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American Annals of the Deaf

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Gaillard in Deaf America: A Portrait of the Deaf Community, 1917

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Gaillard’s extended discussion of the founding and early history of the New York  Institution for the Deaf in New York City, affectionately known as Fanwood (after the location of its campus), is instructive in several respects. Under the tutelage of Edward Hodgson, an accomplished editor, typography instructor and respected national leader, students printed the Deaf Mute’s Journal (DMJ), for decades a definitive source of news and commentary regarding the national deaf community.[18] Moreover, as oral instruction displaced deaf teachers from the academic classroom, many were able to retain employment in vocational departments where they remained skilled mentors to students. None were more influential than Hodgson.

The contemporary reader may also be intrigued by the school’s emphasis on military dress and culture, especially for its boys. In addition to providing effective academic and vocational instruction, deaf and hearing teachers and administrators sought to shape the moral character of their charges. A far cry from today’s informal dress and personalized approach, this stress on standardized appearance and bearing was intended to remind youngsters of the ongoing responsibilities they faced as adult representatives of the small and embattled deaf community. As Hodgson explained in a representative DMJ editorial, “No deaf man lives for himself alone.[19]

Apart from ASD, Gallaudet College may have been most significant to the national deaf community. While the contemporary visitor to Gallaudet University will find a vibrant campus that draws several thousand deaf and hearing undergraduate and graduate students from across the globe, the modest institution of this earlier era brought together some one hundred students, primarily in the liberal arts and education. Gaillard’s glowing portrait of the college, then fifty years old, is consistent with his veneration for ASD. If the American School was the birthplace of deaf education, Gallaudet College was its zenith.

The deaf community, as Gaillard’s account demonstrates, featured a rich array of local, regional, and national groups and organizations. In one of his visits to metropolitan New York, for example, Gaillard mentions at least eight separate social and civic clubs. In fact, these groups emerged from ASD’s success. As deaf students across the nation lived and studied together at residential schools, many graduates sought to sustain and enlarge these relationships into adulthood. By the late nineteenth century, deaf adults had organized a host of school-based as well as local, state and national organizations. As Henry Rider, a leader of New York’s deaf community, explained in 1877, these organizations served an indispensable social purpose, that of enabling adults otherwise dispersed across the continent to satisfy a “longing desire and almost irresistible impulse” to communicate and socialize.[20] Gaillard confirms these sentiments in a host of accounts: from evening festivities in New York’s Coney Island, to afternoon picnics at Hartford’s idyllic Lake Compounce, to dinner parties among friends, deaf adults came together to share and celebrate their diverse and shared experiences.

If an urge to socialize was the driving force behind some organizations, external conditions, both troubling and favourable, spurred the growth of still other groups. Gaillard’s discussion of the National Fraternal Society of the Deaf (Frat) is a case in point. While the reader may be drawn to the author’s vivid description of the hazing rites imposed upon Frat initiates, the organization’s more staid history bears review. Currently a thriving organization with seven thousand members, the Frat, first incorporated in 1901, has provided insurance and support to its members who were typically denied services by mainstream organizations. By the time of Gaillard’s visit, an extraordinary 3,000 members were organized into more than sixty local groups. Equally important, in its first decade of existence, the Frat provided much needed benefits to hundreds of deaf families, many of them financially needy.

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