Tribune right after his name was pulled in the draft.

When he learned from members of his family that he had been drawn he wrote: “I am mighty sorry that I cannot go and help whip the Kaiser.”

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Muchly Married City

In the midst of reading newspaper articles congratulating Samuel Bean on his admirable achievement of being the first deaf and blind student to graduate from the State of California’s school in Berkeley, we need to keep in mind that he was not the usual age of eighteen upon his graduation.

Sam was twenty-three.

Given the time frame in which that marvelous occasion occurred, we need also to remember the broader perspective of world events surrounding that date. When Sam was twenty one—ripe for the draft, if all other considerations were overlooked—he was still laboring over his high school studies.

Though World War One had been raging on European soil since late July, 1914, the United States entrance into the fray did not occur until formal declaration of war by Congress on April 6, 1917. At that point, Sam was more than two years away from his formal graduation ceremony.  

By July of 1917, with an American draft instituted in the form of a lottery, every adult male within the designated age limits had drawn a number, and it was a matter of which numbers would be selected as to who would be required to report for military duty. (All told, the United States would end up drafting a total of 2.8 million men before the war's conclusion.)

As stories poured in from around the country in the aftermath of that first drawing, the Oakland Tribune ran an article on July 21,1917, detailing some unusual anecdotes. In amongst the stories from Cincinnati and Minneapolis, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, was tucked a solitary paragraph about the number two name drawn for Alameda. Can you guess who that might have been?

Evidently, those counties whose quotas were already filled by volunteers did not need to participate in the draft, as the Tribune article explained with the example of the Portland area in the state of Oregon:
As Portland’s quota has been filled by volunteers no man will be called from the list for the first draft, but on the second call the city will have to supply its share. Fourteen counties in Oregon are exempt on the first call.
That, however, was not the case for Alameda County in the San Francisco Bay Area. In a follow-up article on August 16 of that same year, the Oakland Tribune explained why the local region was not only the opposite case of Portland—not having enough volunteers to negate necessity of the first round of the draft—but also not able to fill its quota.
            The Alameda draft board took up at its meeting last night consideration of the claims and physical examinations of the first batch of men called, the seventy-five who underwent physical tests Monday. Twelve were given discharges as physically unfit for military service. Those not given discharge by reason of failure to meet the physical tests came up for consideration later…. By far the major portion of the seventy-five, allowing for enlistments, necessary absences, etc., filed claims for exemptions….
            The exemption claims brought forcibly to light the fact that Alameda is a “muchly married city.” It has long been the boast, of real estate men, boosters and even the general run of citizens, that Alameda was a city of homes, but even the most enthusiastic home booster never realized that seemingly every Alameda youth took unto himself a wife about as soon as he was able to vote or graduate from the high school. The exemption claims of married men almost match the number of men called for service. A single man of military age in Alameda appears to be the scarcest thing in the world.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Facing the Battle of Life

Sam Bean of Alameda California
Only a week after the Oakland Tribune ran a story on Sam Bean and his upcoming graduation from the California School for the Deaf and Blind in Berkeley, the newspaper issued another report. Thankfully correcting the date of the impending high school festivities in the process, the article’s purpose was actually to announce a feature of the program. “Young Bean,” the newspaper declared, “is the most remarkable member” of his class and “is the first student with a double handicap of his kind to accomplish the seemingly impossible feat.”

Though the wording hardly strayed from typical journalistic style—other than, admittedly, the continued hyperbole—I could sense a tremor of anticipation in the line that explained, 
A voice which he has not heard since he was 16 years old will pronounce the words of his poem at the coming exercises.
Incredibly, this now deaf and blind student was going to read aloud, in a public gathering, a poem of his own creation. Oh, how I wish I could have been there to hear it—or at least that someone would have had the technical ability to have recorded the rendition.

Though there was really no way anyone could share in Sam’s “sensations of living in a world of blindness and silence,” the poem was his message, standing in the gap between his school days and an unknown future. While the prior week’s news article had characterized Sam as having “an unclouded vision of life,” the title Sam gave this poem conveys a different perspective.

Facing the Battle of Life 
Let me pause upon the threshold
Facing life, where school days end:
While happy thoughts so trailing backward,
Hope inspires my future trend.

My greatest lessons learned through trials
Solving life’s perplexing sums,
Have tested worth of strength and courage—
Steeled my soul to meet what comes.

Though double cross be mine to shoulder,
God I’ll trust to lead the way
For spirit reigns and crowns the victor,
Makes him ruler of this clay.

With dauntless faith and firm conviction,
Knowing all that is, is best:
Resolute I face the future,
Full of cheerful hearty zest.

Clouds and shadows though deceiving,
Truth and wisdom cannot hide:
Conquest comes to him who conquers—
Him who braves the raging tide.

Farewell teachers, friends and comrades.
Oft sweet memory shall recall,
All your treasured deeds of kindness,
Gratefully I thank you all.                                          ~ Samuel William Bean, May 26, 1919

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Into an Era of Hyperbole

As if a bold headline declaring the impossible weren’t enough, just about one year after the hopeful newspaper report of osteopathic doctor R. F. Robie’s willingness to take on Samuel Bean’s case, the Oakland Tribune was once again heaping hyperbole upon the young man.

This time, the occasion was Sam’s impending graduation from high school. Yes, after a six year course of study, and despite being both blind and deaf, Sam had actually mastered all that was required of a high school student in the State of California and was about to receive his diploma. However, unlike all the other students in California about to receive their diploma that year, on the evening of the exercises at the California School for the Deaf and Blind—May 2, 1919—Sam was twenty three.

It seems the whole city was cheering Sam on—at least, that’s the feeling one can get, reading the headlines leading into the May 11, 1919, Tribune article. Under not one, but three—yes, count them below: three—lines of headlines, Sam was now pronounced “Wonder Student.”

Certified to have “surmounted all obstacles in the pathway of education,” Sam was declared by the Tribune “now ready to fight life’s battles for himself.”

Since this article came almost exactly one year to the day after the announcement about the theorized possibility of restoring Sam’s hearing, the silence about any such success seems to shout almost as loudly. The graduation article emphasizes Sam’s blind and deaf condition as if nothing had changed in the ensuing year.

Noting that “after six years of tireless work mastering all of the required subjects with only his fingers to guide him,” Sam would be “the first student afflicted with both deafness and blindness to be graduated by the school,” the news report reveals there was no change in his condition.

There was still much to celebrate, though. After all, Sam’s “achievement in completing a regular high school [course of study] has been a source of marvel to educators in all parts of the country.”

According to reports received by the Tribune about Sam, “he has fought his battle with a courage and cheerfulness which has given inspiration to many of the more fortunate pupils at the state school.”

Though such hyperbole may seem excessive, no one can deny Sam Bean made a remarkable effort in the face of what, to many others, may have seemed like insurmountable obstacles.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Breathtaking Possibility

In the midst of trying to track down an explanation for why Alameda County resident Samuel Bean was listed as a Boston resident in his father’s obituary, instead of any satisfactory answers, more attention-grabbing details surface.

Take, for example, this article included on the back page of the May 15, 1918, edition of the Oakland Tribune.

Here’s what appeared under headlines screaming, “Blind, Deaf, But Hearing May Return.”
            The same medical science which restored the eyesight of Tom Skeyhill, blind Anzac signaler, may bring back the hearing of “Sammy” William Bean, blind and deaf pupil at the California School for the Deaf and Blind in Berkeley.
            Hope is seen for the restoration of Sammy’s hearing by Dr. R. F. Robie, osteopath physician of Oakland, who declares that there is a good chance that the boy may once again hear the sound of a human voice.
            It was through the publication of poems written by “Sammy” Bean in The TRIBUNE in which the youth poured forth all the yearnings of a soul in darkness and silence that Dr. Robie, touched by the lad’s pitiful plight, began his treatment. A careful examination this week of the boy’s condition showed abnormal cords and muscles on “Sammy’s” neck which, according to Dr. Robie, may have caused deafness. These, Dr. Robie hopes to restore to their normal condition and in this way effect a restoration of the youth’s hearing.

            “As yet it is all an uncertain problem whether the boy’s hearing will be restored,” says Dr. Robie. “That there is a good chance he will hear again is certain or I would not undertake his treatment. It is more than likely that if these cords on his neck are restored to their normal condition that he will hear again.”
            While the treatment to be used in seeking to restore “Sammy’s” hearing is not identical [sic] with that which brought back the sight of Tom Skeyhill, wounded Anzac soldier, in the east recently, the methods are dominated by the same theory, according to Dr. Robie.
            So far but two treatments have been given the lad but with encouraging results already shown by these high hope is held by Dr. Robie that his labors may not prove in vain.
            Bean, who is now 20 years old, lost both his hearing and his sight when a lad of 12 he was struck on the head by a baseball. According to physicians there is no hope for the restoration in any part of his sight, one of his eyes having been removed and the other totally destroyed as a result of the accident.
            Joy at the prospects of getting back his hearing is expressed by “Sammy” in his silent language of the deaf and in faltering sentences.
            “If only my hearing is restored, blindness will be as nothing,” he says.
            The youth is being escorted to and from his visits to the doctor’s office by his teacher and closest companion, Miss Mary Heath Eastman, through whose untiring efforts “Sammy” was accorded his first communication with the world after his sight and hearing were --- [unclear word].

            Despite his double handicap, “Sammy” Bean is accorded the distinction of being the most brilliant pupil at the state blind and deaf school as well as the most skilled mechanic in the workshops. His unusual ability and deftness with his hands was shown recently when the school was carrying out a contract for tying and splicing tent ropes for the government. Where a seeing person possessed of all his faculties spliced but 80 ropes per hour working at top speed, “Sammy” accomplished 120.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Letting the Newspapers Tell the Story

When a newspaper story provides an unexpected detail about a family member’s history, sometimes there is no recourse but to seek further newspaper reports to fill in the story’s blanks. That was the case with Leon S. Bean’s 1928 obituary, which we questioned yesterday.

The trouble with stumbling upon family history details dated in the middle of a decade is just that: it’s a long way until the next census. Searching city directories might sometimes help to fill in the blanks for a year like 1928, but can often be spotty—especially if a person has just moved to the area, or there is no directory published, or currently existent, for the town in question.

In the case of Samuel Bean—the blind and deaf son of Leon Bean, mentioned in that 1928 obituary—the town of residence was listed as Boston. As luck would have it, the 1928 city directory for the City of Boston is available online at, so I took a look there.

No Sam.

Granted, the obituary for his father was written in November of the year, so perhaps Sam had arrived in that city before November, but after the directory was published. Perhaps the 1929 directory would help?


Of course, often folks living in outlying towns refer to their geographic location by the name of the metropolis rather than the relatively unknown village’s name. However, I’m not sure I’m willing to do an in-depth study of all the population centers near Boston in hopes of finding someone with a surname as common as Bean.

There is another approach I can use, though. At least this is the one I will try for now. Since Sam seemed to be a community favorite in the Berkeley area during his tenure at the California School for the Blind and Deaf, there are many more newspaper articles I can access.

Some of those reports are barely mentions of his name, nothing more. Others provide a bit of color about his personality or current challenges at school. I’ll start with the more substantial news reports and work my way through those first.

One, for instance, that I found on a recent research trip to Sam’s native Redwood City, mentions some details about his marriage to Maud Woodworth. While it predates Leon’s obituary by several years, it is a sufficient starting place right now, in our quest to figure out more about this unique student.

As I’ve mentioned before about the Schellens Collection transcriptions, the difficulty with this secondary source is the transcriber’s use of ellipses. I will, at some point, need to access the source for the transcription and see if that original newspaper article included more details germane to our purposes.

In the meantime, it will suffice to add this bit of information from the Redwood City, California, Standard, published on January 13, 1921:
Samuel W. Bean, well known deaf and blind poet and former Redwood City boy, was married last Friday in Berkeley to Miss Maud M. Woodworth of Irwindale, Los Angeles county. Mrs. Bean was an instructor in the California School for the Deaf and Blind at Berkeley when Bean was a student there and was his teacher for two years before he graduated in 1919. She laughingly said, following the wedding, that she had elected herself to be his permanent guide for life, taking the place of Fred Streiff, a close friend and constant companion during the time when the blind and deaf poet was selling his poems among booksellers. Mrs. Bean became interested in teaching the blind when she was a girl on the orange grove of her father, who is also blind and with whom she was a steady companion for many years. She came to Berkeley a little over two years ago and entered the blind and deaf school as a teacher.... Bean was sixteen years old at the time of being struck with a baseball at Palo Alto which rendered him unable to hear or see.... His purpose, Bean says, is to sell his poems through booksellers and gather sufficient funds to culminate the ambition of his life, the opening and operating of a broom factory to be run entirely by the blind....
Sam Bean blind and deaf poet and native Californian seated with his wife Maud Woodworth Bean

Photograph above: Samuel W. Bean and his wife, the former Maud M. Woodworth. Undated portrait, most likely from the 1920s, now in the possession of the author.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Wait! Boston?

Finally finding the 1928 obituary for Leon S. Bean—the building contractor in Redwood City and Palo Alto, California—may have seemed like the end of a long search.

It was not. It only became the start of a long line of further questions.

Take, for instance, the residence locations given for each of Leon’s three children.

1939 photograph of Treasure Island near San Francisco and unidentified man possibly Ulysses Grant nicknamed Bob
His oldest, Leona, had by this time married the mysterious Mr. Grant—whom I’m still having trouble positively identifying—and was situated in nearby San Francisco. That move was not so much a surprise, as she is most likely the public health nurse showing there in the 1930 census. I say most likely because I still have doubts about that document. Compounding the fact that the scanned copy available for viewing at is quite faint, the information I am able to decipher doesn’t seem to match what I know of Leona’s personal history.

Bill, one of the twins whom we’ve already discussed, the one with a passion for cars and a head for business, was listed as residing in Fresno, rather than the Alameda address I’ve always known about. While Fresno is a considerable distance from Bill's native Bay Area, it is no surprise to find him there in 1928—once I finally unearthed that detail about his wife’s maiden name and family origin.

But blind and deaf Sam? In Boston? Last time I looked, he had been wrapping up a stellar academic career at the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley. Though he had been a star student, and while it was true that he had lofty ambitions upon graduation, moving so far from family with the types of challenges that he faced seems unlikely.

Do I chalk this up to the typical newspaper error? Or sniff out another unexpected story?

Photograph above left: torn from a larger format but still retaining the imprint, "Treasure Island, San Francisco Calif, 1939," this may possibly be a picture of Leona Bean Grant's husband, known only by the nickname Bob Grant, thanks to the few labels found on other pictures left in the Bean family's collection.
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