Among the Alumni of every school for the deaf there are certain ones who for some reason are exceptional cases and whose life and achievements are of special interest and deserving of mention. The Rochester school is no exception, and while there are more than two alumni whose life stories would make interesting reading, only two will be sketched here.
SARAH TAYLOR ADAMS, who became deaf at three years of age, entered this school in 1877 at the age of six years. She was the daughter of REV. EDWARD PAYSON ADAMS, of Dunkirk, N. Y., and a niece of REV. MYRON ADAMS, for many years a prominent minister in Rochester, and a cousin of SAMUEL HOPKINS ADAMS, the writer. A bright and attractive child, she made rapid progress in every way, so much so that at the age of thirteen her parents felt that she would be able to take her place in a hearing school. Accordingly she was withdrawn from this school and for three years continued her studies in a seminary for hearing girls. She, was able to carry on her studies by means of speech and speech-reading to the entire satisfaction of her-self and her teachers, during the first year. The second year work, being more advanced and requiring a larger vocabulary, was more difficult for Miss Adams. in the third year the class of which she was a member, took up Latin, French and the sciences. These studies required the use of so many unfamiliar words and expressions that Miss Adams found her speech and- speech-reading inadequate to meet the demand, so at the end of the third year, she returned to this school. Even as a child she showed great artistic talent, which her parents took pains to cultivate.
When she was nineteen years of age her father, having read Victor Hugo’s novel “Les Miserables,” adapted parts of it to meet the requirements of his Sunday School children. Sarah read these “story sermons” with great pleasure, and upon her return to the Rochester school, she gathered groups of girls around her and related these stories to them, greatly to their delight. Mrs. Westervelt, seeing the interest taken in these “Sermonettes,” desired to have them published so that other children might enjoy them. Dr. Westervelt arranged with Rev. Adams to have his manuscript printed here by the boys in the printing office. Then came the idea of having the book illustrated with drawings made by Sarah, and she made ten India ink pen drawings, using the cuts in the Routledge edition of “Les Miserables” as motifs. The book had a ready sale, and some few copies are still to be had at the school. The Preface to this book was written by Mrs. Alexander Graham Bell, wife of the inventor of the telephone, in which she said “the pictures painted by Miss Adams towards the close of her life showed constantly increasing skill and her friends felt that their high estimate of her artistic talent was being fulfilled and that a great future was before her.”
In 1889 Miss Adams went to New York City to devote the whole of her time to the study of art. She joined the Art Students’ League where she was under the instruction of the late Augustus Saint-Gaudens. There her work was of such high order that when the Principal of a seminary for young ladies in Waterbury, Conn., came to the Art League to find a teacher of art for her school, Mr. Saint-Gaudens unhesitatingly recommended Miss Adams. When the lady expressed astonishment at his suggesting a deaf teacher for her hearing pupils, Mr. Saint-Gaudens said in substance, “You will, of course, use your own judgment in the matter, but I assure you that you cannot do better than to take Miss Adams.” Persuaded by the earnestness of Mr. Saint-Gaudens, the lady made Miss Adams an offer of the position in her school. Miss Adams felt that it would be assuming a great responsibility to undertake to teach a class of hearing young ladies. This had never been her ambition. But encouraged by Mr. Saint-Gaudens’ assurance of her fitness for the position, she accepted it. There followed three years of consecrated and successful work during which she won the love and admiration of her pupils and all others connected with the school. Then, suddenly and with little warning, she was gone, leaving a great void in the hearts of those who loved her, but leaving also fragrant memories of a life wherein the good, the true and the beautiful found expression. Speaking at her funeral, Dr. Westervelt said, “Sarah’s brief life was not unfinished; it was fully rounded out and complete because each day was complete in loving self-forgetful service for others.”
MISS ADELIA FAY at one time visited the school at Waterbury, Conn., where Sarah had taught. She was shown the last portrait painted by Sarah and considered her master-piece. It was said to be a perfect likeness. The hand in particular being absolutely perfect and true to life. The friends of the original considered the picture above criticism.
Excerpt reproduced here with permission from the Rochester School for the Deaf
Halpen, Rosa H. “Sarah Taylor Adams.” History of the Rochester School for the Deaf: 1876-1936. Rochester: Rochester School for the Deaf, 1936. 57-8.