The Deaf - Their Position in Society and the Provision for Their - Education in the United States
by Harry Best
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[18] Of the cases usually ascribed to accidents, as falls, blows and the like, the probabilities are that a large part are really to be attributed to some other cause. Deafness is not often likely to result from such occurrences.

[19] See Proceedings of International Otological Congress, ix., 1913, p. 49; Volta Review, xiv., 1912, p. 348.

[20] Special Reports, pp. 110, 122, 124. See also Annals, xxxiii., 1888, p. 199; lii., 1907, p. 168. In the table are given only the specified causes that represent at least 0.7 per cent of the total amount of deafness. In respect to external ear trouble, impacted cerumen is usually found to result from water in the ear, or wax in the ear. Other diseases of the middle ear of suppurative character are diphtheria, pneumonia, erysipelas, smallpox, tonsilitis, teething, bronchitis, and consumption. Other non-suppurative diseases of the middle ear are whooping cough, scrofula, exposure and cold, disease of the throat, thickening of eardrum, croup, etc. Of the internal ear, other causes affecting the labyrinth are malformation, noise and concussion, mumps, and syphilis; affecting the nerve, paralysis, convulsions, sunstroke, congestion of brain, and disease of nervous system; and affecting brain center, hydrocephalus and epilepsy. Among unclassified causes are also adduced neuralgia, childbirth, accident, medicine, heat, rheumatism, head-ache, fright or shock, overwork, lightning, diarrhea, chicken-pox, operation, and other causes.

[21] Proceedings of National Conference of Charities and Corrections, 1906, p. 250; Ceremonies of Laying of Corner Stone of Rhode Island School, 1907, p. 27.

[22] There are no general or organized movements on foot for the prevention of deafness as there are for the prevention of blindness. This is perhaps chiefly because there are believed to be nothing like so many preventable cases of the one as of the other, so much of blindness being due to diseases that might have been avoided without great difficulty, and to accidents and other injuries to the eye.

[23] It has been estimated that three-fourths of deafness from primary ear diseases, and one-half from infectious diseases, is preventable. See Proceedings of International Otological Congress, loc. cit.; Volta Review, xiv., 1912, pp. 251, 348.

[24] Proceedings, 1903, p. 1036.

[25] Volta Review, xv., 1913, p. 136. See also ibid., v., 1903, p. 415; Outlook, civ., 1913, p. 997.

[26] See Medical and Surgical Monitor, vii., 1904, p. 47; New York Medical Journal, lxxxiii., 1906, p. 816; Annals, lv., 1910, p. 192; Volta Review, xiii., 1911, p. 332.

[27] The possibilities, for instance, in the use of antitoxins and vaccines in certain diseases are just beginning to be known, and some results as affect deafness may be expected from such operations.

[28] In 1909 a special committee in regard to the prevention of deafness was created by the Otological Section of the American Medical Association, and in 1910 both by the American Laryngological, Rhinological and Otological Society and by the American Otological Society. See Laryngoscope, xx., 1910, pp. 596-665; Volta Review, xii., 1910, pp. 267, 545.

[29] Laws, 1906, ch. 502.

[30] On the possibilities of the prevention of adventitious deafness, see Dr. J. K. Love, "Deaf-Mutism", 1896; Archives of Otology, xxiv., 1895, p. 50; Journal of American Medical Association, liii., 1909, p. 89; New York Medical Journal, l., 1889, p. 205; lxxxix., 1909, p. 1007; xcv., 1912, p. 1189; New York State Journal of Medicine, xii., 1912, p. 690ff.; Maryland Medical Journal, lv., 1912, p. 33; Pediatrics, xxiv., 1912, p. 335; Popular Science Monthly, xlii., 1892, p. 211; "Progress in Amelioration of Certain Forms of Deafness and Impaired Hearing," Proceedings of American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf, iv., 1894; Annals, xxxiv., 1889, p. 199; lvi., 1911, p. 211; lviii., 1913, p. 131; Volta Review, xii., 1910, p. 143; xv., 1913, p. 303; New York Times, April 6, 1913; Public School Health Bulletin, Eyes and Ears, by Superintendent of Public Instruction of North Carolina, 1910.

[31] Census Reports, 1880. Report on Defective, Dependent and Delinquent Classes of the Population of the United States, 1888, p. 402ff.; Census Reports, 1890. Report on Insane, Feeble-minded, Deaf and Dumb and Blind, 1895, pp. 108ff., 648; Special Reports, 1906, p. 122.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Probably with the "fevers" the proportion would be larger.

[34] Less than 0.7 per cent.

[35] Probably included with certain of the suppurative diseases.

[36] Not a large number of schools, it is greatly to be regretted, give, regularly and over an extended period of time, such information in statistical form and upon the same basis from year to year.

[37] Total attendance.

[38] These tables are based upon statistics given in the reports of the schools, and given in Annals, vi., 1854, p. 237; xv., 1870, p. 113; xvii., 1872, p. 167.

[39] One case reported.

[40] Letters of inquiry as to whether or not "total" deafness appeared to be decreasing were sent by the writer to the professors of diseases of the ear of the medical schools of Johns Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, Cornell University, Harvard University, University of Chicago, Northwestern University, University of Michigan, and the Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia. The opinion of four of these is that such deafness is clearly decreasing; of three that little or no decrease is apparent; while by two no opinion can be vouched yet. The greatest encouragement is found in respect to treatment for middle ear affections and infections from fevers. By Dr. S. MacCuen Smith, of the Jefferson Medical College, it is believed that there is a decrease, "largely due to the fact that not only the general medical profession, but the public at large, are recognizing the importance of having the minor aural lesions promptly and properly cared for. This being the case, it is no longer possible for children in the public schools to continue their studies when suffering from diseased tonsils and enlarged adenoid vegetations. From this cause alone, many cases of impairment of hearing which usually occur later in life will be prevented in the future". By Dr. E. A. Crockett, of Harvard University, it is believed that, although there is a larger amount of deafness from measles, there is less, not only from scarlet fever, but also from chronic suppurations, from adenoid and throat troubles in general, and even from meningitis, owing to the use of serums. Regarding his own observations, within a period of twenty-five years "the number of extremely deaf persons and deaf-mutes has very materially diminished".

[41] Hereditary deafness is sometimes of a kind that manifests itself some years after birth, often with certain relatives similarly affected. This is especially true of catarrhal and middle ear affections, though their results may more often be partial rather than total deafness.

[42] In a part of such deafness, and also in a portion of that occurring shortly after birth, the cause is said to be syphilis. See Proceedings of International Otological Congress, ix., 1913, p. 49; Volta Review, xiv., 1912, p. 348; xv., 1913, p. 209.

[43] Special Reports, pp. 125, 236. There were 3,341 who failed to answer, and if all had made reply, our percentage would probably be higher yet.

[44] P. 108.

[45] In the Louisiana School 10 per cent of the pupils are said to have parents who were blood relatives; in the Illinois, 5 per cent; and in the Kansas, from 5 to 5.5 per cent. Report of Louisiana School, 1906, p. 17. See also Transactions of American Medical Association, xi., 1858, pp. 321-425; Proceedings of Conference of Principals, iii., 1876, p. 204; Annals, xxii., 1877, p. 242.

[46] On this subject, see Francis Galton. "Natural Inheritance", 1889, p. 132ff. See also G. B. L. Arner, "Consanguineous Marriages", 1908, p. 65ff.; C. B. Davenport, "Heredity in Relation to Eugenics", 1911, p. 124ff.

[47] Special Reports, pp. 128, 235, and passim.

[48] These proportions are further indicated in the succeeding section.

[49] Special Reports, p. 135ff.

[50] Report, 1908, p. 31.

[51] Out of 107 children born to former pupils of the Minnesota School up to 1892, 2, or 1.9 per cent, were deaf. Report, 1892, p. 39. Out of 811 children born to former pupils of the American School up to 1891, 105, or 12.9 per cent, were deaf. Report, 1891, p. 20.

[52] The study had been originally planned by Dr. F. H. Wines for the International Record of Charities and Corrections. See issue for October, 1888. The work was published by the Volta Bureau. For a discussion of the results, see Association Review, ii., 1900, p. 178; Publications of American Statistical Association, vi., 1899, p. 353; Biometrika (London), iv., 1904-5, p. 465. See also charts in current numbers of Volta Review.

[53] From the total number of marriages, 974 were deducted, being cases concerning the offspring of which no information could be obtained, and also 434 cases where there were no offspring.

[54] From p. 134. It has also been computed by Dr. Fay from his data that of 5,455 married deaf persons, 300, or 5.5 per cent, have deaf offspring. Annals, lii., 1907, p. 253.

[55] The proportions for the general population are hardly over 0.3 per cent and 0.05 per cent respectively.

[56] The proportion of the married deaf who are married to deaf partners is found by Dr. Fay to be 72.5 per cent, and of those married to hearing partners, 20 per cent, there being no information for the remaining 7.5 per cent. The census returns, however, give the respective proportions as 51.3 per cent and 48.7 per cent.

[57] See Proceedings of National Conference of Charities and Corrections, 1879, p. 214; A. G. Bell, "The Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race", Memoirs, 1883, ii., part 4, p. 177; Proceedings of Conference of Principals, i., 1868, p. 91; v., 1884, p. 205; A. G. Bell, "Marriage, an Address to the Deaf", 1898; Evidence before the Royal Commission on the Deaf, etc., 1892, ii., pp. 74-129; Annals, xxix., 1884, pp. 32, 72; xxx., 1885, p. 155; xxxiii., 1888, pp. 37, 206; Popular Science Monthly, xvii., 1885, p. 15; Science, Aug., 1890, to March, 1891 (xvi., xvii.); Arena, xii., 1895, p. 130; Association Review, x., 1908, p. 166; Volta Review, xiv., 1912, p. 184; Proceedings of Reunion of Alumni of Wisconsin School for the Deaf, vi., 1891, p. 46; National Association of the Deaf, iv., 1893, p. 112; ix., 1910, p. 69; Report of Board of Charities of New York, 1911, i., p. 150.

[58] No statutory action seems ever to have been taken in the matter. In Connecticut, however, in 1895 when a law (Laws, ch. 325) was enacted forbidding the marriage of the feeble-minded and epileptic, a provision respecting the congenitally deaf and blind came near being included. Annals, xl., 1895, p. 310.

[59] Census Reports, 1880. Report on Defective, Dependent and Delinquent Classes of the Population of the United States, 1888, p. 402ff.; Census Reports, 1890. Report on Insane, Feeble-minded, Deaf and Dumb and Blind, 1895, pp. 108ff., 684; Special Reports, 1906, p. 122. The ages of the deaf were reported less fully in 1880 than in 1890, and less fully in 1890 than in 1900; and if we take the numbers of those whose ages were reported in these three censuses, we have the following table, showing the proportion of the congenitally deaf.



1880 22,473 12,155 54.7 1890 37,204 16,866 45.8 1900 35,479 12,609 35.3

If we assume that the proportion of the congenitally deaf to all the deaf in each census was the same that it was among the cases in which the age of the occurrence of deafness was reported, we have this table to show the number of the congenitally deaf and the ratio of the deaf among the population.



1880 18,531 369 1890 18,375 293 1900 13,286 175

These tables are taken from Annals, li., 1906, p. 487.

[60] In the three schools where an increase in congenital deafness appears to be found, namely, those of Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio, a partial explanation probably lies in the fact that in these states a number of day schools have been created of late years, which are not likely to draw congenitally deaf pupils to the extent that the institutions do, thus leaving a larger proportion for the latter. See also E. A. Fay, op. cit., p. 125.




After examination of the question of how long the deaf are to be an element of the population, our discussion turns to their position at present as an actual part of society. The first relation to be considered is that of the state to them.

The state acts on men through the law, and in the law is represented not only its authority, but its attitude as well towards the problems that confront society, including the treatment of the various elements of its population. In this chapter it is our purpose by a study of the law in respect to the deaf to discover the attitude of the state towards them and the treatment which it has accorded them.

Generally in ancient and even in more modern days the deaf, especially the congenitally deaf without education, have been held in the eyes of the law more or less as though they were an abnormal element in the state, at times being regarded as though they were of defective minds, and now and then being considered practically as idiots. Though there was usually meditated no unduly harsh treatment of the deaf, they were for the most part deemed incapable of performing the full duties of citizenship, certain of the rights that belonged to their fellowmen were denied to them, and they were held in considerable degree in what amounted to legal bondage. It was only in the course of time in most countries that the law came to look upon the deaf differently, to regard them more as normal persons, and to grant them in greater measure the rights of other men.[61]

In America the attention of the law has been directed to the deaf both by legislation relating to them, and by court decisions affecting them. In addition, in the constitutions of a number of states, as we shall see, provision is made for institutions for the education of the deaf; and in one state, Mississippi,[62] a provision is found exempting the deaf from the payment of a poll tax. The law cannot be said to have concerned itself extensively with the deaf, but the light in which they have been viewed has been indicated fairly clearly. Judicial dicta and opinions have been of less frequency and importance than legislation, and have rather dealt with the mental capacity of the deaf in certain legal relations and proceedings, as in their responsibility for crimes, the making of wills, the appointment of interpreters, etc. Legislation itself has not often been engaged in providing for the deaf as a special class, beyond maintaining schools for the education of the young. Where this legislation has taken place, it may be said to be of three kinds. First, the deaf have been regarded as mentally deficient or incapable of certain civic acts, and discriminatory laws have been enacted. Next, the deaf have been thought to need special consideration or protection on the part of the state, and laws have been passed for the appointment of guardians or otherwise for their security or benefit. The third class of legislation is where the state bases its action upon the supposed weakness of the deaf, their "physical disability," as it is frequently termed, and here we have a series of what may be called negative benefactions, designed to make less hard the way of the deaf. Such special provision has consisted chiefly in the remission of taxes in certain instances or of some other form of more or less direct assistance.


Legislation which may be termed discriminatory in respect to the deaf has really been of but slight extent.[63] In Georgia we find an enactment of 1840,[64] in which the deaf were to be regarded pro tanto as idiots, so far as concerned the managing of their estates, though this was in fact intended for their protection. In New Mexico a law has been enacted, forbidding those deaf by birth from making wills, unless their intention is declared in writing;[65] and in Louisiana a deaf man is incapable of acting as a witness to a testament.[66] In several states, as New York and Massachusetts, there have been enactments in regard to deaf-mute immigrants together with other classes who might be likely to become a public charge, with the exaction of bond as security.[67] In Georgia[68] there is an enactment in reference to various itinerant concerns which might leave deaf persons, as well as others, in the state as public charges.[69]


Legislation of the second class, where the deaf are thought to require particular consideration or protection, has likewise been infrequent. The first instance is an enactment of Massachusetts in 1776,[70] relating to the appointment, on certain occasions, of guardians for the deaf, especially those deaf "from their nativity," together with other persons—which is probably the earliest statutory reference to the deaf in America. A later example is an enactment in Georgia in 1818,[71] and still in force, providing for the appointment of guardians, on somewhat the same order as that which we have indicated, for deaf and dumb persons incapable of managing their estates. In New Jersey in 1838[72] a law was enacted, forbidding deaf persons under seventeen years of age to be bound out as apprentices. In Ohio a statute also of 1838[73] provided for guardians for the deaf, and several modern statutes are somewhat of this nature. In Maine the deaf cannot be sent to the reform school.[74] In Arkansas[75] and Missouri[76] it is provided that the court may appoint guardians for deaf persons from fourteen to twenty-one years of age in case of the death of a parent. Of somewhat different character, but still for the protection of the deaf, is the enactment in several states, as Wisconsin[77] and Virginia,[78] where injury or abuse of the deaf is made a matter of special attention in the law.


Examples of legislation designed to be of material aid to the deaf are rather more common, the chief of which, as we have noted, is the exemption from the payment of some personal or property tax.[79] Thus in Missouri we find a statute of 1843[80] allowing a deaf man to be exempt from the poll tax and the tax on property up to $300. Indiana in 1848[81] exempted its deaf and blind citizens from a poll tax and a property tax up to $500. Mississippi[82] exempted these classes from the road duty in 1878, and two years later from the poll tax as well, this exemption being incorporated in the state constitution, as we have seen. Tennessee[83] in 1895 also exempted from the poll tax the deaf, the blind and those incapable of labor. In Pennsylvania legislation seems to have gone the furthest in its desire to be of material help to the deaf, for here we find the deaf with the blind exempted from the penalties which usually apply to tramps.[84] Such are instances of this form of legislation, but similar legislation has been enacted in other states.

Very rare are instances where the state makes special provision for the care of, or extends special poor relief to, any of its deaf population. The chief example seems to be the action of some of the New England states with their so-called "missions for the deaf." These are associations, composed in great part of the deaf and engaged in various forms of mission work, and to them state funds are granted to aid the aged, infirm and helpless deaf. By this plan Maine is said to have been without a deaf-mute pauper in ten years. The amounts allowed, however, for this purpose are not large, being $200 a year in Maine and $150 in New Hampshire.[85] In Ohio the counties are allowed to contract with private homes for the maintenance of the aged and infirm deaf—there being but one such in the state, that supported by the deaf themselves—and the state board of charities is given power to remove deaf persons thereto from the county infirmaries.[86]

Instances are likewise rare where the state makes a distinct appropriation of money for the benefit of the deaf other than for schools. We have one instance in New York where the state for a certain number of years allowed a small sum to the publishers of a paper for the benefit of poor deaf-mutes.[87]

As a last species of legislation in aid of the deaf, we have a single enactment of quite different character from that which we have hitherto found, and of later appearance. This is the law enacted in Minnesota in 1913,[88] which provides for a division for the deaf in the state bureau of labor. Its duties are to

Collect statistics of the deaf, ascertain what trades or occupations are most suitable for them and best adapted to promote their interests, ... use [its] best efforts to aid them in securing such employment as they may be best fitted to engage in, keep a census and obtain facts, information and statistics as to their condition in life with a view to the betterment of their lot, and endeavor to obtain statistics and information of the conditions of labor and employment and education in other states with a view to promoting the general welfare of the deaf in this state.

Such legislation may prove highly beneficial to the deaf, not only in rendering very desirable aid to them, but also in offering means of learning very important facts as to their condition.


The opinions of the courts of law in regard to the deaf have, as we have noted, rather revolved upon the mental capacity of the deaf in certain proceedings, and upon their competence in certain legal relations. These judicial expressions have in the main referred to four relations of the deaf in the law: 1. in their responsibility for crime; 2. in acting as witnesses; 3. in requiring guardians; and 4. in the making of wills and contracts generally.

As to the responsibility of the deaf man for his misdeeds, there has been in times past more or less presumption against it, especially if he were born deaf and were without education; but to-day he is quite generally held fully answerable for his crimes and misdemeanors, and his deafness cannot mitigate his punishment.[89] As a witness, the deaf man under proper circumstances is now allowed to appear without hindrance before virtually any court.[90] As to special guardians, these will be accorded the deaf when there appears sufficient need, though there is less of this than formerly.[91] With respect to the testamentary capacity of the deaf, we find that in times past the deaf were often said to be more or less incapable of making wills, though this presumption could always be overcome. Naturally their wills were subjected to considerable scrutiny for the purpose of preventing fraud; but if written and apparently genuine, they could usually stand. To-day the deaf are practically everywhere held to be quite capable in this respect, and probably nowhere would a will be set aside for reason of the deafness of the testator alone. Likewise the deaf are now generally held capable of entering into all contractual relations.[92]


In most of the statutes and decisions to which we have referred there appears a distinct trend towards treating the deaf quite as normal persons, and the tendency may be considered to be general to-day to hold them very much as other citizens. The greater part of all the special legislation has ceased of late years, and it is seldom now that a particular enactment is placed upon the statute books. Where such does occur, it arises chiefly where some peculiar protection of the deaf has been felt to be needed. Discriminatory legislation has practically disappeared, as has also beneficial legislation of the old sort, the only kind likely to be enacted in the future being along the new lines pointed out.

In judicial proceedings likewise particular usage in respect to the deaf has almost entirely passed away, and the deaf to-day receive little distinctive treatment. Practically the sole special consideration now accorded them is in the procurement of interpreters for proper occasions. On the whole, then, the present attitude of the law may be said to be to regard the deaf more and more fully as citizens, to allow them all the rights and duties of such, and to consider them in little need of particular aid or attention.[93]


[61] The legal treatment of the deaf, however, in past times has not been as severe as has been often supposed. Both the Justinian Code and the Civil Law, as well as the Common Law, granted a number of rights to the deaf, these being in some cases as far as the policy of the law would permit. In a few instances a not unsympathetic attitude was displayed towards them. In the early Roman law and in some other systems word of mouth was necessary to accomplish certain legal acts, and this of course bore hardly upon the deaf. In all cases it was the deaf-mute from birth who suffered most. On this subject, see A. C. Gaw, "The Legal Status of the Deaf," 1907; H. P. Peet, "Legal Rights and Responsibilities of the Deaf," 1857 (Proceedings of Convention of American Instructors, iv., p. 17).

[62] Constitution, 1890, sec. 243. The blind are also included in the exemption.

[63] In New York we find an early reference to the deaf in the rules adopted in 1761 by the state assembly regarding suffrage qualifications in the election of its own members, one of which rules declared that "no man deaf and dumb from his nativity has a vote," though this may have been partly due to the fact that nearly all voting then was viva voce. William Smith, "History of the Late Province of New York," 1830, ii., p. 358.

[64] Laws, p. 110. A Kentucky statute refers to "idiots and those by speech or sign incapable" of understanding (Stat., 1894, Sec. 2149), but the deaf may not necessarily be included.

[65] Cod. Laws, 1865, ch. 3, Sec. 2; 1884, Sec. 1378.

[66] Civ. Code, 1838, Sec. 1852; 1898, Sec. 1591.

[67] In 1849 New York required the masters of ships landing in New York City to report to the mayor what passengers were deaf, blind or insane. Laws, ch. 350. See also Laws, 1851, ch. 523; 1881, ch. 427. See Public Statutes of Massachusetts, 1882, p. 468. The present United States immigration laws do not directly exclude the deaf, but they have been thought at times to have been made to bear unduly upon them.

[68] Code, 1911, Sec. 559. The application is to "proprietors of circuses and other migratory companies."

[69] In a few states, as California and New York, attempts have been made to secure laws barring the deaf from licenses to run automobiles. Such measures, however, are to be regarded less as discrimination against the deaf than for the public safety.

[70] Laws, 1776, ch. 20.

[71] Laws, 1818, p. 342; 1840, p. 345; Code, 1911, Sec. 3089.

[72] Laws, p. 128.

[73] Laws, 1838, p. 40; 1841, p. 573.

[74] Rev. Stat., 1883, ch. 142, Sec. 2.

[75] Digest, 1894, Sec. 3571; 1904, Sec. 3760.

[76] Stat., 1872, p. 672; Rev. Stat., 1909, Sec. 407. In Kansas by opinion of the attorney-general, the juvenile court laws do not apply to the deaf.

[77] Gen. Stat., 1898, p. 2672. Abuse or ill-treatment of an inmate of a state institution for the deaf, the blind and other classes may be punished by fine or imprisonment.

[78] Laws, 1908, p. 55. It is made a misdemeanor to abduct or kidnap inmates of "deaf and dumb and blind hospitals".

[79] In several states there are provisions in regard to the employment of interpreters for the deaf. See Code of Georgia, 1911, Sec. 5864; Gen. Laws of Rhode Island, 1909, Sec. 3855.

[80] Laws, p. 202.

[81] Laws, ch. 76.

[82] Laws, 1878, ch. 52; 1880, p. 20.

[83] Laws, 1895, ch. 120; Ann. Code, 1896, Sec. 686.

[84] Purdon's Digest, 1903, p. 5023. In Georgia persons deaf and blind are expressly permitted to make wills if properly scrutinized. Code, 1911, Sec. 3844.

[85] See Laws of New Hampshire, 1895, ch. 131. This relief is here known as the "Granite State Mission". See also Deaf-Mutes' Journal, Feb. 9, 1911.

[86] See Laws, 1896, p. 419; 1898, p. 212; 1900, p. 369.

[87] This seems to have been begun in 1839, and continued nearly fifty years. See Laws, 1839, ch. 329; 1858, ch. 546; 1886, ch. 330. The sum of $100 was first granted to the Radii, and later appropriations to succeeding publications.

[88] Laws, p. 330. The law was secured by the efforts of the deaf themselves. See Deaf-Mutes' Journal, May 22, 1913.

[89] See Houst. Crim. Cas. (Del.), 291; 8 Jones L. (N. C.), 136; 14 Mass., 207. This last case was one of larceny. See also I. L. Peet, "Psychical Status and Criminal Responsibility of the Totally Uneducated Deaf and Dumb," 1872 (Journal of Psychological Medicine, Jan., 1872); Annals, xvii., 1872, p. 65.

[90] 37 S. W. (Tex.), 440; 118 Mo., 127; 39 S. C., 318; 1 Den. (N. Y.), 19; 23 Col., 314; 3 N. M., 134.

[91] See 16 Ohio St., 455, where a guardian was allowed; 41 N. J. Eq., 409, where the deaf were said to be liable to guardianship.

[92] See 1 Jones Eq. (N. C.), 221. In 4 Johns. Ch., 441, a New York case in 1820, it was said by Chancellor Kent that the deaf and dumb were considered prima facie as insane, incapable of making a will and fit subjects for guardianship, by the civil law. The presumption was due, he said, to the fact that "want of hearing and speech exceedingly cramps the powers of the mind," but it was to be overcome by proof. In this case the presumption was overruled. The implication, however, never applied to the deaf not born so. At present there is no presumption in connection with wills, deeds, witnessing, or guardianship. See 3 Conn., 299; 27 Gratt. (Va.), 190; 6 Ga., 324; 3 Ired. (N. C.), 535. In the Missouri case, quoted above, it was said: "Presumption of idiocy does not seem to obtain in modern practice, at least not in the United States."

[93] The deaf as a class may be said to be strongly opposed to nearly all forms of legal treatment different from those of their fellow-citizens. In Texas, where they have been exempted from a personal or property tax, they have made formal protest against the exemption. Annals, l., 1905, p. 263; Report of Mississippi School, 1911, p. 72. They have, as another instance, voiced opposition to the release of criminals on the ground of their deafness. See Proceedings of Convention of National Association of the Deaf, ii., 1883, p. 16.




In the want of the sense of hearing, and with it oftentimes the faculty of speech, the deaf are deprived of most important powers, and, it might appear, of an essential equipment for work among men. It is not to be denied that the deaf start out into life severely handicapped, nor can the difficulties which they must face in meeting the world pass unregarded.

Yet notwithstanding the particular adversity under which the deaf have to labor, they remain in full possession of all their other physical forces, and it may be a question whether on the whole they are to be considered disqualified from engaging in the industrial pursuits of men. It may be that there are occupations in which their deafness will not prove of material consequence, and that in such fields they will be able to enter without serious impediment. In the present chapter we shall attempt to see how far these possibilities seem to be realized in the actual industrial life of the community. In other words, we shall consider what is the place of the deaf as economic factors in this life, and how far they are independent wage-earners, at the same time comparing their economic standing with that of the general population.

The returns of the census, covering the entire country and presenting the results of a careful investigation, will furnish our most complete source of information. Here[94] are reported in gainful occupations 12,678 deaf persons over ten years of age, or 38.1 per cent of the number of the deaf over this age.[95] This is somewhat less than the percentage for the general population, which is 50.2. Of the deaf twenty years of age and over, however, the percentage gainfully employed is 50.1, embracing 11,670 persons. In the following table is shown the number of the deaf over ten years of age in the five great occupations, with the respective percentages, and also the percentages for the general population.



Agricultural pursuits 4,761 37.5 35.7 Manufacturing and mechanical 4,583 36.1 24.4 Domestic and personal 2,395 18.9 19.2 Trade and transportation 552 4.4 16.4 Professional 387 3.1 4.3

It is seen from this that the proportions are very nearly the same for the deaf and the general population in agricultural pursuits, domestic and personal service, and professional service. In manufacturing and mechanical occupations the proportion of the deaf is indeed considerably higher. In trade and transportation, on the other hand, the proportion for the deaf is far lower than that for the general population—a condition to be accounted for by the very evident need of hearing in such pursuits.

Of the deaf engaged in agricultural pursuits, 3,366, or about three-fourths, are in a position of ownership or direction, being farmers, planters, or overseers; 1,218 are agricultural laborers, while 75 are gardeners, florists, or nursery-men. The large number of the deaf in professional occupations is in part explained by the fact that 206 are themselves engaged in the instruction of the deaf. Other specified occupations where fifty or more of the deaf are employed in each are as follows:


Laborers not specified 1,217 Servants and waiters 712 Boot and shoemakers and repairers 559 Printers, lithographers and pressmen 382 Carpenters and joiners 371 Dressmakers 314 Seamstresses 306 Tailors 236 Painters, glaziers and varnishers 223 Launderers 210 Cigar and tobacco operators 162 Cabinet-makers 119 Merchants and dealers (retail) 115 Iron and steel workers 106 Clerks and copyists 105 Housekeepers and stewards 91 Machinists 87 Blacksmiths 84 Miners and quarrymen 81 Cotton mill operators 78 Barbers and hairdressers 74 Bakers 61 Agents 61 Artists and teachers of art 60 Harness and saddle makers and repairers 59 Draymen, hackmen, teamsters, etc. 56 Manufacturers and officials 55 Masons 52

So far, then, as appears from the findings of the United States census, the deaf are seen to be distributed among the chief industries very generally, and in very many of what are known as "trades" they are able to be profitably employed. In some activities of life deafness is of course an effectual barrier, but these are rather restricted ones. There is but one great division of employment in which the deaf cannot enter extensively, namely, commercial and mercantile pursuits. With these exceptions, the deaf are found to be industrially occupied like the rest of the community, and to be able to engage, and actually engaging, in most of the employments of men.[96]

In respect to the general economic status of the deaf, a second source of information, at the bottom of the scale, as it were, is to be found in the proportion of the deaf cared for in public alms-houses. Though a much greater proportion of the deaf are discovered here than of the general population, the deaf do not on the whole constitute a large part of the alms-house population of the country. In 1910 the census reported 540 deaf-mutes to be in alms-houses, or six-tenths of one per cent of all their inmates.[97] That is to say, a little over one per cent (1.2) of the total number of the deaf in the United States are found to-day in alms-houses.[98]

Such is the evidence we have in respect to the economic standing of the deaf. Yet the fact that the deaf are usually found capable of taking care of themselves should not be, after all, a matter either of doubt or of wonder. They are for the most part, as we have indicated, quite "able-bodied," and but for their want of hearing are perfectly normal in respect to "doing a job." If they are skillful and efficient, their deafness proves comparatively little of a drawback. Another contributing cause in the situation lies in the fact that most of the deaf have attended the special schools provided for them, where industrial preparation with the opportunity to learn a trade is offered and largely availed of.[99] When they go out into the world, they may be supposed to have an industrial equipment, which, besides taking in view their handicap, is one in many respects fully equal to that of their hearing fellow-laborers; and though many of the deaf, apparently the greater number, do not follow the trade learned at school, yet there is no doubt that the training and lessons in industry there acquired prove of decided practical advantage.[100]


To what extent the deaf hold themselves able to stand alongside the general population may well be indicated by what they themselves have to say. Of the adult deaf who have had schooling, it is claimed that eighty-one per cent are gainfully employed;[101] and that of the adult male deaf ninety per cent are self-supporting.[102] A large proportion are said to be the heads of families and the possessors of homes.[103] In respect to the conditions of their employment, including that of wages, they are usually ready to declare that they are little different from those of the general population, sometimes taking pains to point out the substantial equality of the two.[104]

The views of the deaf in the whole matter of their industrial footing may be expressed as summed up in the following resolutions, which were reported by a special committee on industrial conditions of the deaf at the convention of the National Association of the Deaf in 1904:[105]

1. There are few ordinary occupations in which the deaf do not or cannot engage.

2. Employers and foremen treat deaf workmen as they do hearing workmen.

3. Deafness is a hindrance to a great extent, but it is not such a formidable barrier as has popularly been supposed.

4. The deaf workman usually has steady work. Those that do not generally have only themselves to blame.

5. The deaf invariably get the same wages for the same class of work as the hearing.

6. Employers and foremen are glad to have deaf workmen who can show that they have the ability to do the work expected of them, and take them on a basis equal to that of the hearing. If they are competent, their services secure ready recognition.[106]


It might be thought that the deaf might sometimes find their infirmity a useful means of soliciting alms from the public. But it is gratifying to learn that very few of them ever try to make capital out of their affliction. That a deaf man merely as such is in no wise to be considered a special beneficiary of charity is a principle spiritedly endorsed by nearly all the deaf themselves; and they are found to be the last to lend encouragement to any appeals for aid from the charitably disposed.[107]

On the other hand, it is a fact, perhaps not as widely known as it should be, that there are persons able to hear who often pretend to be deaf and dumb in order to work on the sensibilities of the public. To such appeals a far more ready response is met with than should be the case. The deaf themselves usually do what they can to prevent this, a certain number indeed going to considerable lengths in this direction, and not infrequently running such impostors down.[108] In nearly all the state associations of the deaf as well as in the national organization it is made a particular object to investigate and prosecute mendicants simulating deafness, while in their papers a vigorous war is being waged.[109] At the same time by many of the deaf a campaign of education is being conducted for the enlightenment of the public. The following resolutions, adopted by the National Association of the Deaf in 1910, attest their feeling in the matter:[110]

Whereas, There is no necessity for an educated deaf person to beg or solicit alms on account of deafness; and

Whereas, There are many cases of persons who are not really deaf, but hearing people, who prey on the sympathy of the public to the injury of the respectable and self-supporting deaf; therefore be it

Resolved, That it is the sense of the Association that stringent laws should be enacted, making it a penal offense to ask pecuniary aid on account of deafness or on pretense of being "deaf and dumb."

Only very rarely, however, has legal cognizance been taken of this evil, though it may sometimes be included under the general charge of "vagrancy" or "imposture." In a few states there have been special enactments, as in New York[111] and Minnesota,[112] in the former the impersonation of a deaf man being expressly added to the offenses that constitute imposture, and in the latter to those that constitute vagrancy.


Homes for the deaf in America have never been organized on other than a small scale, and in the main they may be said to serve a purpose similar to that of homes for the aged and infirm generally. Though there is little call for such establishments to a wide extent, and though the proportion of the deaf to be benefited by them is small,[113] yet for a number of the deaf there is a peculiar need. These are deaf persons, usually the old and decrepit, who are without means to support themselves, and have no family or friends to look to for help. To them a special retreat in association with others in similar condition proves an immeasurable blessing, and in such their last years may be spent in tranquillity and comparative happiness.

The object of a home for the deaf is thus given for one of them.[114]

To take care of such of the deaf of the state as are incapacitated by reason of old age or other infirmity from taking care of themselves, to the end that they may have the comforts of a home, where they can associate with each other, and have the consolation of religious services in their own language of signs, instead of being sent to a county infirmary.

The purpose of another home is thus described:[115]

This home is unique, being the only institution of its kind in the state, owned and controlled by the deaf, who have formed themselves into an association, known as the Pennsylvania Society for the Advancement of the Deaf. Like our Ohio cousins, who have already established a similar home, we pride ourselves upon our ability to own and control such a responsible institution. The home owes its existence entirely to the charitable impulse of the deaf themselves, aided by the generosity of their hearing friends. It exists because of the desire to provide a home of rest for the infirm of our class during their declining years, so that they may find here comfort and happiness in congenial companionship and intelligent conversation.

At present there are five homes for the deaf.[116] They are found in the states of Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, there being two in New York.[117] The first to be created was the Gallaudet Home at Wappinger's Falls, New York, founded in 1885; the second the Ohio Home at Westerville in 1896; the third the home of St. Elizabeth's Industrial School in New York City in 1897; the fourth the New England Home at Everett, Massachusetts, in 1901;[118] and the fifth the Pennsylvania Home at Doyleston in 1902. The homes in Ohio and Pennsylvania are owned and controlled by the societies for the deaf in these respective states, the management being in the hands of trustees, in the former of twenty, and in the latter of nine. The Gallaudet Home is under the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes of the Protestant Episcopal Church, with the direction vested in a board of twenty-five trustees. The home in Massachusetts is controlled by a private society organized for the purpose, with a board of fifteen trustees in charge. The home in New York City is a part of St. Elizabeth's Industrial School of the Roman Catholic Church.[119]

The homes are for the most part for the deaf of restricted areas, those in Pennsylvania and Ohio being for the deaf in these respective states. With but one exception,[120] they are open to the "aged and infirm," in some there being an age limitation of sixty years. The homes are in general free to those qualified to enter, and though a charge may be exacted from persons able to pay, this is seldom done, the homes being intended for the destitute and friendless.

The total number of inmates in the homes is 106, ranging in different ones from 13 to 30, and averaging about 20. The total annual cost of maintenance is $30,190, making the average cost of each inmate $290.[121] The value of the property of the homes is about $375,000, one home having two-thirds of this, and two homes four-fifths.

As little is received in the way of pay from inmates,[122] the homes have to depend for the most part upon private benevolence for their support. In the case of the Ohio and Pennsylvania homes this support comes largely from the deaf themselves.[123] In nearly all the homes there are a certain number of inmates, but usually a very small number, cared for at public expense. Private contributions to the homes are seldom large, though in one case these have amounted to a considerable sum.[124] They usually range from three or four thousand dollars a year to several times as much.[125]


From all the foregoing we may conclude the following with respect to the economic position of the deaf:

1. The deaf are not a burden upon the community.

2. They are wage-earners in a degree that compares well with the general population.

3. The occupations open to them and in which they are successfully employed are much larger in number than is generally thought, and in many their infirmity is very little of a drawback.

4. The deaf hold themselves on an economic equality with the rest of their fellow-citizens, and ask no alms or favors of any kind.

5. Beyond homes for certain of the aged and infirm, which are called for in not a few quarters, the deaf stand in need of little distinctive economic treatment from society.


[94] Special Reports, p. 146ff.

[95] The proportion for the deaf would no doubt be higher but for the large number in the schools. It should also be noted that "keeping house", the most usual occupation reported by females, is not listed among the occupations.

[96] Several of the deaf have won distinction as artists, and there have been not a few inventors. In the civil service of the National government there are said to be nearly two score. In 1908 an order was issued by the Civil Service Commission, debarring deaf persons from this service. So great was the protest, however, made by the deaf and their friends that the decision was reversed by the President, and the deaf were allowed to compete for any position where their deafness would not interfere. See Annals, liii., 1908, p. 249; liv., 1909, p. 387; Volta Review, x., 1908, p. 224; Silent Worker, Feb., 1909; Proceedings of National Association of the Deaf, ix., 1910, pp. 26, 70.

[97] Paupers in Alms-houses, 1913, p. 76. In 1911 there were in the alms-houses of Illinois, according to the Report of the state board of charities, 38 deaf-mutes, or 0.5 per cent of the entire alms-house population; in Indiana, 81, or 2.6 per cent; in New York, 191, or 1.8 per cent; and in Virginia, 17, or 0.7 per cent. In Michigan, according to the annual Abstract of Statistical Information Relating to the Insane, Deaf and Dumb, etc., for 1912, of the 1,059 deaf persons reported, 32, or 3 per cent, were cared for at public expense.

[98] The percentage for the general population is 0.1.

[99] In many schools it is said that few of their former pupils have failed to be self-supporting, especially those who have taken the full prescribed course. Of the New York Institution the proportion is stated to be as low as four per cent. Report, 1907, p. 37. Of the Michigan School it is asserted that out of 1,800 former pupils, only three are not self-supporting. Proceedings of Michigan Conference of Charities and Corrections, 1907, pp. 32, 63. Similar claims are made for other schools in respect to the condition of the deaf. By the head of the New Jersey School it is stated: "Inquiry at the state prison elicits the fact that there is not among its vast number of inmates a single deaf man or woman, and, indeed, I know of no educated deaf convict or pauper in the state." Report of Board of Education of New Jersey, 1904, p. 323. In 1911 a committee of the Convention of American Instructors of the Deaf was appointed to collect information and statistics as to the occupations and wages of the deaf. Proceedings, xix., p. 217.

[100] A special committee on the industrial condition of the deaf of the National Association of the Deaf stated as a conclusion: "More deaf workmen learn a new trade when they leave school than follow the one they were taught at school." Proceedings, vii., 1904, p. 216. In Minnesota the division for the deaf in the state bureau of labor works in connection with the state school. See Deaf-Mutes' Journal, March 7, 1912. On the general industrial training of the deaf and its results, see Annals, l., 1905, p. 98; lvii., 1912, p. 364; Volta Review, xi., 1909, p. 311 (Proceedings of American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf); xiii., 1912, pp. 542, 595; Proceedings of American Instructors, xv., 1898, p. 86; xvi., 1901, p. 238; xvii., 1905, p. 93; Report of Special Committee of Board of Directors of Pennsylvania Institution to Collect Information as to Lives and Occupations of Former Pupils, 1884; Report of Pennsylvania Institution, 1885, p. 30; Mississippi School, 1893, p. 9; 1911, pp. 36, 52; Manual and History of Ohio School, 1911, p. 16; Report of United States Commissioner of Education, 1885, p. ccxxxv.; Journal of Social Science, xxvi., 1889, p. 91.

[101] Proceedings of National Association of the Deaf, viii., 1907, p. 41; Indiana Bulletin of Charities and Corrections, June, 1912.

[102] Proceedings of National Conference of Charities and Corrections, 1906, pp. 232, 239.

[103] Ibid.; Proceedings of National Association of the Deaf, loc. cit.

[104] In New York the deaf are said to "earn from $2500 a year to $6 or $7 a week", most being "journeymen at their trades or skilled factory operatives". Proceedings of Empire State Association of Deaf-Mutes, xx., 1899, p. 7. In Missouri the earnings of the graduates of the state school are reported as ranging up to $1300 a year. Report of Missouri School, 1912, p. 28. In Massachusetts, in an investigation of the state board of education, it has been found that of 84 deaf men who had left school between 1907 and 1912, the average wage was $7.78 a week. Volta Review, xv., 1913, p. 183. The deaf when opportunity offers often become members of labor unions. They are said "quite generally to join labor unions where the nature of their occupation permits", though, on the whole, it does not seem that a large proportion do. Proceedings of National Association of the Deaf, vii., 1904, pp. 143, 218. For other views of the deaf on their employment and its returns, see ibid., i., 1880, p. 10; iv., 1893, pp. 122, 167; v., 1896, p. 35; vi., 1899, p. 64; viii., 1907, p. 53; Empire State Association of Deaf-Mutes, xi., 1887, p. 9; Illinois Gallaudet Union, v., 1897, p. 25; Reunion of Alumni of Wisconsin School for the Deaf, vii., 1895, p. 2; Louisiana Pelican, of Louisiana School, Oct. 17, 1908.

[105] Proceedings, vii., p. 190ff. Questionnaires were submitted to deaf workmen and their employers, and the conclusions (p. 227) were based on their replies. These resolutions were confirmed by further findings reported in 1907, especially as to the similarity of the wages of the deaf and the hearing, and as to the satisfaction of employers with deaf workmen. Proceedings, viii., p. 48.

[106] Another conclusion was that rural pursuits are better for the deaf than factory work.

[107] See Proceedings of Convention of American Instructors, v., 1858, p. 351; Report of Kentucky School, 1867, p. 13n.; Annals, x., 1858, p. 161; xxiv., 1879, p. 194.

[108] In the year 1911 the number of impostors whose arrest was secured by the deaf was 38. Deaf-Mutes' Journal, Sept. 4, 1913.

[109] In many issues this is made a prominent feature.

[110] Proceedings, ix., p. 89. See also Proceedings of Pennsylvania Society for the Advancement of the Deaf, xxiv., 1910, pp. 12, 32; Iowa Association for the Advancement of the Deaf, vi., 1895, p. 29. The action on the part of the deaf is worthy of the highest praise, and speaks volumes for them. The real cause for wonder, however, is that the public should ever allow itself to be deceived by those asking alms on the pretexts given. By no disease known to medical science, save paralysis alone, can a man lose his speech and hearing at one and the same time. It may be safely estimated that of such gentry 98, perhaps 100, per cent are rank frauds.

[111] Rev. Stat., 1896, p. 1242. See also Annals, xxxi., 1886, p. 295. On the other hand, it would seem that such statutes as that in Pennsylvania which we have noted, exempting the deaf from the provisions against tramps, would lend encouragement to alms-seeking.

[112] Laws, 1911, p. 356. The law in this state was secured by the action of the deaf.

[113] It is said that less than 400, or less than one per cent of the entire number of the deaf, are in need of special homes. Proceedings of National Association of the Deaf, ix., 1910, p. 51.

[114] Report of Ohio Home for Aged and Infirm Deaf, 1912, p. 15.

[115] From an address given at opening of Pennsylvania Home for the Deaf, 1902. On the objects of a home, see also Proceedings of Reunion of Alumni of Wisconsin School for the Deaf, vii., 1895, p. 10.

[116] In three other states funds are being collected to establish homes: Illinois, Indiana and Missouri. To that in Indiana 20 acres of land have been donated. A private home was opened in New Jersey in 1854 for colored deaf, blind and crippled, lasting but a short time, and having less than a dozen inmates. See Report of New Jersey School for the Deaf, 1893, pp. 3, 7.

[117] A national home for the deaf has also been proposed. For arguments for and against it, see Proceedings of National Association of the Deaf, ix., 1910, p. 51. In 1872 such a home was projected, to be located in New York City, some $4,000 being collected for it. Little encouragement, however, was met from outside, and the plan was abandoned for a local institution. See Report of Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes, 1874, p. 18; 1875, p. 17 ("Report of Committee on Building and Fund of National Home for the Aged and Infirm Deaf"); New York Times, Sept. 1, 1875. See also International Record of Charities and Corrections, June, 1886.

[118] This home was at Roxbury till 1905.

[119] In one or two cases there are ladies' auxiliary societies.

[120] The home in New York City receives only women from sixteen to fifty years of age.

[121] One home is exceptionally provided for, however. Without it the average is $252.

[122] In 1903 the amount from pay inmates was $1,600. Special Report of the Census. Benevolent Institutions, 1904. The nominal charge is usually $250.

[123] Over $3,000 was contributed by the deaf of Ohio for the establishment of a home in this state.

[124] The Gallaudet Home has an endowment fund of $153,150, of which $107,000 came from one legacy.

[125] See Appendix A for table in respect to the homes for the deaf. In connection with the scheme of homes for the deaf, it is interesting to note that there have been one or two suggestions for colonies for them, though such have never been taken seriously. One was by a deaf man in 1860 in the form of a memorial to Congress for the creation of a deaf-mute commonwealth. See Annals, viii., 1856, p. 118; x., 1858, pp. 40, 72, 136; xxix., 1884, p. 73. See also "Facts and Opinions Relating to the Deaf from America", 1892, p. 182; Proceedings of National Association of the Deaf, i., 1880, pp. 36-39. Farm colonies on a small scale for poor deaf-mutes have also been considered occasionally, but little further has ever been attempted. See Deaf-Mutes' Journal, Aug. 8, 1912; Sept. 12, 1912.




The preceding chapter has dealt with the economic possibilities of the deaf, and the extent to which they stand alongside the population generally. The other side of the shield in relation of the deaf to society is now to be presented, that is, how far their want of hearing will count in their participation in the social life of the community.

While the deaf man may be an active component in the economic and industrial life of society, yet his inability to hear and his frequently consequent inability to speak stand in the way of his prompt and continuous partaking in its social life. He may, and does, have many friends among his neighbors and acquaintances, but in the discourse between man and man which forms such a large part of the interest and delight in living, he is unable to join. There is usually at hand no ready and rapid means of communication as there is between two hearing persons in conversation, and his intercourse must necessarily be slow and tedious. The privileges of his church he cannot enjoy; in his lodge he misses the fellowship which is one of its fundamental ends; in few forms of convivial entertainment can he take part. Thus seeking an outlet for those social instincts which charge through his being, the deaf man finds himself among men, but as though surrounded by a great impenetrable wall against which their voices break in vain.

Placed, however, with his deaf fellows, he discovers himself in a different situation. He soon learns that by the use of that language of signs so largely employed by other deaf men, and of which he in a short time becomes master, he is able to converse with an ease and quickness fully as great as by that means of which he has been deprived. Hence he ceases in large measure to carry on his social intercourse with the hearing, and turns to his deaf comrades; in them he builds up an approximately congenial companionship and fellowship, and to them he looks largely for his means of social diversion. With them he feels a close bond of sympathy, and is moved to co-operate with them, and to stand with them when their mutual interests are concerned. In time associations in various forms come to be organized among them. In such wise is realized the desire of the deaf as of all men to commune with their fellows.


By some people societies or organizations composed exclusively of the deaf have been opposed, or at least looked upon with disfavor. This is because it has been felt that it is not well for the deaf to form a class apart in the community, and that unless discouraged the practice will cause intermarriage among the deaf, which may result in an increasing number of deaf people—a matter to which we have already given attention.

But in combating this tendency of the deaf to organize among themselves, we are really unmindful of an elemental sociological principle, that like-minded persons are prone to congregate, and will seek to form purposive societies and associations, exemplified as well in a boys' athletic club, in a church sewing circle, in a lodge of free and accepted masons, as in a "league of elect surds."[126] If "clannishness" is the outcome, it must be accepted only as the necessary consequence of the infirmity of the deaf, in the practical affairs of life such men being bound to seek out and associate with others of like condition. By the deaf themselves it is claimed that the good readily outweighs the possible evils, and that, as the fact of their deafness forbids them belonging generally to societies for the hearing, they are thus forced to band together, or almost entirely to go without the social amalgamations which form such a conspicuous and valuable part of life.[127]


The organizations of the deaf are of several kinds: termed clubs, leagues, societies, associations and the like; and wherever a number of deaf persons are congregated, some such organization is likely to be effected.[128] In large cities not a few may be found, planned perhaps on different lines or appealing to different kinds of people. The majority of the societies are formed for the mutual pleasure and culture of the members.[129] A part are organized on fraternal principles, some with benefit features, paying out so much in case of illness and the like; while in a few a certain amount of relief may be dispensed to those discovered to be in need. In most of the societies, as with the body of the deaf generally, there is a considerable amount of solidarity, and the members are usually quick to act in a common cause or to apply the principle that the concern of one is the concern of all.[130]

While these societies of the deaf are usually local in their composition, there exists more or less communication with bodies in other cities and communities. In over a fourth of the states there are state societies, while in most of the states there are also alumni associations of the special schools, which are of state-wide extent.[131] A national body is likewise in existence, the National Association of the Deaf, founded in 1880, and incorporated in 1900; and there is a National Fraternal Society of the Deaf, with benefits for sickness, injury and death, which has many local branches, this being probably the largest organization of the deaf in the country.[132] An international organization has also been formed, known as the World's Congress of the Deaf.

Among the various associations of the deaf, particular mention may be made of church organizations in some of the larger cities and towns, which not infrequently serve in some measure the purpose of a social center. These deaf congregations are usually in communion with some denominational body, often being the result of church "missions" to the deaf, and are ministered to regularly or at stated times by clergymen, most of whom are themselves deaf. For the use of the deaf, the church building or rooms in it are generally given over at certain times. In a few cases the deaf are in possession of edifices of their own.[133]


With the deaf there have been a number of special papers, published by and for them, and circulating for the most part only among them. Their chief purpose is to chronicle the various happenings in deaf circles, and to serve as a medium for the discussion of matters of general interest to the deaf. These papers are usually weeklies or monthlies, more often the former, and frequently have correspondents in a greater or smaller number of localities. There have been not a few ventures in the establishment of such independent papers, but most of them have proved short-lived for want of sufficient support, some being of very brief duration, and only an exceptional one continuing over an extended period. As a rule there have been seldom more than two or three in existence at any one time.[134] In addition, there have been several religious papers for the deaf, often under the auspices of some denominational body, but usually published by the deaf themselves. These, however, have never been numerous, and have been of limited circulation.[135]


[126] The deaf are not usually eligible to regular secret orders.

[127] On the subject of societies of the deaf, see Annals, xviii., 1873, pp. 200, 255; xxi., 1876, p. 137; xxxii., 1887, p. 246; xxxiii., 1888, p. 28; xlix., 1904, p. 369; Proceedings of Convention of American Instructors, ix., 1878, p. 117; National Association of the Deaf, ii., 1883, p. 12; iv., 1893, pp. 25, 40; vii., 1904, p. 132; viii., 1907, p. 26; Reunion of Alumni of Wisconsin School for the Deaf, v., 1888, p. 36; Empire State Association of Deaf-Mutes, xiii., 1890, p. 12; Deaf-Mutes' Friend, Aug., 1869. See also E. A. Hodgson, "The Deaf and Dumb; Facts, Anecdotes and Poetry", 1891; J. E. Gallaher, "Representative Deaf Persons in the United States", 1898; International Review, ii., 1875, p. 471.

[128] The oldest organization of the deaf now existing is the New England Gallaudet Association of the Deaf, which began in 1853. It resulted largely from the Gallaudet Memorial Association, organized two years before to raise funds for a monument to Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. In 1859 was created the Alumni Association of the High Class of the New York Institution; in 1865 the Empire State Association; and in 1870 the Ohio Alumni Association. See Proceedings of National Association of the Deaf, iv., 1893, p. 25.

[129] Some of these have special club rooms for social and literary meetings, where conversation can be carried on freely without attracting public notice. Some of these club rooms are large and well appointed. In not a few of the younger clubs athletics forms a prominent feature.

[130] This spirit is illustrated in many ways, perhaps most strikingly in the case where a deaf man seems likely to be debarred from some public position because of his want of hearing, when the deaf promptly rally to his support. We have already seen their action in connection with the order of the Civil Service Commission. Sometimes candidates for office have been asked to state their views on this subject. As a further instance of mutual assistance among the deaf may be mentioned the raising of relief funds for deaf sufferers in other localities in times of some great disaster.

[131] In Ohio and Pennsylvania the state societies manage homes for the aged deaf, as we have seen; and in Virginia the state association supports a special missionary to the deaf. In Pennsylvania there are many county sections of the state body. In a number of centers a leading association is that of the alumni of Gallaudet College.

[132] There has also frequently been discussion of a federation of the various state and local organizations. See Proceedings of National Association of the Deaf, iii., 1889, p. 14; ix., 1910, p. 25.

[133] Such churches are now in New York, Philadelphia and Wheeling, under Protestant Episcopal auspices; in Milwaukee under Lutheran; and in Baltimore under Methodist. Special church buildings are also in contemplation in other cities. Funds for these churches are raised by the deaf with the assistance of their hearing friends. In the Roman Catholic Church there is a special organization of the deaf, founded in 1910, and known as the Knights of l'Epee.

[134] There have been about thirty such publications created, the first of which seems to have been begun in 1839, and the second in 1860. See especially "Periodicals Devoted to the Interests of the Deaf," by the Volta Bureau, 1913. See also Volta Review, xii., 1910, p. 456; Proceedings of National Association of the Deaf, ix., 1910, p. 45. The present publications are: the Deaf-Mutes' Journal, of New York, a weekly; the Observer, of Seattle, a bi-weekly; the Frat, of Chicago, a monthly; and the Pennsylvania Society News, a quarterly.

[135] Those now existing are: the Catholic Deaf-Mute, of New York, under Roman Catholic auspices; the Silent Churchman, of Chicago, under Protestant Episcopal; the Silent Herald, of Chicago, under Methodist; and the Deaf Lutheran, of Milwaukee, under Lutheran.




The position of the deaf in society is yet to be seen from another standpoint. The question may be asked, How does the public at large, how does "the man in the street," look upon the deaf? Are the deaf viewed merely as so many people deprived of the sense of hearing, in whom also the power of speech is often wanting? Or is there superimposed upon this a feeling, owing perhaps to the supposed isolation of the deaf, that they are in other ways a peculiar class of beings?

Unfortunately, it is the latter of these two conceptions that is the prevailing one—unfortunately for the deaf, for their burden is quite sufficient as it is. The public has been and is under many misapprehensions and delusions regarding the deaf.[136] Being thrown intimately with them but seldom, people often come to form curious ideas respecting the deaf, but ideas which are more or less unhappy ones. There is frequently an attitude towards them combined of wonder, misgiving, fear, aversion—a vague feeling or belief that the deaf are more or less distinct in their thoughts and actions from other people, that they are somehow "unnatural" or "uncanny."[137]


Not only are the deaf often looked upon as a strange class in the community, but they are not uncommonly known as "defectives," and this is the classification frequently applied to them. It is true that the deaf are "defective" in that they are deprived of one of the most important of the physical senses; but, in addition, the term often carries a connotation of mental, or even of moral, aberrance, and results in the infliction upon the deaf of an unnecessary brand. In many libraries such a classification is found, and the deaf are catalogued under the heading "defective." In the "Index of the Economic Material in Documents of the States of the United States" of the Carnegie Foundation, the deaf and the blind are grouped as "defectives" along with the feeble-minded and consumptives.[138] Though in such a classification, any untoward signification is disclaimed, and it is held to be merely one of convenience of arrangement, it remains true that terms are employed and associations involved that to a certain extent do a very real injury to the deaf.[139]


People are also prone to think of the deaf as an unhappy, morose or dejected class. Professor E. T. Devine in his "Misery and its Causes" (1909)[140] enumerates the deaf, among other classes, as embodiments of misery—"not for the most part," he is careful to state, "personally unhappy," but rather with reference to their imperfect senses. This view is clear enough, and in one sense is doubtless correct; but it does not express the entire situation in respect to the deaf. While their deafness must always be a serious and distressing affliction, and even handicap and burden as well, and while the deaf must often bemoan their fate, it yet seems to be true that the deaf as a lot are not "unhappy." They are good-natured, see the world from an odd angle sometimes, yet are as much philosophers as the average man; and when in the company of their deaf associates are able to derive fully as large a portion of happiness as any other group of human beings. The deaf are cheerful, swayed by the same emotions as other mortals, responsive equally to all the touches of life, and are not, at least in these days of education, a morbid, brooding, passionate folk, as is too often the popular judgment.


In some quarters the deaf continue to be looked upon as one of the dependent classes of society. Mr. Robert Hunter in his "Poverty" (1904)[141] under the head of "Dependents and their Treatment" places the deaf and dumb as "absolute dependents." Such views, however, are no longer general, the deaf having themselves demonstrated to what extent they are a self-supporting part of the community. But where this belief is still shared, the deaf are thought in many cases to be in need of aid or public charity; or at any rate to be economically inferior to the rest of society. Deaf pupils in the schools, for instance, are often referred to as "inmates" or even as "patients," not only by the public but by newspapers as well; and the schools themselves are often spoken of as "asylums" or as charitable institutions.[142] This nomenclature is hardly defensible on any ground, and by it the education of the deaf is not even given its true status.

As a further illustration of the general feeling, though rather of different order, may perhaps be cited the attitude of the general insurance companies toward the deaf. Though some of the companies accept the deaf at their regular rates, a number refuse them altogether, while others limit their liability or demand an extra premium.[143] This is largely because of the fear that the deaf are more liable to accidents than other people; but in point of fact the deaf seem to be a long-lived people, and it is likely that with greater statistical knowledge concerning them, most of the discrimination would cease.[144]


Thus in many ways are the deaf made to suffer from popular misconceptions, and quite unnecessarily. Too long have designations been employed regarding them that call up undeserved associations. Too long have they been set down as a strange and uncertain body of human beings, removed in their actions, manners and modes of thought from the rest of society. The interests of the deaf require a different consideration and treatment. They demand that the deaf be regarded exactly as other people, only unable to hear. Theirs will be a great boon when they are looked upon no more as a distinct and different portion of the race, but entirely as normal creatures, equally capable and human as all other men.[145]


[136] Very often in the public mind the deaf and the blind are associated, the two classes sometimes becoming more or less merged the one into the other, and the problems of the one are not infrequently assumed to be those of the other. As a matter of fact, there is but one point of similarity in the two classes—both are "defective" in that they are deprived of a most important physical sense. The gulf that really separates the blind from the deaf is far deeper than that which lies between either of the two classes and the normal population.

[137] In this connection it may be interesting to note the regard for the deaf as has been indicated by the deaf characters that have been created in fiction. Though not a large number are found, there is displayed towards them an attitude largely of kindly sympathy, in some cases mingled with wonder. Such characters appear in Lew Wallace's "Prince of India", where three deaf-mutes are instructed to speak; Scott's Fanella in "Peveril of the Peak"; Dickens' Sophy in "Dr. Marigold" (an unusually attractive and lovable character); Collins' Madonna Mary in "Hide and Seek"; Caine's Naomi in "The Scapegoat"; Haggard's "She"; Maarten's "God's Fool"; de Musset's "Pierre and Camille"; and elsewhere. Thomas Holcroft's "Deaf and Dumb; or the Orphan Protected" is an adaptation from the French play "Abbe de l'Epee" of J. N. Bouilly, in 1802, in which the founder of the first school for the deaf and his pupils are touchingly portrayed. Feigned characters are also found, as Scott's mute in "The Talisman"; in Moliere's "Le Medecin malgre Lui"; Jonson's "Epicoene"; and John Poole's "Deaf as a Post". Defoe has a character, Duncan Campbell, which is possibly based on one from real life, being referred to by Addison in the Spectator and the Tatler. On the subject of the deaf in fiction, see Silent Worker, Dec., 1893; Annals, xxxix., 1894, p. 79; Indiana Bulletin of Charities and Corrections, June, 1897; Athenaeum, Feb., April, 1896.

[138] It may be recorded here that in the present compilation of the Bibliography of the United States Bureau of Education, the expression formerly used, "Delinquents, Dependents and Defectives", has been dropped in favor of the term, "Special Classes of Persons". On this subject, see Proceedings of National Educational Association, 1901, p. 876.

[139] A possibly more serious misapprehension respecting the deaf arises from the impression often current among a large number of people, and apparently encouraged not infrequently in the proceedings of some scientific bodies, to the effect that nearly all deaf-mutes are so either because of a similar condition in their parents or because of the existence in the parents of some physical disease, sometimes of an immoral character. This is in a great part due to the increasing emphasis upon eugenics, with the desire to weed out from the population as many as possible of the "unfit" or "defective". In consequence has been the belief that if there were proper regulation of certain marriages, especially of the deaf and of others suffering from particular maladies, "deaf-mutism", which is looked upon as an excrescence upon society, would in the course of a short time be stamped out. An illustration of this conception is the following extract from the Handbook of the Child Welfare Exhibit held in New York in 1911 (p. 38): "Mating of the Unfit. 'The Law'. Marriages of cousins, insane or feeble-minded, alcoholic, syphilitic parents and effects. The cost—7,369 blind infants, 89,287 deaf and dumb, 18,476 feeble-minded". See also Proceedings of National Conference of Charities and Corrections, 1912, p. 277; Report of Philadelphia Baby Saving Show, 1912, p. 37; Annals, lvii., 1912, p. 284. As a matter of fact, as we have already seen, the question of deafness is not one so much of eugenics as of medical science, although eugenics may well be called in play in respect to the marriages of persons under unfavorable conditions, including to an extent the congenitally deaf and those having deaf relatives. The total number of the deaf, however, marrying under unfavorable conditions, is not large. Every effort to remove or diminish deafness is entitled only to the highest praise; but when it is made to appear that deafness generally results from such causes as are often ascribed, it is seen how wrongly the deaf, upon whom a great affliction is already resting, may be made to suffer.

[140] P. 45. See also Proceedings of Empire State Association of Deaf-Mutes, xii., 1888, p. 35; National Conference of Charities and Corrections, 1883, p. 416.

[141] P. 76. See also p. 96. Similarly Professor C. R. Henderson in his "Dependents, Defectives and Delinquents" says (p. 170): "Many of the deaf and blind are so deficient in industrial efficiency, owing to their infirmity, that they must be cared for in adult life and old age".

[142] In the special census report of Benevolent Institutions of 1904 schools for the deaf and the blind are included, because they contain "free homes for care and maintenance". In some charity directories schools for the deaf are listed.

[143] It is claimed that 95 per cent of the general fraternal organizations consider the deaf as "hazardous" or "undesirable". Proceedings of National Association of the Deaf, ix., 1910, p. 53. Accident insurance is usually refused by all. When an extra rate is charged in life insurance, this is usually one-half of one per cent. On the subject of insurance and the mortality of the deaf, see Annals, xxxiii., 1888, p. 246; xlix., 1904, p. 274; Proceedings of Convention of American Instructors, ii., 1851, p. 168; iii., 1853, p. 85; xi., 1886, p. 67; Empire State Association of Deaf-Mutes, xii., 1888, p. 35; xiii., 1890, p. 30: xvi., 1894, p. 28; xix., 1897, p. 93; National Association of the Deaf, ii., 1883, p. 12; vii., 1904, p. 183; Report of New York Institution, 1853, p. 70.

[144] The foregoing illustrate some of the most striking misconceptions regarding the deaf. On the other hand, no doubt the deaf as well as the blind suffer from sentiment on the part of the public, and from the sensational accounts which appear from time to time in the newspapers and magazines concerning what the deaf have been found able to accomplish. Many things are referred to as "wonders", as though it were strange that they could be done by people without hearing, some of the achievements of the deaf being set down as most remarkable. Such writings are usually in a kindly spirit, and may often serve a useful purpose in making known the similarity of the capabilities of the deaf and of the hearing; but when they make the deaf appear as a peculiar and unlike part of the race, their effect may be most misleading. The worst result is that the public becomes ready and willing to believe almost any thing about the deaf.

[145] In 1908 the Convention of American Instructors of the Deaf appointed a committee to consider the question of the dissemination of knowledge regarding the attainments of the deaf. Proceedings, xviii., p. 210.




We have now considered the interest of society in the deaf in its several relations, together with the treatment that has been extended to them. It remains to be noted whether there have been any private undertakings organized in behalf of the deaf or interested in their welfare, and what has been done by such bodies.

In America virtually the only organizations composed of persons not deaf and formed for the purpose of advancing the interests of the deaf have been those more or less closely related to the education of deaf children, and with their exception practically no movements in respect to the deaf may be said to have been undertaken.[146]

These organizations interested in the instruction of the deaf are of two divisions: bodies actively engaged in the work of this instruction, and bodies only indirectly concerned. The first division includes, on the one hand, associations of instructors of the deaf, and, on the other, societies or corporations formed to promote and establish schools, which have either passed out of existence, their mission being fulfilled, on the taking over of the school by the state, or have remained in control of certain schools—to be considered when we come to the general provisions for the education of the deaf. In the second division are three kinds of organizations: the Volta Bureau, an organization in a class of its own; associations of parents concerned mainly with the instruction of their own children; and undertakings interested in the extension of religious knowledge to the deaf, usually in the form of church missions.

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