A Phone of Our Own: The Deaf Insurrection Against Ma Bell|
One of the professionals at the dinner party was Arthur Simon, a deaf book editor. Within a short time, Simon contacted Dr. James C. Marsters in Pasadena to tell him about Weitbrecht. Marsters at the time was an orthodontist with his own office and a full clientele. He communicated with his hearing patients by reading their lips. When this was not possible, his dental assistant repeated their words. Like other deaf people, Marsters found ways around most communication barriers, but he had never found an adequate solution to the problem of telephone access, despite more than two decades of searching for a way to use the common household telephone. When he learned of Weitbrecht’s electronics background, he felt that destiny had brought them together.
Born in 1924 in Norwich, New York, Marsters was deafened by maternal rubella and scarlet fever at the age of 3 months. After attending elementary school in Norwich and receiving tutoring after school, he graduated from the Wright Oral School for the Deaf in New York City in 1943. During World War II, he entered an accelerated wartime educational program at Union College in Schenectady, New York. After graduating from Union College in 1947, he moved to New York City. A year later, he began applying to dental schools.
Because of his deafness, colleges of dentistry repeatedly turned him down until, after two years of persistence, New York University finally admitted him. He successfully completed the College of Dentistry program and passed the dental licensing examinations for the states of New York and California. In a sense, Marsters’ struggle for admission to dental school prepared him for the long battle ahead to gain access to the telephone.
By the time Marsters heard of Weitbrecht, he had already fought and won a skirmish with the telephone company. He had sought permission to use a Listening Head, a device that would allow him to speak into the telephone as he read the lips of a hearing person who was repeating the voiced message to him. When he first connected this device directly to the telephone's main base, he was warned by the telephone company that it was illegal. He had to struggle for years before gaining permission to use the equipment.