Julia Brace (June 13, 1807 – August 12, 1884) was a deafblind who received no special instruction until she reached adulthood.
She was born to a poor family in Hartford County, Connecticut, and became deafblind at age five from typhus fever. She gradually stopped speaking and developed a system of home sign that she used with her parents. She was sent to a boarding school with hearing and sighted children before being offered a place at the Hartford Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb (now called the American School for the Deaf), where she enrolled on 11 June 1825, two days before her 18th birthday.
During her childhood she was described as independent, inquisitive and feisty. Although she wasn't given much formal instruction, she did acquire tactile American Sign Language from the resident deaf students and staff at the Hartford school. Despite being the only blind person there, she became a part of the school community, forming friendships (and enemies), fulfilling communal duties, and developing skills in sewing and knitting. She began to be seen as something of a celebrity and received many curious visitors — although these regular interruptions to her daily activities apparently annoyed her and she wasn't afraid, on occasion, to make her displeasure known.
Her memory of tangible facts was very tenacious, but it had no grasp of abstractions, and it was never apparent that she comprehended the idea of a Deity. She was tenacious of her own rights, but never intentionally invaded those of others, and she was never known to deceive. She was kind and gentle enough to be entrusted with the care of the sick, and made an excellent nurse.
Samuel Gridley Howe, educator from the Perkins School for the Blind, began instructing the 7-year-old deafblind Laura Bridgman after meeting Brace during a visit to the Hartford school around 1837. After four years and much success with his young pupil, Howe returned to Hartford in 1841, bringing her with him. Although Brace was 34 years old, Howe thought he would also like to attempt to instruct her in the English language as he had Bridgman. On April 6, 1842, Brace enrolled as a student of the Perkins School.
Howe's 'experiment', however, proved less successful than he had hoped, as Brace clearly preferred to communicate in sign language, and she returned to the Hartford school after a year, where she continued to board until 1860.
- Samuel Gridley Howe, "Julia Brace." Manuscript draft of first portion of Appendix C of the Eleventh Annual Report of the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts Asylum for the Blind. Sanborn Brown Autograph Collection, Special Collections, Dartmouth College Library.
- Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Brace, Julia". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton