The Chain of Remembered Gratitude:
The Heritage and History of the DEAF-WORLD
in the United States
Note: The names of Deaf individuals appear in bold italics throughout this chapter. In addition, names of Deaf and Hearing historical figures appearing in blue are briefly described in “Who’s Who” which can be accessed via the Overview Section of this Project.
“The history of the Deaf is no longer only that of their education or of their hearing teachers. It is the history of Deaf people in its long march, with its hopes, its sufferings, its joys, its angers, its defeats and its victories.” Bernard Truffaut(1993)
Honor Thy Deaf History © Nancy Rourke 2011
The history of the DEAF-WORLD is one that has constantly had to counter the falsehood that has been attributed to Aristotle that “Those who are born deaf all become senseless and incapable of reason.”1 Our long march to prove that being Deaf is all right and that natural signed languages are equal to spoken languages has been well documented in Deaf people’s literary and artistic expressions.
The 1999 World Federation of the Deaf Conference in Sydney, Australia, opened with the “Blue Ribbon Ceremony” in which various people from the global Deaf community stated, in part:
“…We celebrate our proud history, our arts, and our cultures… we celebrate our survival…And today, let us remember that many of us and our ancestors have suffered at the hands of those who believe we should not be here. We are here to remember them…to pledge…to fight to end that oppression now for all the world’s Deaf children and the others still to come.” Paddy Ladd (2003)2
These words emphasize the importance of history to Deaf people: like other oppressed groups, members of the DEAF-WORLD have the need to remember our ancestors, recognize the challenges of past generations of Deaf people for cultural survival, and confirm our shared history. At the same time, it shows the need for Deaf people to come together in the present to celebrate our endurance as a people, and share a responsibility for future generations. The questions guiding this chapter are:
- Who are the ancestors of Deaf people?
- How did Deaf people develop a sense of solidarity?
- How has the survival of Deaf people and Deaf culture been threatened?
- How have Deaf people advocated for our rights?
- What obligations do Deaf people feel for Deaf children and their future?
Ultimately, this section serves as a historical framework for understanding the time and conditions in which the visual and literary arts of Deaf people have been created.
“The Whites have had the power given them by the Great Spirit to read and write, and convey information in this way. He gave us the power to talk with our hands and arms, and send information with the mirror, blanket and pony far away, and when we meet with Indians who have a different spoken language from ours, we can talk to them in signs.” Chief Iron Hawk
Prior to the arrival of Europeans in America in the 1600s, various tribes of Native Americans likely had Deaf members and families of Deaf people. Oral histories and more current research have noted that signs developed within and among tribes of Native Americans, particularly for communication between tribes that did not share a common spoken language. Melanie McKay-Cody (1996) as well as Jeff Davis (see http://sunsite.utk.edu/pisl/index.html) have noted that signs used by Native Americans, with particular reference to Plains Indian Sign, “was also used within native communities as an alternative to their spoken languages and as a primary language for deaf people.”
Since much of the Native American history is one of oral traditions and likely because Native Americans did not focus on individual accomplishments, we have little information about early Deaf Native American ancestors.3 One can imagine that being born Deaf into a Native American community where some form of signing is already used, would be a much more Deaf-friendly place.
“I have met Comanches, Kiowas, Apaches, Caddos, Snakes, Crows, Pawnees, Osages, Mescalero Apaches, Arickaress, Gros Ventres, Nez Perces, Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Sacs and Foxes, Pattawattomies, and other tribes whose vocal languages, like those of the named tribes we did not understand, and we communicated freely in sign language.” Chief Little Raven
Deaf Islanders Heritage © Nancy Rourke 2010
One early European settlement in America was in Martha’s Vineyard, an island just off Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Because of a number of factors,4 the community on Martha’s Vineyard became a community in which a significant number of families consisted of both Deaf and Hearing members over several generations. This led to Martha’s Vineyard eventually becoming known as the place where “everyone spoke sign language.”
It was recorded in 1692 that the first Deaf person arrived on the island, Jonathan Lambert.5His parents immigrated to the colonies from an area in England (the Weald, in Kent)which had a high population of Deaf people. Lambert had come from Barnstable, Massachusetts and bought 60 acres of land from Native Americans in an area that is still called Lambert’s Cove.Lambert had served in a military expedition to Quebec, where he was the master of a sailing ship. Like many military men, he was awarded with some land (in Maine) after his service. However, he decided to settle in Martha’s Vineyard, his wife’s homeland, and worked as a carpenter and farmer. There, they raised seven children of which two where Deaf. Thus, it may be that Beulah Lambert was the first child born Deaf on Martha’s Vineyard in 1704. While neither of his Deaf children married, his Hearing niece had 11 children, three who were Deaf.
Jonathan Lambert died a relatively wealthy man. Because he signed his will and had books listed in his possessions, it is likely that Lambert could read and write (Carroll, 1997). Did Jonathan Lambert use sign language? While there are no records confirming this, a number of factors point to the likelihood he did. His parents had immigrated from an area of England where there were Deaf people who were reported to have used sign language. Even if he did not learn to sign from his parents or others from that community, it is difficult to imagine that he would not have signed with his own two Deaf children and extended family members.
Jonathan Lambert, as well as his early Deaf and Hearing descendents on Martha’s Vineyard, did not have formal schooling, but they did show evidence of being literate, independent, and contributing members of their community.
European Educational Roots
“Wherever the deaf have received an education the method by which it is imparted is the burning question of the day with them, for the deaf are what their schooling makes them more than any other class of humans. They are facing not a theory but a condition, for they are first, last, and all the time the people of the eye.” George Veditz (1910)6
To trace the educational history of the DEAF-WORLD in the United States, we must journey back to roots in eighteenth century France. In Pre-Revolutionary America, there were sporadic reports in historical records about the lives of particular Deaf individuals and related to families of Deaf people (see Lang, 2006; and Lane, Pillard, & Hedberg, 2011). However, it was the founding of institutions of education, where significant numbers of Deaf people would come together, establish relationships, and discover the ways of being Deaf in the world.
Many individuals played an instrumental role in the education and advancement of Deaf people. We focus on France because it had a history of Deaf teachers, it lead the way in public education for Deaf children in which signed languages were used for instruction, and its teaching methods and sign language were promoted through international demonstrations as well as published scholarly works. Furthermore, our American Sign Language and Deaf education system is built largely on its foundation. France’s DEAF-WORLD, additionally, has a wealth of early examples of literary and artistic works about the Deaf experience.
Prior to the 1700s, a scattering of teachers tutored Deaf individuals from wealthy or royal families in Europe. These early educators focused on the mechanics of teaching speech so that their students would be able to claim their titles, inherit family property and/or participate in religious activities. The laws of the government and the laws of religion had long been influenced by earlier philosophers, such as Aristotle. Thus, the early emphasis on speech training was vital to proving “humanness,” as the ability to reason was believed to be something that set people apart from animals. Several of these early educators claimed to have “secret methods” for teaching speech although it is believed that these methods included at least some signing and fingerspelling.
The Age of Enlightenment,7 beginning in the late 1600s, played a major role in stimulating the interest in if and how Deaf people could be educated. Traditional beliefs and attitudes were being challenged, and support for the education of all citizens became a new goal. As a result, the stimulating new ideas of this time impacted the visual and literary arts.
The first person known to have educated a group of Deaf students using signs was Etienne de Fay, a French Deaf monk, sculptor, and architect, in about 1730.8 Not much is known about how de Fay was educated himself other than having received a strong education from the monks at his abbey from an early age, and later that he was “very skilled at explaining himself in signs” (Mirzoeff, 1995, 40). De Fay‘s students included the Meusnier brothers and M. Azy d’Etavigy who later appeared as a demonstration student9 for Jacob Pereire. Pereire, sought praise for his method of teaching speech to Deaf individuals, and d’Etavigy was one of his students. It seems more likely that de Fay truly educated d’Etavigy whereas Pereire taught him to speak. There were reports that d’Etavigy’s achievements in speaking were impressive; however, later in life it was noted that he did not use his speech skills in his daily interactions.
In Etienne de Fay, we find our first Deaf role model and ancestor, an educated person who used sign and who felt an obligation to teach young Deaf students.
Roots of Controversy in the Education of Deaf People
Oralism vs Manualism © Nancy Rourke 2010
Even in this brief piece of history, we see the contrast between the philosophy of educating Deaf students collectively in subject areas using sign as opposed to the philosophy that Deaf people need to be taught individually and that education is primarily related to the ability to learn to speak. This contrast in attitudes shows how deep the roots are of the controversies in the education of Deaf people which have been called by many names, and persist even to the present day: the German vs the French method of education of Deaf students, of oralism vs manualism, and of English-only vs bilingual approaches. Yet until pressured by oral-only mandates, there existed spoken language approaches which utilized fingerspelling. In addition, the type of educational program a Deaf student participates in is strongly influenced by the attitudes and politics of the majority culture at a particular time. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that this controversy has also been an important theme in literary and visual creations of Deaf artists.
The First Public School for Deaf Students (1760)
“…once Épée had conceived the noble project of devoting himself to the education of the deaf, he wisely observed that they possessed a natural language for communication to each other. As this language was none other than sign language, he realized that if he managed to understand it, the triumph of his undertaking would be assured. This insight has been justified by success. So the abbé de l’Épée was not the inventor or creator of this language; quite the contrary, he learned it from the deaf.” Pierre Desloges (1779)10
Abbé Charles Michel de l’Épee © Nancy Rourke 2011
The folktale of Abbé Charles-Michel de l’Épée has been retold with great reverence by generations of Deaf French people.11 Épée is known, even today, by an abbreviated version of his name sign, which indicates a sword, the English translation of his last name. Carol Paddenand Tom Humphries, contemporary American Deaf linguists and educators, translated and described this folktale which they saw enacted while they were traveling in France:
“The abbé de l’Épée had been walking for a long time through a dark night. He wanted to stop and rest overnight, but he could not find a place to stay, until at a distance he saw a house with a light. He stopped at the house, knocked at the door, but no one answered. He saw that the door was open, so he entered the house and found two young women seated by the fire sewing. He spoke to them, but they still did not respond. He walked closer and spoke to them again, but they failed again to respond. The Abbé was perplexed, but seated himself beside them. They looked up at him and did not speak. At that point, their mother entered the room. Did the Abbé not know that her daughters were deaf? He did not, but now he understood why they had not responded. As he contemplated the young women, the Abbérealized his vocation.” Padden and Humphries (1988)
It has been shown that, while somewhat romanticized, many of the details of this story are true.Épée did meet Deaf sisters and their mother requested that Épée take on instructing them. She wished him to continue their religious instruction that had begun under another priest. Most importantly, the meeting did seem to have sparked in Épée an eventual recognition of the need to educate Deaf people in France, a recognition which seemed to arise from both his religious beliefs and the political beliefs emerging in the age of enlightenment.
In 1760, Abbé Charles-Michel de l’Épée founded the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets á Paris.12 Many in America today often refer to it as the “Paris Deaf School.” Unlike those before him, Épée founded a school that was both free and public. Thus, he wished to educate ALL Deaf citizens (rather than just the royal or wealthy) and believed that all should have both religious education and education in trades which would make them productive citizens. His educational approach also was of no secret, and he invited foreign visitors to his school and encouraged them to establish Deaf schools in their own countries using methods like those they observed at the Paris Deaf School. Épée established the tradition of hosting student demonstrations to royalty and the public for the purpose of showing “his pupils were capable of understanding the principles of grammar and metaphysics, which both Enlightenment philosophy and public opinion put far beyond their reach” (Mirzoeff, 1995, pg. 35). While initially Épée supported the school himself, the government agreed to take over funding the school by the time of his death.
Épée understood the importance of educating Deaf students “through the eye what other people acquire through the ear” (from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05484b.htm accessed 8/13/11) and thus, used signing. Historians and others have mistakenly attributed Épée with creating Old French Sign Language. Yet, even Épée, himself, wrote that Deaf people in France were already using sign language before they arrived at the new school. That there existed a Deaf people who used sign language in Paris prior to the establishment of the Paris Deaf Institution was confirmed by Pierre Desloges, one of the first published Deaf writers, a Frenchman and contemporary of Épée. For educational instruction, however, Épée did create a type of “signed French” (or methodical signs) which conformed more easily to oral/written French and included signs created to represent French grammar such as articles, verb forms and prepositions. Outside of the classroom, it appears that both teachers and students at the school used a natural Signed Language.
Abbé Charles-Michel de l’Épée continues to be revered by Deaf people in France, as well as America, for establishing not only a school, but also a special place for sign language to flourish and be used in the classroom. Épée has been called by Deaf people one who promoted the recognition of signed language (Padden and Humphries, 1988) and our ‘spiritual father,’ (Berthier, 1852 as cited in Hartig, 2006). Because Épée‘s established the first known public Deaf school in the world and because he encouraged opening its doors to others, many countries began to follow France’s lead to establish schooling for Deaf children which used signed languages. As a result, the Deaf students would recognize their solidarity, and communities of Deaf people would be formed which endured past schooling. Within one generation, this would also include the United States.
The folktale of Abbé de l’Épée “…has come to symbolize in its retelling through the centuries, the transition from a world in which deaf people live alone or in small isolated communities to a world in which they have a rich community and language. This is not merely a historical tale, but also a folktale about the origin of a people and their language…” Padden and Humphries (1988)
The Next Generation in France
As Deaf students at the Paris School were educated, a number of them were recognized for their intelligence and achievements. This led to younger Deaf students benefiting and being able to look up to graduates of the school, as many became teachers themselves. The earliest and most recognized of these Deaf role models was our ancestor, Jean Massieu.
Left to Right: Jean Massieu First (2010) and Abbe Sicard (2010) © Nancy Rourke
Following the death of Abbé de l’Épée who secured government funds for further support of the school, the Abbé Roch-Ambroise Sicard took over as director. Sicard had established a school for the Deaf in Bordeaux following Épée‘s model, and this is where Jean Massieu along with his two Deaf sisters, Jeanne and Blanche were educated.
When asked if early in his life he knew “what it meant to hear and how he learned what it meant,” Massieu responded:
“A relation (a relative) who could hear, and who lived in the house told me that she saw with her ears a person whom she did not see with her eyes, when he came to see my father. Persons who hear, see with their ears during the night those who are walking…(and this walking) tells their names to those who can hear.” Jean Massieu (from Clerc, 1849)
Jean Massieu was born Deaf into a family of all Deaf siblings, educated at the Paris school, and became a master teacher of Deaf students–including Laurent Clerc who helped establish the first Deaf school in America. Massieu came to the Paris Deaf School with Abbé Sicard.Massieu later wrote of his Deaf siblings, his family “home signs”13 and his great desire to be educated as a young boy:
“I expressed my ideas by manual signs, or gesture. The signs which served me then to express my ideas to my parents, my brothers and sisters, were very different from those of instructed deaf-mutes. Strangers never comprehended us when we expressed our ideas by signs to them, but the neighbors did…I had a desire to read and write. I often saw boys and girls going to school: I desired to follow them, and I was very jealous of them. With tears in my eyes, I asked permission of my father to go to school; I took a book and opened it here and there, to show my ignorance; I put it under my arm as if to go; but my father refused…saying to me, by signs, that I should never be able to learn anything, because I was a deaf-mute…(Later) I went to school without telling my parents: I presented myself to the master, and asked him by signs, to teach me to write and to read. He refused me roughly, and drove me from the school.” Jean Massieu(from Clerc, 1849)
Fortunately, not long after this event, a stranger informed Massieu‘s family about the Deaf school established by Sicard. Massieu, later in life, reports that it required him about four years to achieve literacy similar to those who could hear and speak. An outstanding pupil, Sicard choseMassieu as his demonstration student in order to secure his directorship at the Paris School, and had Massieu move with him to Paris. We are left to wonder about Massieu‘s Deaf sisters, what happened to them, and whether their gender and the conventions of the time may explain why Sicard did not also bring them.
After he graduated from the Paris school, Massieu was hired by Sicard–the first Deaf person to become an instructor in an educational institution. In addition, Massieu remained a demonstration student. Like Épée, Sicard had used the brightest students as demonstration students who participated in public lectures where the students answered questions by writing or signing responses to demonstrate the success of their education at the Paris School.14
Laurent Clerc v.2 © Nancy Rourke 2010
For Deaf people in the United States, the most famous and important person from the Paris Deaf School was Laurent Clerc. At about age 11, Laurent Clerc arrived at the school and met Massieu who was by then 25 years old. In later years, Clerc described Massieu as “my first teacher” who had “not only intelligence, but genius” while also noting Massieu was somewhat eccentric and considered socially unsophisticated. Like Massieu, after his schooling ended, Clerc was first hired to stay on as a tutor, and finally as a teacher in 1806.
Laurent Clerc had been born and raised near Lyons, France and was told he became Deaf after falling from a chair near the fireplace as a one-year-old. In addition to being Deaf and unable to smell, the experience left a scar on his cheek. Thus, this unique facial feature became the source of his name-sign. Before being brought to the Deaf school in Paris by his uncle, Clercreports he “…did nothing but running about and playing with other children. I sometimes drove my mother’s turkeys to the field or her cows to pasture, and occasionally my father’s horse to the watering place.” (Clerc, 1852)
In addition to Massieu, Laurent Clerc came to know others who had attended the school before him. The oldest of these were pupils of the first generation at the Paris School, pupils of Épée. These Deaf men had worked in various capacities and included a grocer, a printer, a painter, and a sculptor.15 Deaf girls were educated at the Paris School from the beginning, but like the Deaf sisters who inspired Épée‘s establishment of the school, most remained nameless and their accomplishments unrecorded for a number of generations.16
At this point in history, both writing and art were ways of recording events. Two paintings by Jerome-Martin Langlois recreated scenes of the Paris School under Sicard. Both these paintings included misrepresentations. The earliest of these, painted in 1806, shows Sicard in a classroom, at the center of the composition, teaching a young Deaf girl to speak. In the background is Jean Massieu gesturing to a phrase written in French on a blackboard. Translated as, “Means of making sounds articulated by the feeling of pressure,” this phrase is found in one of Sicardbooks. However, it has been discovered that underneath this writing in the painting was another, original sentence. This sentence read “La reconnaissance est la mémoire du coeur.“17For those who attended the many demonstrations given by Sicard and his students, the original sentence would seem familiar–one that clearly came from Massieu. Why did the painter replace Massieu‘s words with those of Sicard? There are many ways to interpret this action, but clearly Massieu is silenced into being someone used to call attention to Sicard, rather than the other way around. There is no known record of Massieu‘s reaction to the painting; however, Lanlois would know of the negative reaction of Deaf people to his second painting.
Created seven years later, Lanlois’ second painting had a similar composition as his first, with Sicard instructing a young boy in writing. This time, the figure in the background is a young Laurent Clerc. This painting was eventually purchased and donated to the Paris School, and so it is likely that Clerc and the students saw this painting on a daily basis. This lead to what is likely the first known act of protest against artistic representation by a group of Deaf people. In writing to the painter, Clerc stated that the Deaf students were upset because “The young Grivel [who appears as the student being taught in the picture] is hearing-and-talking….he is no longer part of the class of the deaf…The deaf demand therefore that his portrait be effaced and that a deaf student from the school take his place.”18 One can imagine the Deaf students’ outrage at the painting, and their pleas to Clerc to protest on their behalf. Clerc must have felt indignant enough himself to write to a well-known Hearing painter with criticism which was very bold for that time in history. What was the painter’s response? We do not know, but the painting was never altered.
In 1814, Abbé Sicard traveled with Jean Massieu and Laurent Clerc to England. There, Sicard gave a series of public lectures, and included demonstrations of Clerc and Massieu‘s abilities to intelligently answer questions put to them in sign and writing. At one of these demonstrations, they met a young American named Reverend Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet.
The European Oral schools
“If in the education of the deaf we suppress the use of signs, it is impossible to make the pupils anything but machines that speak.” Pierre Desloges (1779)
Speech Therapist © Nancy Rourke 2010
After the Paris School was established and began to expand, the oral tradition of individual education through speech training of Deaf members of the upper classes continued. Samuel Heinicke of Germany came from this tradition and trained a number of individual Deaf children using fingerspelling and gesture to support the development of speech. His belief was that only speech was truly connected with thought. Signing was considered “subhuman” and could not be a way that Deaf people could develop intelligence. (Rée, 1999) He was familiar with Épée and his school challenged Épée‘s methods and considered Épée‘s and Sicard‘s work misguided.
Late in his career, with the support of a member of the royal family, he established the first pure oral school–which banned signing–in Leipzig in 1778. Heinicke’s school, “The Electoral Saxon Institute for Mutes and Other Persons Afflicted with Speech Defects,” began with nine students. A number of teachers were trained there, learning his method of speech training for the Deaf by connecting various sounds with various tastes. After Heinicke’s death, a great number of the oral schools in Germany were headed by Heinicke’s relatives. Thus, on the European continent there were two very different types of schools for Deaf students: the French schools with signing and writing which followed Épée‘s model and the German oral schools which followed Heinicke’s model (also known as the Prussian method). Until the latter part of the 1800’s, most of the schools followed Épée‘s model.
In Scotland beginning in the 1760s, Thomas Braidwood became the first of many in his family to work with Deaf students. Braidwood was a math teacher who was asked to teach a student who had become Deaf. Braidwood began to study articulation and developed his own methods for teaching speech. He believed that sign was limiting and could not be used to discuss abstract concepts. Braidwood sought out more Deaf students as well as Hearing students with speech problems. Unlike Heinicke and Épée, however, Braidwood was paid by his students’ parents. Within a number of years, he was able to set up a private school, Braidwood’s Academy. While Braidwood apparently used the two handed British fingerspelling alphabet and gesture initially, his other “secret” methods for teaching Deaf students to speak were handed down through family members. In fact, one of his relatives, John Braidwood, made an ill-fated, short-lived attempt to establish a school in the United States .19 By the time American Thomas Gallaudetvisited Britain, the extended Braidwood family members of the next generation had a well-developed system of oral schools throughout England and Scotland, still earning a profit.
In most of the early oral schools, speech was the goal but often signing, gesture, or at least fingerspelling was initially used. This would eventually change, and the climate of the times would shift in favor to the oral-only method of education. As with most of the accounts of oral education, the focus was primarily on the teacher and his methods rather than the students. After the Deaf students left the schools, we do not often know what happened to them. Yet, they too are our ancestors, those who were nameless, those who were denied a full accessible language, a community of others like themselves, and a true home in the world.
Beginnings of Deaf Education in America
While schools following Épée model were being set up in Europe as well as schools which came from the tradition of educating individual Deaf students orally, the newly established United States had no such schools. In the early years, the only way for American Deaf children to receive an education was if they were sent to a school in Europe. Reverend Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet hoped to change this situation for American Deaf children.
Left to Right: Alice Vase and Gallaudet (2011) © Nancy Rourke
Alice Cogswell, the daughter of a well-known doctor in Hartford, Connecticut, became deaf following an illness in 1807. This happened when she was a little over two years old and it is likely that as her playmates’ games grew more complex, she was more and more isolated. Her neighbor, a young man who had studied law, business and was currently studying at a seminary, watched his brother playing with the deaf girl from next door. Thereafter, Lane takes up the story, which has also become a folktale– echoing Abbé de l’Épée‘s meeting with the Deaf sisters.20
“The Gallaudet Garden, 1813. Theodore Gallaudet, eight, comes running around the side of the house (he’s the fox) with brother Edward and three Cogswells–Mason, Alice, and Elizabeth, six, eight and ten (the hounds)–in hot pursuit.Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, home from studies at Andover Theological Seminary, stands under an elm tree watching Alice….the young theology student decides to teach her to spell H-A-T…Thomas scratches the letters H-A-T on the ground while Alice looks on in puzzlement. To show that the two go together, he places the hat on the ground next to the words and points to them alternately over and over while imitating the action of donning his hat. Alice seems to understand. To test her, Thomas rubs out the letters with his shoe and scratches them again a few feet away. Alice picks up the hat and places it on its new label. Thomas runs, overjoyed, to the Cogswell home to announce his success.” Lane (1984, p. 174, 177-178)
Alice‘s father, Mason Cogswell, had for many years struggled with the question of Alice‘s education. He had a library with Épée‘s writings among others, and worked to determine how many deaf students in America there were.
His meeting with Gallaudet after the “hat” incident was likely encouraging, and Cogswellbegan to seek sponsors for a school for deaf children in America. By 1814, Gallaudet had tutored Alice when home, encouraged Alice‘s father to enroll her in Lydia Huntley Sigourney’s school, graduated from seminary, and met with Cogswell’s group of sponsors who wished to support the establishment of a school for Deaf children in the United States. With the support of Alice‘s father and other wealthy philanthropists, Thomas Gallaudet went to Europe to learn about how to educate Deaf students.
Thomas Gallaudet‘s Education
Thomas Gallaudet arrived in Liverpool, England and made his initial contact with the founder of a deaf school in London which was based on the Braidwood family’s oral method of instruction. As he awaited response, he learned that the Abbé Sicard happened to be in London. Gallaudetwas aware of Sicard‘s school in Paris and had bought with him on his journey Mason Cogswell‘s copy of Sicard‘s book on educating Deaf students.21 On meeting Sicard‘s secretary, Gallaudetwas assured that if he came to Paris he would receive “private instructions of the Abbé, who devotes a portion of his time to those who wish to acquire his art, for the sake of using it in their own country” (Barnard, 1850). The secretary, acting as an English-French interpreter, introduced Gallaudet to Sicard and gave him tickets to attend the London lectures.
Note: This handbill refers to the lecture in Brighton. Thomas Gallaudet attended an earlier lecture given in London, but likely saw a handbill similar to this. Used by permission from the American School for the Deaf Archives.
In just a little over two weeks after arriving in England, Gallaudet reported attending Sicard‘s lecture and demonstration with two Deaf individuals on July 10th in his diary:
“At two o’clock, I went to the Abbé Sicard‘s lecture in the Argyle rooms. His lecture which was in French, lasted more than an hour. Afterward there was some exhibition of the talents and acquirements of his pupils Massieu and Clerc. Many questions were put to them by the company, which they answered with great dispatch and propriety.” Barnard (1850)
After the lecture/demonstration, Gallaudet met Massieu and Clerc briefly. Gallaudet attended another of Sicard‘s demonstrations on July 20th and then spent almost four months trying to gain access to training in the Scottish and English schools for the Deaf overseen by the Braidwood family. (At that time. there were three: London, Edinburgh and Birmingham).
Question put to Massieu and Clerc during the Exhibition in London:
Q: Do the deaf and dumb think themselves unhappy?
Massieu: No…but should the deaf and dumb become blind, they would think themselves very unhappy, because sight is the finest, the most useful, and most agreeable of all the senses. Besides we are amply indemnified for our misfortune, by the signed favour of expressing by gestures and by writing, our ideas, our thoughts, and our feelings, and likewise by being able to read books and manuscripts.
Clerc: He who never had any thing, has never lost any thing; and he who never lost any thing has nothing to regret. Consequently, the deaf and dumb, who never heard or spoke, have never lost either hearing or speech, therefore cannot lament either the one or the other. And he who has nothing to lament cannot be unhappy…Besides it is a great consolation for them to be able to replace hearing by writing, and speech by signs.
During this summer, Laurent Clerc also visited one of these oral schools in London. A Frenchman who accompanied Clerc later wrote to Sicard: “…one hundred and fifty deaf and dumb (assembled in the dining room) fixed all their looks on your pupil, and recognized him as one of themselves. He made signs and they answered him by signs. This unexpected communication caused a most delicious sensation…” (Rée, 1999, pg 198). Here, we see the stirrings of a natural familiarity that arises between Deaf people–a recognition that would later lead to group solidarity which would cross national boundaries—a recognition of Deaf people as a community of global citizens. This event is informative for another reason: it illustrates that even though the students attended an oral school, they clearly knew how to sign and that Clercand the students were able to make themselves understood despite not sharing the same signed language and nationality.
Gallaudet‘s visits to the Braidwood schools were not as successful. He traveled to Edinburgh to the head of the Braidwood family. However, he was unable to agree to the demands finally made clear by the Braidwood family which included a lengthy training period and the promise to take one of their instructors back with him to the United States. With the open invitation to the Paris school, Gallaudet decided to travel to France. Yet, he was unable to leave for several months due to the “unsettled state” of politics in France and the winter weather.
On his arrival at the Deaf school in Paris in March 1816, Gallaudet was warmly welcomed. He stayed on for over four months, initially being instructed by Sicard and observing various classes. Eventually, Gallaudet spent most of his time being tutored in sign by Laurent Clerc. While Gallaudet clearly had limited exposure to the oral methods of the education of Deaf students, he seemed to have concluded that “the methods of Épée as matured by the Abbé Sicardwere of a higher nature, and capable of more extensive usefulness inasmuch as they could not only benefit the largest number of deaf and dumb but actually provided for the gradual and thorough evolution and discipline of all the intellectual powers.” (Barnard, 1852, pg. 89)
From Paris, Gallaudet wrote to Alice Cogswell:
“I want very much to go back to Hartford, and to begin to instruct you and the other deaf and dumb children…I must learn all that Abbé Sicard can teach me. Then I shall be able to teach you in the best way. I have seen the Abbé Sicard and Massieu and Clerc, two of his scholars. In the little book which I send you, you will see their pictures. When you write me again, tell me what you think of them. Do you think you can learn the French alphabet on the fingers?22 Try. Perhaps it will be the one that I shall use. The school for the Deaf and Dumb here is a very large building of stone. In front of it is a large yard, and behind it a fine garden. There are nearly ninety scholars, boys and girls…In the room are a number of large blackboards on which the scholars write with chalk. I wrote on these boards and talked with the boys. They understood me very well….You must write me long letters. I put your last letter into French and showed it to Clerc. He loved to read it….I shall remember what you wished me in your last letter to give the deaf and dumb scholars–your love.” Lane (1984)
Gallaudet and Cogswell © Nancy Rourke 2010
At some point, a homesick Gallaudet, perhaps frustrated with his lack of progress in signing and educational knowledge, decided that he needed to have a Deaf teacher accompany him back to the United States, an idea he had rejected in England. In Clerc, he saw one skilled in signing, teaching and a talented and accomplished individual with whom he got along. Gallaudet may have also chosen Clerc because he needed someone with experience as a “demonstration student” for convincing other Americans about the educability of Deaf people. Now thirty years old, Clerc, who had previously been denied the opportunity to help set up a school in Russia, agreed to commit to a period of three years to help establish the first school for the Deaf in the United States. Clerc still left with mix feelings ” I don’t want to leave, but I think I have to” (Hartig, 2006, pg.72)
On June 18th Gallaudet left France returning to the United States “with my friend, Clerc” (Barnard, 1850).23 The historical journey was described by Jack Gannon (1981):
“The wind billowed, filling the sails. The rigging snapped taut as the little wooden ship, the Mary Augusta, alternately floundering and plowing the seas of the Atlantic Ocean, made its way westward to the city of New York…Four of the passengers were Americas and the other two were Frenchmen, one whom, Laurent Clerc, was travelling with one of the Americans—the Reverend Thomas H. Gallaudet. In the beginning of the voyage, 30 year old Laurent Clerc…knew little English, and so he spent much of his time on the crossing learning the language from Gallaudet. In return, he taught Gallaudet the language of signs. He kept a diary of the trip, which lasted 52 days because of frequent calms and headwinds.”
(Left to right): Thomas Gallaudet 1816,
Laurent Clerc 1816 © Nancy Rourke 2011
On board the ship, Clerc‘s diary shows his practicing of English, his learning of American customs. He continued to tutor Gallaudet in signing and discussions of the French method of education of Deaf students.
Notes from Laurent Clerc‘s Diary on his voyage to America:24
Friday, June the 21st. I was up at eight o’clock…After breakfast, M. Gallaudetdesiring to encourage me to learn good English, suggested to me the thought of writing this journal, and it is in consequence of his advice that I do it…I was obliged, every moment, to seek in my dictionary the words which I did not understand…When I had finished my first day, I presented it to M. Gallaudet, praying him to correct it. He did it with his ordinary kindness. Saturday, June the 22nd. The weather being fair, I passed all morning upon deck to write my diary of the preceding days, and all the evening to talk with M. Gallaudet, who, at my request, gave me the description of an American dinner, of a marriage, and the manners and customs of the inhabitants of that country…
(Later,) M. Gallaudet made me acquainted with the different pieces of American money and with the value of each, and after supper he related to me the history, or rather he gave me by signs, the description of the manner in which the seamen make the passengers pay their tribute to Neptune…His account amused me much and excited my laughter a great deal… Thursday, June 27th…I talked with M. Gallaudet who spoke to me of the American deaf and dumb, and especially of Miss Alice…”
The First American School: First American Generation
After arriving in America, Thomas Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc‘s continued their travels in New England to gather funds for the establishment of the school in Hartford. With the support of a number of philanthropists, the American School for the Deaf25 opened on April 17, 1817.26
‘Same’ © Nancy Rourke 2011
Among the first class of seven students was Alice Cogswell and John Brewster Jr., a fifty one year old portrait painter. Others from this first class, Abigail Dillingham (from a Deaf family), George Henry Loring, and Wilson Whiton eventually became instructors themselves. By the end of the first year, with Gallaudet as principal and both Clerc and Gallaudet teaching, the number of students rose to thirty-three. This number included Sophie Fowler, the future Mrs. Gallaudet and Elizabeth Boardman, the future Mrs. Clerc as well as Levi Backus. Backus became a teacher as well as a well-respected newspaper editor.
At the school, Clerc and Gallaudet taught using modified French signing with the one handed alphabet. There were no formal signing classes for the students as they were expected to adapt their home-signs and become fluent through exposure and interaction. In 1818, just a year after the school opened, Laurent Clerc noted that a large number of students were coming from Martha’s Vineyard, a small island off the coast of Massachusetts, with a fully developed sign language (Rées, 1999). Thus, certain students coming from Martha’s Vineyard and others from Deaf families brought American signing traditions, which in turn, influenced the signing initially used by Clerc and Gallaudet in the classroom.
Within two years, the school became government supported with permanent funding available from the Connecticut Legislature. Thus, the American school became a model for other states in terms of both its operating structure and its method of teaching Deaf students.
While teaching at the Hartford school, Clerc and Gallaudet worked to help set up other state schools for the Deaf (including NY in 1818; Pennsylvania in 1820 and Kentucky in 1823).27 A significant number of teachers were either trained at the Hartford school or had been students there themselves.
By 1820, Clerc‘s contract of three years in America had passed. He had married an American Deaf woman, and was offered an extended contract with a salary increase. While Clerc returned to France to visit, he had made the United States his new home. He settled in America and influenced the first generations of Deaf Americans, many of who went on to teach or establish other Deaf schools in the United States. Thus, Laurent Clerc became our immigrant ancestor, arriving from France and settling in the United States.
Meanwhile Back on Martha’s Vineyard
The number of Deaf people being born on Martha’s Vineyard steadily increased with each generation after Jonathan Lambert‘s arrival. The Deaf population peaked in 1854 with 1 in 25 in the area of Chilmark being born Deaf.28 Primarily a fishing and farming area that remained cut off from the mainland until the 1900s, Deaf and Hearing islanders participated in community events with ease and married each other as communication was not a barrier. While only 20% of Deaf mainlanders had Hearing spouses, 65% of Deaf people on Martha’s Vineyard had a Hearing spouse. In addition, Hearing people on the island had a distinctly different view of Deaf people. Deaf people were not thought of as a group, but as individuals. When pressed, one elderly islander who was interviewed reportedly said “oh, those people weren’t handicapped. They were just deaf” (Groce, 1985, p. 5).
Because of the large number of Deaf children on the island and the growing importance of education, a significant number of these Deaf children were sent to the American School for the Deaf in Hartford beginning in the 1800s. Since the sign language used by these children had developed over several generations and a large number attended the school, Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL) impacted the signing that was used at Hartford.
What Martha’s Vineyard shows us is a different perspective toward Deaf people than the perspective and the place of Deaf people in a community as compared to most cultures. The early generation of Deaf students educated at ASD returned to the island often with greater literacy skills than their Hearing neighbors. It was reported that Deaf islanders had been asked by Hearing neighbors to explain newspaper articles and legal documents.
While Deaf people in Paris and in Hartford began to form signing Deaf communities as an extension of the Deaf schools, Deaf people in Martha’s Vineyard apparently did not form a separate community. And, in fact, it has been noted that many Deaf islanders who did attend the American School were known to loose contact with their schoolmates once they returned to the island. Their home community, made up of Deaf and Hearing neighbors and family members who grew up signing and interacting, was similar to any other bilingual community.
Thus, Martha’s Vineyard holds a special place in the history of Deaf people in America. It is a place where we are given an alterative view of how Deaf people can be members of a community. It is a unique place where Hearing people related to Deaf people as fully functioning individuals. It is a place where a signed language, indigenous to America was created and, along with the sign language brought by Clerc, has influenced our American Sign Language used across the United States today.
“A knowledge of history is extremely useful; it lays before our eyes the great picture of the generations that have preceded us; and in relating the events which passed in their time…it lays before us the precepts of the wise…of all ages…” Laurent Clerc
Clerc and Cogswell © Nancy Rourke 201129
- While some believe Aristotle has been mistranslated (see Bender, 1981), it has long been assumed that Aristotle’s assertion was that hearing and speech were physically connected by the same nerve, and therefore, that one who could not speak could not reason.
- See a filmed performance of the Blue Ribbon Ceremony under Deaf Theatre: Sample Performance Works in this Project.
- Harry C. Lang (2007) notes some mention of Native American Deaf individuals in historical documents from the early seventeenth century.
- These factors include the geographical isolation of those living in the community, tendencies to marry into a small gene pool with recessive deafness. Many who immigrated to the island had family who had ancestors from Kentish Weald, an isolated area in England where several families apparently carried the recessive deaf gene and where there were reports of sign language use in that community (Groce, 1985).
- See http://history.vineyard.net/b2wtres.htm#Lambert (accessed 8/13/11) and Groce (1985).
- For a more complete version of this text, see English Literature: Sample Works in this Project.
- The age of enlightenment, also known as the age of reason, occurred from the late 1600s until 1789 in France and the newly established United States. It promoted the belief in human progress through education, human rights, social reforms and provoked questions concerning religion, science, and government.
- See an artistic rendering of de Fay‘s life under Overview: Sample Works in this Project).
- A demonstration student was one who was presented to the public to show the success of the educational methods used by various programs/teachers.
- See a more complete text of Desloges‘ work under English Literature: Sample Works in this Project.
- See a filmed version of this folktale under Overview: Sample Works in this Project.
- Also known as Institut National des Jeune Sourds-Muets, the Royal Institute for the Deaf, and later called the “Institu St. Jacques”.
- Home signs are communicative gestures which develop between a Deaf person or persons for interaction often taking place in homes where there is not a fluent adult user of a standard signed language.
- Lane (1984) mentions that during Épée‘s time demonstration students memorized answers to specific planned questions. In contrast, Sicard let his demonstration students spontaneously answer questions from an audience.
- The sculptor, M. de Seine, had 10 busts shown at the 1793 Salon in Paris, including one of the Abbé de l’Épée. The painter, Paul Grégoire, exhibted his work at the Salon of 1814 (Mirzoeff, 1995).
- One exception to this was the mention of a female student named Le Sueur who took the lead by being the first student to sign a petition to the government to free Sicard (who had been imprisoned).
- Mirzoeff (1995) translates this as “Recognition is the memory of the heart,” but the English phrase most associated with Massieu is “Gratitude is the memory of the heart.”
- Mirozoff (1995) reprints and describes the paintings and the resulting reactions in much detail. He includes a note that the student, Grivel, also had a record of bad behavior.Clerc seemed aware of the earlier portrait as he additionally suggested to the artist he be shown writing something on the backboard in honor of Épée and Sicard.
- See an explanation of Braidwood’s short-lived Cobbs School under Overview: Sample Works in this Project.
- See Overview: Sample Works in this Project for an artistic rendering of this meeting as well as an ASL storytelling version of it.
- Sicard‘s “Course of Instruction for a Person Born Deaf” published in 1800.
- By this time Alice had learned the British two-handed alphabet from Lydia Huntley Sigourney.
- See Overview: Sample Works in this Project for the folktale of the Voyage of Clercand Gallaudet.
- From http://www.disabilitymuseum.org/dhm/lib/detail.html?id=687&&page=1 accessed 8/15/11.
- The Connecticut Asylum for the Education of Deaf and Dumb persons was the name of the school for the first year. Lang (2004) notes that “the first group of deaf students had also taken issue with the word ‘Aslyum,’ but the board saw a benefit in keeping the term–they believed it would make it easier to request funds” (p. 4)
- When working to get further government support, the name was changed to the American Asylum in order to show that students educated there were from a number of New England states. While today the school is known as ASD, it has also been referred to as “Old Hartford” or the Hartford school.
- See Overview: Timeline in this Project for a map pinpointing the Deaf Schools which
- Groce (1985) notes that almost all the island residents at this time, unknowingly, had at least two related ancestors. See Lane, Pillard, and Hedberg (2011) for more information on ancestry on Martha’s Vineyard.
- Artist Nancy Rourke replaces the iconic image of Thomas Gallaudet, teaching Alice Cogswell the first fingerspelled letter of her name, with Laurent Clerc teaching her the fingerspelled letter of their last names. In the background is the first building that housed the American School for the Deaf which symbolizes the origin American Sign Language and Deaf in the US.
The Chain of Remembered Gratitude:
The Heritage and History of the DEAF-WORLD
in the United States
Note: The names of Deaf individuals appear in bold italics throughout this chapter. In addition, names of Deaf and Hearing historical figures appearing in blue are briefly described in “Who’s Who” which can be accessed via the Overview Section of this Project.
“…we were isolated in the midst of society; today we are reunited…Today we have united our intellects, our efforts, our lights; today we constitute one body; all of us…today, we who were not, ARE!” Claudius Forestier (1838, from Mottez, 1993)
Left to Right: We are the Same (2011), Understanding Deaf Culture (2010) © Nancy Rourke
From Deaf Schools to Deaf Communities: The Emergence of Deaf Leaders/Activists in France and the United States
In 1834, three Deaf teachers along with seven other alumni of the Paris School formed one of the first social organizations of Deaf people–the Deaf Mute Committee. The three educators, Jean-Ferdinand Berthier, Claudius Forestier, and Alphonse Lenoir proposed a banquet in order to honor the anniversary of the birth of Abbé de’L Épée. Because of the importance of this event, this first banquet has been described as the “birth of the Deaf-Mute nation” (Mottez, 1993) and a “first step in developing a conscious Deaf history” (Quartararo, 2002).
While Paris seemed to have a community of Deaf people and Deaf artisians prior to this, they did not appear to gather for organized events. The founding of the Paris school lead to lifelong connections between graduates. With the establishment of the Deaf-Mute Banquets, which became annual celebrations, the French Deaf community members became aware of their connections: their shared past, their need for fellowship, and their future goals. Ferdinand Berthier became not only a leader in the establishment of the Deaf Mute Banquets, but a biographer Deaf ancestors and one of our first true activists.
Ferdinand Berthier © Nancy Rourke 2012
Berthier had come to the Paris School in 1811 when he was about 8 years old. Jean Massieuand Laurent Clerc had been Berthier‘s role models and mentors. As a young student, Berthier was reported to have asked his teacher how he could “become a genius like Clerc” (Hartig, 2006). Berthier became a gifted student, who was by the age of 13 recognized by Clerc as the brightest pupil at the school just as Clerc was leaving to America. Berthier was a gifted artist and one of his student drawings was presented to the King. At age 20, he drew, “The man and the snake” in which a snake slithers from a man’s mouth, clearly symbolizing the sinfulness of speech.1
In addition to knowing them personally, Berthier wrote a biographical sketch of both Massieu and Clerc as part of his biography of Sicard. In the sketch of Massieu, it is clear that Berthieradmires Massieu‘s intellect while feeling that he lacked particular social skills that would make him a “gentleman” (Hartig, 2006). In his sketch of Clerc, Berthier finds a true role model, both socially and intellectually.
At the time of the establishment of the first Banquet, Berthier and others had been struggling for a number of years with the direction the Paris School had been taking since the death of Sicard in 1822. Questions concerning the role of sign language and Deaf teachers had arisen. One director with clear goals favoring oral education, Désiré Ordinaire, was hired. Also during these years, a true ally of Deaf people, Auguste Bébian was forced out. was one who openly criticized the Paris Schools’ neglect of the students, neglect of natural signs, and pathological attitudes of the Director and the Board. In 1830, Berthier had written to the King of France on behalf of Deaf students, teachers and community members to express support for rehiring of Bébian, Berthier‘s former teacher and colleague. This was followed by a letter from sixty students at the school protesting the unprofessionalism of many Hearing teachers and their inability to understand sign language (see Karacostas, 1993). As a result, the administration was furious and expelled three of the students.
At the time of the first Banquet, Berthier and the other Deaf instructors at the Paris School had been demoted to tutors or teacher’s assistants. The rationale for this was that these instructors could not teach speech and lipreading which was now declared a vital part of the Paris School’s curriculum.
By creating the Deaf Mute Banquets, Berthier and others established a tradition in which they could celebrate sign language and their community in the face of oppressive threats. This celebration included Hearing guests. While Désiré Ordinaire “refused to have anything to do with the banquets,” the following Hearing non-signing director of the Paris School was invited.2
“(..there have been) hearing-speaking people…(who) have wanted to suppress the language of deaf mutes…And yet deaf mutes have said to their speaking brothers: ‘come among us: join us in our work and in our play: learn our language as we learn yours.'” Berthier (1840, from Mottez 1993)
Ferdinand Berthier was a Deaf ancestor who was also a prolific artist, writer, orator, teacher, leader, and activist. When oralism threatened his job, his language and his people, Berthierfound a way to promote and strengthen the bonds of Deaf people. As Mottez states, (1993 p. 151) “Thus, the Deaf Mute nation was not born directly with the abbé de L’Épée, or shortly thereafter. It was born when his legacy was threatened and when Deaf Mutes themselves had to defend it.”
SECOND AMERICAN GENERATION: The Spread of Deaf Schools and Deaf Community
In America, the organization of the Deaf community also grew from the graduates of the schools for the Deaf coming together to recognize and honor a common history. This occurred in 1850 with the planning of a tribute to the aging Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc.
Thomas Brown © Nancy Rourke 2012
Thomas Brown, who had attended the Hartford school and met his future Deaf wife there, proposed the tribute. It was said that “in his graphic language of signs, that his spirit could find not rest, until he had devised some method of giving expression to the grateful feeling that filled his heart, and which the lapse of years served only to increase. He had but to suggest the thought to others of his former associates, when it was eagerly seized and made the common property of them all” (Barnard, 1853, pg. 193).
Brown had been a student of both Clerc and Gallaudet. As one of the “earliest and most intelligent pupils,” he had considered becoming a teacher himself.3 Brown, who had a Deaf father, Deaf sister, Deaf nephews and Deaf children himself, took over his family farm in Henniker, New Hampshire after graduation. His wife, Mary Smith had come from Chilmark, Martha’s Vineyard and had numerous Deaf and Hearing relatives. It was noted that in the area around where Brown lived, there was quite a community of Deaf folks, numbering about 44 in all.
The tribute to Gallaudet and Clerc was held in Hartford on September 26, 1850. A gathering of over two hundred alumni and two hundred students from Hartford attended…”was probably the greatest (gathering of Deaf people), in point of numbers that ever took place anywhere in the world.” Like the first Deaf Mute Banquet in France, the celebration marked not only the recognition of a common history, but also seemed to stimulate thoughts about the future of Deaf people.
Brown and his committee raised six hundred dollars and presented to Gallaudet and Clerceach a silver pitcher and platter. Engraved on the pitchers were ships representing Gallaudetand Clerc‘s voyages as well as illustrations of the Hartford School. Gallaudet was thanked for procuring for Deaf people “…the blessings of education…” and Clerc for leaving his homeland because he was a “lover of his kind.”
Laurent Clerc in later years © Nancy Rourke 2010
The celebration after the formal presentations to Gallaudet and Clerc were described in Barnard’s writing (1852, pg. 205): “Former friends and fellow-pupils met again, after years of separation, with countenances, in many cases, so changed as to be barely recognizable, to recall ‘old times’ and old scenes; to exchange fragments of personal history; and to brighten a new the chain of friendship and gratitude that bound them to one another, and to the institution in which their true life began. And it was most pleasant to see the joy that beamed from all their faces, and gave new vigor and animation to their expressive language of signs.”
“We all feel the most ardent love to these gentlemen (Laurent Clerc and Thomas Gallaudet) who founded this Asylum, and to these our earliest instructors. This gratitude will be a chain to bind all the future pupils together. Those who succeed as pupils will be told of the debt of gratitude they owe to the founders of the American Asylum. Our ship, moored by this chain of remembered gratitude, will float safely hereafter…” Fisher Ames Spofford (1850, in Barnard 1850)
Within a year of the tribute, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet had died. The first formal society of Deaf people in America was formed and named in Thomas Gallaudet‘s honor–the New England Gallaudet Association (NEGA). Thomas Brown would be one of the founders of “a society in order to promote the intellectual, social, moral temporal and spiritual welfare of our mute community…” NEGA under Brown‘s leadership would begin publishing one of the first newspapers for Deaf people, The Gallaudet Guide and Deaf Mute Companion. Additionally, Brown called for a national convention of Deaf people, which eventually led to the founding of the National Association of the Deaf in 1880. Thomas Brown lived a long life, having been educated by the first American generation of teachers, Laurent Clerc and Thomas Gallaudetthemselves. He became an activist and organizer of Deaf people, had a Deaf son who became a well respected educator, lived through the Civil War and died just after the establishment of the first national organization of Deaf people. As we will see, the National Association of the Deaf was established just in time.
While the Deaf school system across the United States allowed many Deaf Americans to be educated, job discrimination and other inequalities remained a common experience of Deaf people. John J. (Henry) Flournoy was a Deaf man who recognized and experienced such limitations, and thus proposed the idea of Congress supporting the establishment of a Deaf colony or commonwealth.
Flournoy, a graduate of the Hartford School, was from a wealthy family in Georgia. Later in life, he helped to establish the Georgia School for the Deaf, and unsuccessfully ran for office. His proposal for a Deaf state was one of the first public responses to discrimination and advocacy for separatism. In 1856, he wrote:
“…we do attest that we are capable of many (things) of which the prejudice, and sometimes even malignance of our hearing brethren deprive us!!” John J. Flournoy (in Krentz, 2000)
Toward the end of these “Golden Ages” of the Education of Deaf people in America, we would see the establishment of a National Deaf-Mute College (which later became Gallaudet College, and now is Gallaudet University). In 1864, Congress had authorized the institution to confer college degrees with President Abraham Lincoln signing the bill into law.4 At the inauguration of the college, John Carlin who was given the first honorary degree, said:
“On this day, the 28th of June 1864, a college for deaf-mutes is brought into existence. It is a bright epoch in deaf-mute history. The birth of this infant college, the first of its kind in the world, will bring joy…Is it likely that colleges for deaf-mutes will ever produce mute statesmen, lawyers, ministers of religion, orators, poets, and authors? The answer is: They will…” John Carlin (in Krentz, 2000)
The Age of Oralism : Attempts at the “Unmaking” of the Deaf Community, Culture, and Sign Language5
While most schools for the Deaf offered some form of articulation instruction for students who would benefit from it, there was a growing movement in Europe to ban natural sign languages from the classrooms, dorm rooms, and Deaf children’s lives in order to enforce the exclusionary, assimilitist practice of the oral-only method known as oralism.
Following the Civil War in the United States, there was a renewed desire for national unity which eventually impacted views toward Deaf people and sign language. This focus on nationalism meant that cultural and linguistic diversity were seen as threats. Immigrants and foreigners were treated with suspicion until they became assimilated. The goals at schools for Native Americans included the suppression of Native American cultural traditions and languages in favor of educating students to behave like White Americans and use only English. Along with this came the importance of creating citizens who could contribute and smoothly assimilate into the labor class.
Because of the cultural climate of the time, Social Darwinism became an attractive philosophy. As an idea, this meant that there were “civilized” people who were considered superior to others, but they needed to compete with those who were less civilized or less desirable. Eugenics resulted from actions, by the government or individuals, related to “improving the human race”; promoting stronger and “more perfect” individuals while doing away with people who would not be thought of as those who are “fittest” and should “survive.” Such people consisted of those who were poor, mentally ill, physically different, of nonwhite ancestry and Deaf. Signing became viewed as something uncivilized, inferior and primitive. Additionally, it was believed that by using sign language Deaf people became a group “isolated” from the wider Hearing community.
Over the next few decades, teachers at Deaf schools became caught up with these ideas and began to advocate for the exclusive use of articulation.6 Whereas Thomas Hopkins Gallaudetand the first generations of educators of Deaf students in the United States focused primarily on how sign language facilitated Deaf people’s religious and educational knowledge, the concerns of the post antebellum age related to building a more unified country, which most thought could only be achieved with spoken English. As Branson and Miller (2002) suggest this meant that the education of Deaf students had a different purpose than that of the education of Hearing students: “Speech and not knowledge was beginning to dominate the deaf child’s education” (pg. 168).
In 1867, the Lexington School for the Deaf, which was promoted as the first permanent pure oral school in the country, opened in New York City. This was soon followed in 1869 by the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Additionally, around this time a few segregated Deaf school programs were established to educate African American students such as the North Carolina State School for the Colored Deaf and Blind (1867) and the Maryland School for the Colored Deaf and Blind (1872).
As Baynton (1996) notes, in 1860 almost no Deaf students were taught by oral-only methods. Yet, by the end of the First World War (around 1918), oralism was the philosophy which dominated eighty percent of the schools, and maintained its hold until well into the 1970s. In addition, the number of Deaf teachers fell from almost half of all teachers to barely one tenth, many of whom were tracked into teaching multiply handicapped Deaf students or vocational trades (Lane, 1992).
It was the Milan Conference of 1880 that cemented this powerful shift from the Golden Ages of Deaf Enlightenment to the Dark Ages of Oralism.
Old Debate: Oralism vs Manualism © Nancy Rourke 2010
Vive la Parole! (Long live speech): The 1880 Milan Declarations of Phonocentrism!7
In 1880 in Milan, Italy at the 2nd International Congress for the Instruction of the Deaf (I.C.E.D), often referred to as the Milan Conference, passed resolutions which promoted “the incontestable superiority of speech over signs in restoring the deaf-mute to society.” In truth, the Congress was made up primarily of voting Italian and French Hearing instructors.8 These instructors overwhelmingly had worked to advocate for oral only instruction. In truth, the organizers had manipulated the entire Congress.9 Some of the resolutions were:
Considering the incontestable superiority of speech over signs in restoring the deaf-mute to society, and in giving him a more perfect knowledge of language
That the oral method should be preferred to that of signs for the education and instruction of the deaf and dumb.
Considering that the simultaneous use of speech and signs has the disadvantage of injuring speech, lipreading and precision of ideas Declares–
That the Pure Oral Method ought to be preferred
Considering that the teaching of the speaking-deaf by the Pure Oral method should resemble as much as possible that of those who hear and speak Declares–
The most natural and effective mean by which the speaking-deaf may acquire the knowledge of language is the ‘intuitive’ method..’
Considering that the application of the Pure Oral method in institutions where it is not yet in active operation, should be — to avoid the certainty of failure — prudent, gradual, progressive,
That the pupils newly received into the schools should form a class by themselves, where instruction could be given by speech. That these pupils should be absolutely separated from others too far advanced to be instructed by speech, and whose education will be completed by signs.
That each year a new speaking class be established, with all the old pupils taught by signs have completed their education.
The pure oral method swept over Europe like a dark cloud and traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and spread its dark cloak over every school for the Deaf in the United States. Even the American School for the Deaf became and oral-only school. One very powerful man, Alexander Graham Bell, armed with funds, a formal association, and an interest in eugenics “cleared the way for its progress from east to west” (Lane, 1984).
Misguided Benevolent© Nancy Rourke 2010
Alexander Graham Bell was a Hearing oralist educator who advocated for pure oralism (oral / aural only education), the exclusion of ASL as well as Deaf teachers from the classrooms. In addition, Bell tried to dissuade Deaf people from marrying other Deaf people for fear of the possibility of a “Deaf variety of the human race.” He used his wealth from the telephone invention to establish the Volta Bureau, publications committed to promoting oralism, and the AG Bell Association (originally known as the Association for the Promotion of the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf). His life long work and his legacy has been to try to put forth the idea that Deaf people must learn to speak and hear so that they can be “restored to society.”
“The great object of the education of the deaf is to enable them to communicate readily and easily with hearing persons…that is what is meant by ‘restoring the deaf to society.” Alexander Graham Bell (from Winefield, 1981)
“…these symbols (signs) are of a nature to retard rather and advance speech…I should advocate its entire abolition in our institutions for the deaf…” Alexander Graham Bell (From Lane, 1984 and Winefield, 1981)
“We should try ourselves to forget they are deaf. We should teach them to forget that they are deaf.” Alexander Graham Bell (1884 from DeLand, 1922)
“The percentage of deaf teachers employed has steadily decreased, and must decrease still further….the employment of deaf teachers is absolutely detrimental to oral instruction.” Alexander Graham Bell (From Winefield, 1981)
In a presentation to the Literary Society at Kendall Green which consisted of Deaf Gallaudet students, Bell (in DeLand, 1920) stated:
“It is the duty of every good man and every good woman to remember that children follow marriage, and I am sure there is no one among the deaf who desires to have his affliction handed down to his children…You have to live in a world of hearing and speaking people, and everything that will help you to mingle with hearing and speaking people will promote your welfare and happiness. A hearing partner will wed you to the hearing world. …I therefore hold before you as the ideal marriage, a marriage with a hearing person.”
As the Dark Ages of Oralism dragged on, Deaf people were not mute and passive. They had formed the National Association of the Deaf, hosting regular conventions and World Congresses working to ensure that Deaf children would get fully accessible education by pushing for sign language and Deaf teachers to remain a part of Deaf schools. Deaf people began to organize to combat attacks on their language and human rights as well as their civil liberties.
See, Hear, Speak No Deaf © Nancy Rourke 2011
Long Live the Emancipation of the Deaf!10
“The FIRST great meeting of the class to be absolutely independent of leading strings held in other hands than their own. No superintendent or principal, no hearing teacher, had anything to do either with [the conference] program or arrangements. It was even regarded as unnecessary to provide interpreters. The members came, some from long distances, and instead of camping at some school, paid their hotel and transportation bills and possessed a new sense of independence and of sufficiency unto themselves.” George W. Veditz (1933)
The National Association of the Deaf, initially called the National Association of Deaf-Mutes was established during its first convention which ran from August 25-27 1880. The National Deaf-Mute Convention took place in Cincinnati Ohio and included Deaf people from 22 states and the District of Columbia. While many more attended, 81 individuals became members (Cloud, 1923). Theodore A. Froehlich‘s paper “The Importance of Association Among Mutes for Mutual Improvement” recognized “We have interests peculiar to ourselves which can be taken care of by ourselves.” The conclusion of the First National Association of the Deaf Convention was the chant “Long Live the Emancipation of the Deaf!”
Some key ancestor-advocates during this long, dark period of oralism were:
This is George Veditz © Nancy Rourke 2010
George W. Veditz was a multilingual Deaf man who advocated tirelessly for Deaf equality and language rights. One of his most ambitious and valuable contributions was to have had the foresight to use the new technology of film to record, document, preserve and share American Sign Language. In 1910 in Veditz‘s President’s Address at the 9th NAD convention and the 3rd World’s Congress of the Deaf, he stated,
“We possess and jealously guard a language different and apart from any other in common use – a language which nevertheless is precisely what all-wise Mother Nature designed for the people of the eye, a language with no fixed form or literature in the past, but which we are now striving to fix and give a distinct literature of its own by means of the moving picture film.”11
As president of the NAD (1904-1910), Veditz worked with Oscar Regensburg and RJ Stewart on the NAD Motion Picture project, raising $5,000 to film some of the best signers to preserve “the sign language” in its purest form. Veditz‘s classic presentation, “Preservation of the Sign Language” warned of the encroaching cloud of oralism.
Edward Miner Gallaudet 1865 © Nancy Rourke 2011
Edward Miner Gallaudet, the son of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Sophia Fowler Gallaudet, founded the Columbia Institute for the Deaf and the Blind and the National Deaf Mute College [later renamed Gallaudet College in honor of his father]. He was the president of Gallaudet College for 46 years and attended both the 1880 ICED Milan Congress and the 1900 ICED Congress, where he advocated strongly for the inclusion of sign language in Deaf education and the firm belief that Deaf people be involved in determining the best method of instruction for Deaf children. EM Gallaudet, a native ASL signer, was one of the first to be filmed for the NAD Motion Picture Project (see the Gallaudet Video Library for this clip from the NAD Motion Picture Project).
“In the education of the deaf the aim should be to secure the highest possible development to the greatest possible number, morally, mentally, and physically.” EM Gallaudet (from Winefield, 1981).
A graduate of the America School for the Deaf and professor at Gallaudet College, John B. Hotchkiss was also included in the NAD Motion Picture project. In Hotchkiss’ “Memories of Old Hartford,” he mimics an elderly Laurent Clerc and demonstrates Clerc‘s bilingual teaching methods.12
Shortly after his death in 1923, it was written: “John Burton Hotchkiss learned in its purity the language of signs, the heritance of the Hartford School from France, as taught at the School by Laurent Clerc. This language he in turn bequeathed to generation after generations of students who flocked to Gallaudet. These signs, correct in etymology and sanctioned by tradition, the pupils of the Doctor took with them …Thus, every gathering place of the Deaf in America felt Dr. Hotchkiss‘ teaching” (Stevens, 1923).
Robert P. McGregor, the first president of the National Association of the Deaf (from 1880-1883) founded the Cincinnati Day School for the Deaf and the Ohio Home for the Aged and Infirm Deaf. McGregor was featured in the NAD Motion Picture project demonstrating his versatility in clips giving a sermon and telling humorous stories. As an educator and advocate, he was alarmed by oralism which banned sign language and Deaf teachers from the classroom.
“What heinous crime have the deaf been guilty of that their language should be proscribed?… By whom then are signs proscribed? By..educators of the deaf who boast is that they do not understand signs and do not want to… by parents who do not understand the requisites to the happiness of their deaf children…Professing to have no object in view but the benefit of the deaf, [educators] exhibit an utter contempt for the opinions, the wishes, the desires of the deaf. And why should we not be consulted in a matter so such vital interest to us? This is a question no man has yet answered satisfactorily.” Robert P. McGregor (from Lane, 1992)
Olof Hanson was a well established architect designing Deaf friendly spaces as well as president of the National Association of the Deaf (from 1910-1913). Like Veditz, he advocated for Deaf people to be allowed to become civil servants. Hanson wrote to AG Bell asking him to help advocate for the mandatory learning of the manual alphabet in all public schools. His letter to Bell suggested, “if you would lend your assistance, either by personally addressing a convention, or in any manner you think practicable, you would do a favor, which I think, the deaf would much more quickly appreciate than your past services.” Bell, however, would not perform such a service, arguing that the majority could not be expected to change for a minority (see Van Cleve and Crouch, 1989).
Hanson had married a Deaf woman, Agatha Tiegel, who was the first Deaf woman to graduate from Gallaudet College in 1893. She was Valedictorian and addressed the issue of gender equality in her speech “The Intellect of Women” concluding with,
“There yet remains a large fund of prejudice to overcome, of false sentiment to combat, of narrow-minded opposition to triumph over. But there is no uncertainty as to the final outcome. Civilization is too far advanced not to acknowledge the justice of woman’s cause. She herself is too strongly impelled by a noble hunger for something better than she has known, too highly inspired by the vista of the glorious future, not to rise with determination and might and move on till all barriers crumble and fall.”13
Andrew Foster © Nancy Rourke 2011
Andrew Foster became the first African American to graduate from Gallaudet College in 1954 after attending the Alabama School for the Colored Deaf. Foster went on to get a Masters degree (from Eastern Michigan University), and honorary doctorate from Gallaudet University for his work in Africa. Foster went to Africa in 1957 and eventually established over 30 schools for the deaf primarily in West Africa. Existing missionary programs apparently discouraged Foster and his work so he established the Christian Mission for the Deaf. A former student from Africa said at his memorial service (Foster died in a plane crash en route to Kenya in 1987),
“It was his opinion that a deaf person living in Africa who cannot read or write was like a piece of gold lost in a remote mine. That piece of gold had to be taken out and polished in order to reflect its true value.”14
There have been many other brilliant Deaf and Hearing ancestors who have seen the great potentials that Deaf signing people offer to the world and have worked endlessly to “cherish and defend…the noblest gift that God has given to the Deaf” (Veditz, 1913). So even though much GREAT creativity in the form of art, literature, and activism was squashed, denied, destroyed or stolen during the dark ages of Oralism, Deaf people and Hearing allies never surrendered and Oralism never won.
Resurgence and the Second Wave
The history of Deaf people has shown that the true disability that Deaf people have experienced is one of language bigotry and oppression. The recognition of ASL as a bonafide language is often hailed as the reemergence of Deaf people from the Dark tide of Oralism. It occurred during the years in the United States when the Civil Rights Movement as well as liberation movement for other disenfranchised groups began to assert their rights as full citizens.
William C. Stokoe 1965 © Nancy Rourke 2011
William Stokoe, a professor at Gallaudet University, noted that the signing he was being taught to use in his classroom and that which was taking place among his students outside the classroom were completely different. This lead to his analysis of that natural form of signing that was used by Deaf people outside the classroom. His initial analysis showed that individual signs were made up of smaller parts (a limited number of handshapes, locations and movements) , and when recombined they created new signs. Stokoe‘s research was accepted as proof by linguists that American Sign Language was a full-fledged language. In 1960, Stokoe published Sign Language Structure followed by the Dictionary of American Sign Language on Linguistic Principles in 1965 which was coauthored by two Deaf researchers, Carl Croneberg and Dorothy Casterline.
Left to right: Betty G. Miller and Clayton Valli © Nancy Rourke 2011
In 1967, the National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD) was formed and sign language was seen on national and international stages. At one point, the AG Bell Association unsuccessfully tried to prevent a TV broadcast of NTD due to its use of sign language in performance. The founding of NTD lead to the establishment of Deaf theatre groups at the community level that produced several important Deaf plays about the Deaf experience. It also sparked the beginning of a renaissance of Deaf expressions in 1970s-1980s as seen in the production of Deaf Visual artworks (particularly Betty G. Miller‘s 1972 solo exhibit)15 and ASL poetry (particularly Clayton Valli‘s 1980 NSSLRT Conference performance).16 The proliferation of expressions about the Deaf experience would not have been possible without first removing the stigma oralism imposed on ASL.
Left to right: Mask of Benevolence (2011), Oralist Child Abuse Painting No. 2 (2012 © Nancy Rourke 2011
Because the education of Deaf students was being deemed a failure under Oralism (see the Babbidge Report of 1965 and the Commission on the Education of the Deaf report of 1988) and because of the legitimization of ASL as a language, signing began to slip back into the classrooms across the United States under the Total Communication philosophy, which was introduced by Roy Holcomb. Total communication originally meant using any means necessary to communicate with a Deaf child including signing. In practice, Total Communication became “signing and speaking at the same time” with invented signed English systems. This allowed educators to essentially continue with a monolingual, piecemeal, and artificial way of instructing Deaf children. In addition, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), originally called the Education of all Handicapped Children Act (public law 94-142), pushed for mainstreaming Deaf children into public schools with little or no exposure to ASL or Deaf peers. Currently in the United States, the mainstreaming mandate and Second Wave of oral/aural only education and been threatening Deaf schools nationally.
With the linguistic emancipation of their language, Deaf people began to see they were entitled to certain inalienable rights and began to take a more active and visible role in advocating for Deaf rights especially as they related to the field of Deaf education. Veditz stated in 1910, “Wherever the deaf have received an education the method by which it is imparted is the burning question of the day with them, for the deaf are what their schooling makes them, more than any other class of humans. They are facing not a theory but a condition, for they are first, last and all the time the people of the eye.” Deaf people become conscious of their responsibility to advocate not only for themselves, but also for future generations of Deaf children. The struggle with who should decide and does decide about methods, subject matter, or even who is at the helm of the Deaf education system has become a very important topic to Deaf people and their family members.
Segregated schools for Deaf individuals continued until the last closed in 1978 (Louisiana) and in 1982 another important organization was founded. Kristi Merriweather describes the founding of the National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA):17
“The founding of NBDA wasn’t based on one clear-cut cause but on several factors that converged into a determined passion to forge this organization into existence. Some of the factors were historically long-standing, such as persistent systematic racism and audism in the deaf and hearing communities, which manifested itself in inequitable resources and racial disparities in education, employment, housing, legal protection, and health care. The dominant society’s devaluation and marginalization of non-conforming language (whether it be ASL, Ebonics, or black deaf dialect) along with the unique black deaf cultural features also planted the seeds for NBDA’s inception. Various types of resistance against oppression, exploitation, and degradation and has always been an impetus and mainstay of the Black American experience and its deaf members were no exception. W.E.B. DuBois summed the greatest problem of the 20th century as the color line (racism). For Black Deaf Americans, their challenge was the color line plus the hearing line (audism). Black-oriented organizations like NAACP were strictly combating the color line, and Deaf-oriented organizations like NAD were strictly contending the hearing line. But- who was going to address both? Where would they gather where their shared reality as a people was not going to be treated as a minority footnote? The answer would be revealed in 1981, in the form of a vision of an organization by, for, and about Black Deaf people.”
Deaf President Now
Deaf President Now © Nancy Rourke 2010
Even during the Dark Ages, Gallaudet University resisted the oral/aural only approach to educating Deaf students. When the Civil Rights era ushered in the movements for self-governance and the autonomy of African Americans, Women, Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual and Transgendered peoples, Gallaudet University became the place where the liberation movement for Deaf individuals was set in motion.
Hence, in 1988 when the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees selected a Hearing non-signing woman (Elisabeth Zinser) to lead the college over two Deaf signing men (Harvey Corson and I. King Jordan), Deaf Americans had been empowered sufficiently to recognize discrimination. There had been huge efforts advocating for a Deaf President prior to the interview and selection process. When Dr. Zinser was appointed, students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents and community members protested calling for her resignation. The week-long Deaf President Now (DPN) protest peacefully and successfully resulted in Dr. I King Jordan ‘s appointment as the first Deaf President of Gallaudet University.
This was followed by other major events of cultural celebration and advocacy:
- The Deaf Way I and Deaf Way II International Conference and Festival (1989/2002)
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (1990),
- The certification of Deaf Cultural Studies/ASL Instruction in university programs
- The inclusion of Deaf characters in Television, Film, and Theatre productions;
- The increased accessibility and participation via captioning devices, pagers, and videophones; and,
- The participation of Deaf people in more socially conscious grassroots activism.
In 1989, a group of linguists from Gallaudet University asserted that the Deaf education system in America had been largely a failure. “Unlocking the Curriculum: Principles for Achieving Access in Deaf Education” (Johnson, Liddell and Erting, 1989) became a ground-breaking document. Changes which had been implemented as a result of mainstreaming and the use of signed supported speech systems were shown to have resulted in a lack of achievement by Deaf children. After further review of research in the areas of language acquisition and education, the linguists called for educational reform which recognizes “deaf children’s need for early natural language competence (in ASL) and for communicative access to curricular materials.”
UNITY for GALLAUDET Protest
Coalition © Nancy Rourke 2011
After 18 years as president of Gallaudet University, Dr. I. King Jordan planned to retire. Gallaudet erupted with another campus-wide and community-based protest when then-provost, Dr. Jane Fernandes was selected over two other finalists, Ron Stern and Dr. Stephen Weiner, to be the next president of Gallaudet. All of these finalists were Deaf Caucasian administrators.
Deaf people of color were the first to contest the omission of Dr. Glenn Anderson, a Deaf African-American post-secondary administrator, from the finalist pool. Their concerns about a flawed search process were ignored by the majority of students, faculty, staff and community members. However, when Dr. Fernandes was announced as the next president, students locked down Hall Memorial Building. Dr. Fernandes, referred to as JKF, was not popular with many students due to her autocratic leadership style. She had been appointed as provost six years earlier without a search process or shared governance processes. Dr. Fernandes had talked of ushering in a “New World Order” at Gallaudet. Gallaudet protesters set up a tent city on the campus, and soon tent cities sprung up across the globe in solidarity with the protesters. Even after a summer break, the protests resumed in the fall. As with the 1988 DPN protest, the protesters locked down the campus. After IK Jordan ordered the arrest of over 130 peaceful protestors, letters and outrage from the community, and two votes of no confidence in Fernandes, the Gallaudet Board of Trustees terminated her contract in October 2006.
Milestone: We Came, We Saw, We Conquered © Nancy Rourke 2010
2010 ICED: The Rejection of Milan
In 2010, the International Congress on the Education of the Deaf (ICED) during its 21st meeting in Vancouver, Canada presented along with the British Columbia Deaf community “A New Era: Deaf Participation and Collaboration” Statement. For almost 130 years, the Milan Congress resolutions of oralism stood. The 2010 ICED document stated, in part, that they…
- “Reject all resolutions passed at the ICED Milan Congress in 1880 that denied the inclusion of sign languages in educational programmes for the Deaf children / students.
- Acknowledge and sincerely regret the detrimental effects of the Milan conference…”
- “Call upon all Nations to include the sign languages of the Deaf citizens as legitimate languages of these Nations and to treat them as equal to those of the hearing majority;
- Call upon all Nations to facilitate, enhance and embrace their Deaf citizens’ participation in all governmental decision-making process affecting all aspects of their lives;
- Call upon all Nations to involve their Deaf citizens to assist parents of Deaf infants, children and youth in the appreciation of the Deaf culture and sign languages…”
The Second Wave
No to Eugenics, Painting No.2 (left, 2012), Struggled Puppets (2012) and Irony (2010) © Nancy Rourke
Despite the current popularity of American Sign Language (ASL) in the United States for Hearing people (i.e. baby signs, high school and college courses in ASL), young Deaf children are often still denied the right to acquire ASL at an early age. The backlash against Deaf people as an ethnic and linguistic group has been grounded in a pathological view of Deaf people which drives medical technology such as cochlear implantation and genetic engineering coupled with aggressive marketing and governmental lobbying. Thus, at a time when the language of Deaf culture has been accepted and legitimized by the majority culture, the right to be Deaf is being threatened and human cultural and bio-diversity is being endangered.
“When I lecture to my students in class, I always tell them, “You have ten years to build a mountain. Build it tall before the waves of cochlear implants, Oralism, and mainstreaming crash upon us. If you take your time and are busy partying, not building up the mountain, then the waves will wash away the little we have amassed. However, if you B-U-I-L-D a political discourse, through A-R-T and creative expression, you will be building an insurmountable mountaintop which the waves of oppression will not be able to dismantle. Then, we will survive.” Paddy Ladd (2009)
Left to Right: Precious (2010), We Must Act Together (2010) and Are We Much Different? (2010) © Nancy Rourke
“If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.”Margaret Mead (1935)
- See Hartig, 2006 pg. 37 for a copy of the drawing.
- Mottez (1993, p. 148). Mirzoeff (1995) notes that Ordinaire‘s successor was invited to the banquet.
- One of Thomas Brown‘s sons attended Hartford and later taught at the school for the Deaf in Michigan (Lane, Pillard, and French, 2000). Further study of the Brown family tree appears in Lane, Pillard, and Hedberg 2011)
- from “History of Gallaudet: The First 100 Years.” Accessed 8/13/11 from http://www.gallaudet.edu/about_gallaudet/history_of_the_university.html
- Baynton (1996) describes the late nineteenth and twentieth century rein of oralism as “…an attempt…to unmake that (newly established Deaf American) community and culture” (pg. 4).
- Baynton (1996) and Lane (1984) present deeper analysis of the historical contexts which influenced the education and attitudes toward Deaf people and signed languages.
- Vive la parole (Long live speech) was the phrase used at the Milan Conference which affirmed the resolutions supporting the pure oral method. Phonocentrism is the belief in the superiority of speech over other language mediums, including sign language (Bauman, 2004)
- James Denison, a Deaf American educator and principal of the Columbia Institution. Denison in 1881 wrote that he had seen oral demonstration students at the 1880 Milan Congress “sign-making” among each other.
- See Lane (1984) among others who describe this ‘conspiracy.’
- This phrase was used at the end of the first National Association of the Deaf (National Convention of Deaf Mutes) meeting in 1880.
- See ASL Literature: Sample Works in this Project for Veditz‘s famous Preservation of the Sign Language presentation and English Literature: Sample Works for Veditz‘s 1910 President’s Address.
- See ASL Literature: Sample works in this Project for Hotchkiss‘ “Memories of Old Hartford.”
- See Overview: Timeline in this Project for a modern ASL version of Agatha Tiegel‘s graduation speech and Overview: Text Summaries & Documents in this Project for the complete written speech.
- Quote and much of this information from http://www.america.gov/st/africa-english/2010/August/20100820153657SztiwomoD0.9400751.html
- See Deaf Visual Art in this Project for a more information on Betty G. Miller and her contributions to the field of Deaf artistic expression.
- See ASL Literature in this Project for more information on the 1980 NSSLRT Conference and other important events related to the development and celebration of ASL literature.
- From http://www.nbda.org/history_NBDA.html accessed 8.13.11
Bauman, H-Dirksen L. (2004). Audism: Exploring the Metaphysics of Oppression. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 9 (2), 239-46.
Baynton, Douglas, C. (1996). Forbidden Signs: American Culture and the Campaign against Sign Language. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Bender, Ruth (1981). The Conquest of Deafness. Danville, Ill.: Interstate Printers and Publishers.
Branson, Jan and Miller, Don (2006). Damned for The Difference: The Cultural Construction of Deaf People as Disabled. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Carroll, Cathryn (1997, January/February). Deaf colonials: Evidence Suggests that Some were Literate. Perspectives in Education and Deafness, 15 (3), 8-11.
Chief Little Raven. http://www.comanchelodge.com/sign-language.html. Accessed 8/13/11.
Chief Iron Hawk. http://www.astonisher.com/archives/museum/iron_hawk_little_big_horn.html Accessed 8/13/11.
Clerc, Laurent. (1852). An Autobiography of Laurent Clerc. From H. Barnard’s Tribute to Gallaudet: A Discourse in Commemoration of the Life, Character and Services, of the Rev. Thomas H. Gallaudet, LL.D. (pp. 106- 116). Hartford: Brockett & Hutchinson.
Clerc, Laurent. (1849). Jean Massieu I and II. American Annals of the Deaf, 2, (2 & 3), 84-89 & 203-217.
Cloud, James H. (1923, July). The National Association of the Deaf: A Historical Sketch. The Silent Worker, 35 (10), 408-413.
Davis, Jeff. http://sunsite.utk.edu/pisl/index.html. Accessed 8/13/11.
DeLand, Fred (1920, November). Whom Shall Marry Who? Silent Worker, 33 (2) 41-45.
DeLand, Fred (1922). AG Bell, An Ever-Continuing Memorial. Volta Review, 24 (2) 418.
Desloges, Pierre (1984). A Deaf Person’s Observations about ‘An Elementary Course of Education of the Deaf.’ In H. Lane and F. Philip (Eds.), The Deaf Experience (pp. 29-48). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Gannon, Jack. (1981). Deaf Heritage: A Narrative History of Deaf in America. Silver Spring, MD: National Association of the Deaf.
Groce, Nora Ellen. (1985). Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language: Hereditary Deafness on Martha’s Vineyard. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Hartig, Rachel M. (2006). Crossing the Divide: Representations of Deafness in Biography. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Johnson, R. E., Liddell, S., and Erting, C. (1989). Unlocking the Curriculum. Gallaudet Research Institute Working Papers. Washington, DC: Gallaudet Research Institute.
Karacostas, Alexis. (1993). Fragments of ‘glottophagia.’ Ferdinand Berthierand the Birth of the Deaf Movement in France. In R. Fischer and H. Lane (Eds.), Looking Back: A Reader on the History of Deaf Communities and their Sign Languages (pp. 133-142). Hamburg, Germany: SIGNUM Press.
Krentz, Christopher (2000). A Mighty Change: An Anthology of Deaf American Writing 1816-1864. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Ladd, Paddy (2003). Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Lane, Harlan (1984). When the Mind Hears: A History of the Deaf. New York: Random House.
Lane, Harlan (1992). The Mask of Benevolence: Disabling the Deaf Community. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Lane, Harlan, Pillard, Richard C. and French, Mary. (2000). Origins of the American Deaf-World: Assimilating and Differentiating Societies and their Relation to Genetic Patterning. Sign Language Studies, 17-44.
Lane, Harlan, Pillard, Richard C. and Hedberg, Ulf (2011). The People of the Eye: Deaf Ethnicity and Ancestry. New York: Oxford University Press.
Lang, Harry G. (2004). Edmund Booth: Deaf Pioneer. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Lang, Harry G. (2007). Genesis of a community: The American Deaf Experience in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. In John Vickery Van Cleve (Ed.) The Deaf History Reader. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
McKay-Cody, Melanie Raylene. (1996). Plains Indian Sign Language: A Comparative Study of Alternate and Primary Signers. Masters Thesis. University of Arizona. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Dissertation Services.
Mead, Margaret (1935/2001). Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies. New York: HarperCollins.
Mirzoeff, Nicholas. (1995). Silent Poetry: Deafness, Sign, and Visual Culture in Modern France. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University. Press.
Mottez, Bernard. (1993). The Deaf Mute Banquets and the Birth of the Deaf Movement. In R. Fischer and H. Lane (Eds.), Looking Back: A Reader on the History of Deaf Communities and their Sign Languages (pp. 143-155). Hamburg, Germany: SIGNUM Press.
Padden, Carol and Tom Humphries. (1988). Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Quartararo, Anne T. (2002). The Life and Times of the French Deaf Leader, Ferdinand Berthier: An Analysis of his Early Career. Sign Language Studies, 2 (2), 183-196.
Rée, Jonathan. (1999). I See a Voice: Deafness, Language and the Sensesâ€”A Philosophical History. New York: Metropolitan Books.
Stevens, Kelly (1923, January). “Memorial to Dr. John Burton Hotchkiss.” The Silent Worker, 35 (4) 125-131.
Truffaut, Bernard (1993). Eitenne de Fay and the history of the Deaf. In R. Fischer & H. Lane (Eds). Looking Back: A Reader on the History of Deaf Communities and their Sign Languages. (pgs. 13-24). Hamburg, Germany: SIGNUM Press.
Van Cleve, John V. and Crouch, Barry A. (1989). A Place of Their Own: Creating the Deaf Community in America. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Vedtiz, George W. (1910). The Presidents Message. From Proceedings of the Ninth Convention of the National Association of the Deaf and the Third World’s Congress of the Deaf, 1910 (Los Angeles, CA: Philocophus Press, 1912, p. 30)
Winefield, Richard M. (1981). Bell, Gallaudet and the Sign Language Debate: An Historical Analysis of the Communication Controversy in Education of the Deaf (Doctoral dissertation). Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International.