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

Henri Gaillard

Bob Buchanan, Editor
Translated by William Sayers

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The Third Volume in the Gallaudet Classics in Deaf Studies Series

From Disability Studies Quarterly

Gaillard in Deaf America is a historical journal that creates a portrait of deaf America in the early 1900s by providing readers with a collection of snapshots illustrating the landscape of educational, occupational, civic, religious, and activist advancements of various Deaf communities in the northeast. Shortly after the United States entered World War I, Henri Gaillard made the transatlantic crossing to honor the founders of the American School for the Deaf (ASD), and to document the progressions of Laurent Clerc and Reverend Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet’s activism, which helped bring about the “intellectual liberation to the deaf of the world” (p. 5).

The narrative follows French deaf activist and community leader Gaillard and other French delegates as they travel to America for the centennial celebration of the ASD, with visits to Hartford, New York, Albany, Buffalo, Akron, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Jersey City. Gaillard divides the book by cities, and within each city, he describes visits to different establishments and institutions and with leading figures in the communities. Some of Gaillard’s visits include the National Fraternal Society of the Deaf, Saint Ann’s Church for the Deaf, the New York Institution (the world’s first military college for the deaf), the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company (a large employer of the deaf), and Gallaudet College. For each location Gaillard and the other delegates visit, Gaillard pays as much attention to the economics of the institutions and organizations as he does to which institutions promote total oralism over combined or manual communication. While Gaillard’s journal does not give thick description of all of his journeys, he does provide enough detail for the readers to know he looked upon the advancements of the American deaf communities quite favorably, believing that the education system, as well as religious regulations, employment opportunities, and civic activities, offered much for the French to emulate.

In Gaillard’s depictions of deaf communities in his journal, there are some additional areas of interest for disabilities studies scholars to consider. For instance, throughout his travels Gaillard describes several locations such as The American School at Hartford for the Deaf and The Home for the Aged and Infirm Deaf that illustrate the hierarchy of disabilities present in the early 1900s. Gaillard describes how the Hartford school had formerly been named the Asylum for Deaf-Mutes, as had the avenue leading to the school. The deaf community came to protest the name, which undoubtedly resonated with its association with the mentally ill, and the name was eventually changed. Likewise, the list of those banned from admission to The Home for the Aged and Infirm Deaf includes “the insane, senile, or feebleminded, [or] those with behavioral problems” (p. 128). Gaillard’s choice not to complicate these tensions between physical and mental disabilities is more a product of his time rather than an indication of lack of awareness on his part. The same might be said of the rather extensive commentary Gaillard gives on the productivity and efficiency of various Jewish deaf community centers and institutions. Although contemporary readers would recognize this as stereotyping Jewish identity, the overall positive terms in which Gaillard describes the American Jewish deaf, especially compared to the French, point more toward the historical context in which Gaillard and the French delegates are visiting the United States.

Gaillard in Deaf America also reads well as a travelogue, or travel memoir. Though he does not explicitly explore his inner existence, as is now typical of a memoir or autobiography, Gaillard’s narrative does include descriptions of the American environment, architecture, people, customs, and transportation, and he takes particular care to account for the cuisine. There are humorous moments such as Gaillard’s commentary on his distaste for the Americans’ penchant for ice-water rather than wine, as well as his offering driving instructions to “watch the road and not your date” (p. 33).

Ultimately, Gaillard in Deaf America functions as an accessible historical text that provides an interesting account of early deaf communities in America, and should be a valuable resource for scholars of both Deaf Studies and Disability Studies. The editor’s introduction provides a solid framework for the purpose of Gaillard’s narrative and the historical importance of his work. For those in the field of rhetoric, the appendix also includes Edwin A. Hodgson’s speech, “Benefits of Education to the Deaf,” and for those interested in education and pedagogy in general, education of the deaf is a core element of Gaillard’s work.

-- Wendy L. Chrisman,
The Ohio State University

Henri Gaillard was the editor of the Gazette des Sourd-Muets (Deaf Gazette), at that time the only independent newspaper in France devoted to its Deaf community. He died in 1941.

Print Edition

ISBN 978-1-56368-122-6, 1-56368-122-6, 6 x 9 paperback, 152 pages, table, index

$31.95s

E-Book

ISBN 978-1-56368-207-0, 1-56368-207-9

$21.28

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