As a toddler, Amy asked her mother for songs by color, “Play the yellow music. . . the red.” At first Clara thought her daughter was referring to the color of the sheet music cover art. Eventually she realized Amy was referring to the keys of the songs. It is not known if Clara recognized that her daughter was exhibiting something we know of now as “synesthesia” when she associated musical keys with colors, or that it was a phenomenon most often found in artistic people. It is likely that Clara did not share this information with many at the time because synesthesia was not regarded as a gift by the few people who knew of its existence. (Today some do consider it a gift, but many still refer to it as a disability, and make reference to the “sufferers” of synesthesia.)

According to biographer Adrienne Block, mother Clara’s Calvinist religion, the social mores of her time, and a popular author whom she followed closely for parental advice, Gerald Stanley Lee all encouraged her to restrict Amy’s gift in favor of raising a proper, modest, “normal” girl child (Block 10).  Musical genius and synesthesia would certainly not have been thought of as “normal” for a girl in 1869 when Amy began to exhibit these phenomena.

But I intuited something not quite right about Block’s contention that Clara discouraged her daughter’s music talent simply because of social mores and the teaching of this man Gerald Lee – particularly since mother Clara was herself an accomplished musician, a pianist. My research confirmed the social pressure of the time that discouraged the raising of girls to excel in fields thought to be the territory of boys and men, and yet people in Amy’s childhood communities and family seemed to be quite taken with the little girl’s great gifts. (go to p2)