Deaf America: A Portrait of the Deaf Community, 1917
Less renowned than the Frat but no less remarkable was the Communal Center for the Jewish Deaf in New York City. The center was noteworthy because it exemplified a pattern of providing educational and vocational assistance to individual deaf workers, especially the most vulnerable. In his efforts to secure work for unemployed adults, Employment Bureau Director Albert Amateau followed longstanding approaches of the deaf community. A hearing man, Amateau, like many deaf leaders, openly frowned on charity and instead sought to educate reluctant or ignorant employers about the skills of deaf prospects. He compared his role to that of a sign language interpreter: “We are simply interpreters for the deaf in the same sense one would be an interpreter for men speaking a foreign tongue.” Moreover, as Gaillard notes, the center’s deaf and hearing administrators were effective. Between 1913 and the close of World War I, the center secured employment for up to two hundred adults each year.
Among the varied institutions visited by Gaillard, none were more significant than churches. Over the span of his visit, he frequented several of the most successful, including New York’s St. Ann’s Church founded by Thomas Gallaudet Jr. in 1872 and Philadelphia’s All Soul’s Church founded in 1888 and ably led by the country’s first ordained deaf pastor, Henry Syle. As deaf adults pooled in urban areas or close to residential schools, many sought not only fellow deaf congregants but spiritual support and guidance. In fact, by the early twentieth century, several dozen churches, typically Episcopalian or Protestant and often led by deaf clergy, served predominantly deaf congregations. In addition to religious sustenance these institutions also provided charitable assistance, vocational guidance, and a gathering place for individuals and families alike.
No organization visited by Gaillard more aptly illustrates the accomplishments of and dangers before deaf adults than the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). Established in 1880, the NAD of 1917, like the larger deaf community, was proud and also beleaguered. At once a celebration of individual accomplishment and deaf culture, the NAD was also a forum for leaders to hold forth on the educational, vocational, civic and cultural challenges confronting deaf citizens.
Gaillard arrived in Hartford after the NAD convention had begun, and his hurried notes reflect his rushed attendance at a wide mix of meetings and presentations. Certainly, his late arrival did not dampen the warm reception he received. NAD President Jay Cooke Howard brought Gaillard and company to the stage of Hartford High’s auditorium to stand before the eight hundred deaf adults then in attendance. As Gaillard described the reception, “the huge hall was filled with a sea of handkerchiefs and waving hands as a joyful sign of welcome.” After giving brief introductory presentations, Gaillard, Pilet, Graff, and Olivier were named honorary members of the NAD.
These conventions, typically held every three years, can be seen as portraits that illustrate the state of mind of deaf leaders. With their evenings marked by celebratory banquets and stirring toasts delivered in sign language, the days were also filled with an array of committee meetings, debates and often impassioned presentations regarding the issues of the day. Not surprisingly, several presentations at the 1917 meeting focused on the ongoing methods debate. Gaillard’s journal includes two powerful and poignant condemnations of educational practices, the first by New York’s senior statesman Edward Hodgson, the second by Ohio’s Robert McGregor, the NAD’s first president and an accomplished teacher.
NAD leaders also sought to influence public policy. At the close of each convention, for example, leaders composed resolutions summarizing their concerns. Hartford’s declarations were representative and included unequivocal support for sign language; backing for oral instruction, but only “for those deaf who can profit by it;” and endorsement of an International Confederation of the Deaf that would promote combined approaches in instruction. While these resolutions did not measurably influence events at that time, they have remained as steadfast positions advanced with increasing effectiveness by generations of deaf leaders over the course of the century.