Romaine Samworth, now 94, went blind when she was eight years old. Born Romaine ("just like the lettuce") Marsh on January 5, 1921 on a small farm near historic Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Romaine had a very happy family life surrounded by loving parents, a pet mutt ("mostly Shepherd"), a cat, a lamb, and a couple of milk cows. "I had a girlfriend who teased my sister and me, calling us 'the swamp sisters,'" she would say. "When I was 14, my beloved oldest sister, Mildred, died. It was the biggest tragedy of my life. My baby sister, Ida, is still alive."
Thousands of children were given the smallpox vaccine. The inoculation site would itch, and some children, like Romaine, would scratch it and, then, accidentally touch their eye, resulting in blindness in just a few weeks.
The State of Pennsylvania had a school for the blind in Carlisle. At 12, Romaine was taught Braille. "Jane Johnson, my braille teacher from Baltimore School for the Blind, was like a second mother to me," recalled Romaine. "She could read a bit with magnifiers, and I would stay with her in Baltimore for a couple of weeks at a time." Romaine became a talented pianist and played for her church for 17 years. At 34, she married Charlie, seven years her junior, and totally blind. "Jane took me to Baltimore to buy my wedding dress at Becky's Bridal," says Romaine. "It was beautiful and cost twenty dollars." Charlie worked in the nearby Slinky toy factory and later in a factory that made parts for the space industry. Both Romaine and Charlie earned extra money assembling birth control diaphragms in their basement. Their married life was exceedingly happy. They sang together in their church choir (Romaine sang alto), taught Bible classes, laughed a lot, were avid Phillies fans, and enjoyed Romaine's excellent cooking and, especially, a rare trip to Ventnor Beach in New Jersey. "I couldn't believe the sound of the ocean!" noted Romaine. She and Charlie did not have children, but they did have had a parakeet named Pixie that called Romaine, "Momma." Pixie lived 15 years. The couple applied for a guide dog, but they were denied because their rural home did not have the required sidewalks.
It was Romaine's Avon lady who introduced her to ceramics. "The first thing I sculpted was a hand, but everything was one color," remembers Romaine. Out of her one remaining eye, Romaine could perceive some bright colors and soon bought her own kiln. She took a basic sculpting course with Laura Goodman and later with Eiko Fan. Both teachers were amazed at Romaine's natural gifts. Eiko remained Romaine's faithful friend, documentarian, and biggest admirer. On Romaine's 90th birthday, her beloved Charlie died. They had been married for 55 very happy years. Romaine continued living independently, but did break her hip during that time. As she was wheeled into surgery, her only question was, "Will I be well by my museum opening in Baltimore?"