A Deaf Adult Speaks Out
By Leo M. Jacobs
[pages 1-4, 16, 116, and back cover. Used by Permission from Gallaudet University Press © 1989]
[Note: Leo M. Jacobs (1918-1998) was "the first professor tot hold the Powrie V. Doctor Chair of Deaf Studies at Gallaudet University...A graduate of Gallaudet University, he earned his masters from San Francisco State College...(and) was best known as a math teacher at California School for the Deaf Berkeley (now Fremont)."]
"My story begins with the birth of my mother in San Francisco. Her parents were first cousins, and after a first child who could hear, they bore three deaf children in succession. They decided to stop bearing children but two more came about 10 years later and they had normal hearing. However, those two youngest offspring died from childhood diseases. Therefore I know only one aunt who could hear. All three deaf children went to California School for the Deaf in Berkeley. My grandmother and Aunt Julia learned sign language, so I was always very much part of the family group every time we visited relatives.
My father, the oldest of four brothers, on the other hand, lost his hearing from spinal meningitis. He had no deaf siblings, and we could not communicate with his family at all except one uncle who could barely fingerspell. Although he attended the same school my mother did, they did not become sweethearts until after they graduated. They were going together when San Francisco was hit by the big earthquake and fire in 1906. I remember being enthralled by stories about the experiences that they and their families met during that devastating time. They were married in my mother's home in 1908."
"...I was born deaf. When my parents discovered that both of their children were deaf and would be going to the Berkeley school, they purchased a small house only seven blocks from the school campus. The proximity to home allowed both my brother and me to walk to school every day..."
"...I enjoyed a normal childhood free of any barriers or restrictions in communications. The Berkeley school was also an old and familiar place to me because my parents were there, too, and I was acquainted with not only the physical facilities but also many of the staff before I ever became a pupil.
An illustrious graduate of the school who later became a respected staff member was Theophilus Hope d'Estrella (see Albronda, 1985). He was a good friend of my parents and became my brother's and my friends also when we entered school. A waif of Mexican ancestry, he was found on the San Francisco streets, and became one of the first pupils of the school when it opened in San Francisco in 1860. He remained on the school campus all his life, eventually teaching art and a special class of slow learning deaf children. He only left the campus to go to a nursing home to spend the last few weeks of his life. He came back to the campus for last rites. The large chapel was jammed full of the many alumni of the school who remembered and revered him. He was a gentle man, much loved for his wise counsel as well as story-telling hours during which countless youngsters enjoyed enchantment. I remember enjoying conversations with the old man, and going to his funeral when I was 11.
Another person of renown who was also a friend of my parents was Douglas Tilden, also a graduate of the Berkeley school who later gained fame as a sculptor whose works still grace prominent location sin the San Francisco Bay Area, including the Donohue Mechanics Statue at Bush and Market Streets. The Berkeley campus of the University of California has Tilden's Football Player Statue, and the school for the deaf campus has a magnificent statue, named the Bear Hunt. I recall being fascinated by the old maestro's mannerisms in both actions and conversations. He knew that he was a genius and subsequently displayed flashes of temperament which kept his friends and admirers in awe and at a distance. Such was his character even to the last day of his life in spite of the fact that he was virtually destitute. So proud and dignified was he that I never once saw him complain.
Such was my childhood. During those days there was extreme polarity between the "oralists" and those who enjoyed manual communication. Therefore, my parents were particularly anxious that time should not be taken from my regular academic work for oral training... As a result, I was ready to graduate at the age of 14 and went to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., when I was barely 15."
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" ...I grew up in a loving atmosphere and never knew of any deprivation of communication; my parents knew my wants, and I knew just how far I could go without bringing the wrath down on my head. The conversation was full and interesting at the dinner table. I learned all the facts of life at appropriate times...my only communication difficulties arose when I began doing business with the outside world, but I thought nothing about them because I had observed my parents methods of overcoming those barriers."
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"...With this as my background, it was to be expected that I felt more handicapped from the treatment I received at the hands of hearing people than from my deafness. During all the years since this initial impression, I have become more firmly convinced that the real ills of deaf people lie more with minority group dynamics than with their deafness..."