Edmund Booth: Deaf Pioneer
Edmund Booth was born on a farm near Springfield, Massachusetts in 1810. Some of the
"hats" he wore during his lifetime were farmer, teacher, activist for the deaf, pioneer settler, 49er,
journalist, and politician.
The consistent theme in Booth's life, one to which he always returned, was his commitment to the
deaf: working for the rights of all deaf people in this country, including education of deaf children.
Booth's interest in deaf issues was very personal since he himself had lost all of his hearing by the
time he was eight years old, he was struck down during an outbreak of "spotted fever"
(cerebrospinal meningitis). After he recovered, he discovered he was partially deaf and totally
blind in one eye. The same epidemic killed his father.
At age seven or eight, after he and a friend spent an entire day playing in a local pond, Booth
discovered he could not hear at all. Luckily, in between the two incidents, his mother had taught
him to read; and he had "a bit of schooling."
Booth lived on his uncle's farm for several years. While he was there, he had a meeting which
changed his life. Flavel Goldthwaite, a neighbor, came for a visit and told Booth about the
Hartford Asylum for deaf students.
Booth was admitted the following year and studied under Laurent Clerc, Thomas Hopkins
Gallaudet, and Lewis Weld. He was at the school for 11 years, becoming a teacher after
completing his course of study. At one point (1834) Booth and two other teachers went to South
Carolina and Georgia. At each place, they gave "exhibitions" of deaf education to state
legislatures. Impressed by what they had seen, the legislators in both states voted to send deaf
students to Hartford.
Booth resigned in 1839 and made a decision to move West to Iowa. At age 29, he wanted a more
active life and to earn more money. To reach Iowa, it was necessary to travel by railroad,
stagecoach, canal, and lake steamer. He reached eastern Iowa and settled at Anamosa, " a
wilderness with a few widely scattered log cabins ..." Outnumbering the small population were
Indians, deer, wolves, rattlesnakes, etc. It was truly the frontier.
Booth worked at whatever came his way and seemed to make a "fair living." He built mills, dams,
and houses. He also tried farming with apparent success. The rest of the Booth family soon
joined him, and Edmund helped build the first "comfortable house, frame-style" in Jones County.
Booth married Mary Ann Walworth in 1840. She had been his student at Hartford and was
already living in Iowa with her family when Booth arrived. It seems that his desire to see her
again was one of the reasons for his immigration.
Booth's career as politician included three terms as Recorder of Deeds in Jones County and a year
as Enrollment Clerk to the Iowa House of Representatives.
Iowa became a state in 1848. Booth convinced the state legislature to send its deaf children to
the Illinois School for the Deaf. He was a driving force behind the founding of the Iowa School
for the Deaf at Council Bluffs (1855).
Gold was discovered in California in 1848. The next year Booth left Mary Ann and their three
children to travel to the gold fields. The trip took six months. Like the other "49ers,"
(goldseekers), he hoped to find a "mother lode." He worked near Sonora and survived cholera,
smallpox, and other hardships. He stayed in California until 1854 and then returned to Iowa with
" ... a considerable sum of money ..."
In the mid-1850s Booth was an outspoken critic of John Jacobus Flournoy's proposal to establish
a Deaf Commonwealth (self-governing state) somewhere in the American West. It would have
separated deaf people from the hearing. Booth believed Flournoy's plan was "impractical, both
economically and socially. " Booth himself " ......
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