“Then came the loss of sight yet goodness in this crushing affliction enabled me to say ‘Thy will be done.” Esther A. Lusk

My work on Common Touch has provided me with many opportunities to meet individuals who have been generous and gracious with their knowledge of accessibility, disability studies, and printing for the blind. As a curator who works with archival collections, I also on occasion become familiar with individuals who can be a little less generous with their knowledge. Yes, I am talking about the people who I learn about through inscriptions, notes, and imprints on the manuscripts, prints, and ephemera I work with daily.

Esther A. Lusk, a student at the New York State Institute for the Blind circa 1869-circa 1873, has become one of my enigmatic individuals from my work on “Common Touch.” I started to know of her through the inscription of her name on a pasteboard writing guide. “E. A. Lusk” is written on the tablet (a thick paper board with grooves to guide the handwriting of a person who is blind) that accompanied the Jenny Partridge letters mentioned by artist Teresa Jaynes in her May 5, 2015 post. Work with a recent research fellow again brought Ms. Lusk to my attention. We not only hold her writing board, but an 1874 letter and an undated essay written in her hand. What I know of her is from her own words and her few known genealogical records. So let me please introduce you to the enigmatic Ms. Lusk.

Esther A. Lusk was born Esther Anna Sutliff in New York on April 29, 1832. She probably married James Lusk in 1852 at the age of about 20. She died on January 14, 1883 in Sherbourne, New York and is buried at the Sherburne West Hill Cemetery under a gravestone inscribed “I shall be satisfied when I awake in his likeness.” During her life of nearly fifty-one years, Lusk was widowed before the age of thirty, lost her sight, traveled cross country to Kentucky, and was a boarder on a New York farm in the years before she died.

These milestones can be further contextualized from what can be inferred from the known documents about her life. For instance, her October 10, 1874 letter was written in Crittenden, Kentucky. Her sister Hopy (i.e., Hope) had died in Crittenden almost three years earlier. Esther likely wrote the letter while on a visit to her sister’s family with whom she previously lived in New York in 1860 and later when they relocated West. Lusk’s time in Kentucky is likely the reference in her undated personal essay that reads “I left my home to find another, in what seemed to my then untutored imagination the farthest eternity of the far West.”

This undated essay that begins “I come to you my friends not as a stranger; but as one who in the years of absence and change has preserved in her heart as a verdant and flowery oasis, the home of her childhood and the friends and association of those happy years” also references her finding love, her losing her sight, and the death of her mother, sister, and husband. Despite these references, Lusk’s life and the essay raises more questions than it answers. Records suggest Lusk lost her husband in 1858 and before her move West, but her essay implies she met him after she left New York. Even more so, who is the audience for this essay rife with scriptural references? The tone seems as if was a speech, but Lusk would not have been able to read her written words. Did someone read her words for her? Or was this essay not meant to be a speech? Regardless, what is clear is that Lusk was a devout, woman, self-aware of her final years, possibly from illness, when she wrote the essay. Her final passage alludes to her faith and the impending end to her life: “The golden hours of life are speeding rapidly into the past. May the untried Future be sown with the seed of good deeds, kind words, pleasant smiles and loving actions. The fruits of the harvest be known only at the Resurrection of the last day when He shall say ‘Inasmuch as ye did it to the least of these my disciples yet have done it unto me.’”

Although I wish I knew more about Esther, the little that I do still makes her a gracious contributor to “Common Touch.” Her “loving actions” have stood the test of time.

Sources

Census records and “Find a Grave Index” on Ancestry.com accessed July 6, and August 28, 2015.

Letter and essay with LCP copy Poetry of America: Selections from Standard American Poets for the Blind. Philadelphia : Napoleon B. Kneass Jr.,1870. LCP *Am 1870 Poetry 16646.Q (Zinman)

Erika Piola
Associate Curator, Prints and Photographs
Co-Director, VCP at LCP

Acknowledgement

Thank you to Library Company 2015-2016 fellow Erica Fretwell for her transcriptions of Lusk’s manuscripts and her brainstorming about their provenance.

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