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Eighth Report Of The Directors Of The American Asylum For The Education And Instruction Of The Deaf And Dumb (1824)

Eighth Report Of The Directors Of The American Asylum, At Hartford, For The Education And Instruction Of The Deaf And Dumb, May 15, 1824

Introduction: During the first half of the nineteenth century, deaf educators saw their primary goal as ensuring that deaf students learned the Christian gospel. Like educators of blind children and those labeled as idiotic, teachers of deaf children had several other goals, including teaching basic academic skills and providing vocational training.

This report also discusses some of the challenges faced by educators of deaf children and their counterparts at schools for blind and idiotic children: strict limits on how long students could stay at the school and unrealistic expectations from family members.


IT will be recollected by those who read the Report of the last year, that the Directors of the Asylum expressed a deep interest in the introduction of labour and mechanical employments among the pupils, and gave an assurance that, notwithstanding the intrinsic difficulties which lay in the way of accomplishing this desirable object, no reasonable efforts would be spared to encounter, and, if possible, to remove them. — Some of these difficulties were stated, for the sake of convincing the public that they were both real and great; almost inherent in the first stages of the progress of an Institution, so unlike all others in its design and the means of carrying this design into effect; and to be overcome only by patient and persevering exertion.

It was observed, that it was important to procure some suitable person to superintend this department of the Institution, but extremely difficult to find one; that certainly at present, and perhaps always, a pecuniary sacrifice must be made, in order to instruct the pupils in any of the mechanical trades, as their labour in this way, during the short time of their continuance at the Asylum, would not refund the expenses incurred; that the friends of the deaf and dumb demand impossibilities of them, and of those who are entrusted with their education, if they expect, that these infants in knowledge, although they may be men in stature, and labouring, too, under the peculiar embarrassments of their situation, are, by some mysterious process, to be taught, in the course of four or six years, what it takes children and youth who have all their faculties, some twelve or fourteen years to acquire; and that, therefore, either the public must be persuaded to keep the pupils longer at the Asylum, or else some sacrifice must be made, either on the part of intellectual improvement, or the acquisition of a mechanical trade.

In addition to this, it may be observed, that the materials out of which the mechanical department of the Institution is to be formed, are exceedingly heterogeneous.

Some of the friends of the deaf and dumb, regarding them as prodigies, gifted by Nature with a wonderful and secret power, perhaps as a sort of compensation for the difference which is made between them and their fellow-men; and recollecting the old adage that the loss of one faculty always, sharpens the rest; and thinking little, or knowing nothing, of the slow, patient, and gradual process which must, of necessity, be employed in the instruction of those who are excluded from the common sources of improvement, that children who are in possession of all their faculties, enjoy; — consider two or three years spent at the Asylum, as quite sufficient to advance a pupil, from his alphabet, of which, at his admission, he is ignorant, to a correct knowledge of the English language, so that he may both read it with understanding, and write it with accuracy; to an acquaintance with moral and religious truth; to the use of figures; and to the outlines of geography. All this is to be accomplished, and, at the same time, some progress to be made in the acquisition of a mechanical trade; or, at least, the pupil is to contribute, in part, to his support by manual labour.

From this cause, and from the indigent circumstances in which many of the deaf and dumb are placed, they are often removed from the Asylum at the expiration of the third or even second year.

Again, some of the pupils are too young, and others are too old, to commence the learning of a trade, and, among those who are of a suitable age, and expect to continue a few years at the Asylum, there is much diversity of inclination and opinion, both on their own part and that of their parents and friends, with regard to the particular trade most suitable for them to follow.

A simple statement of a few facts will serve to illustrate the truth of the above remarks.

During the last term an attempt was made to ascertain whether any and what classification of the young men and boys, could be effected, so as to introduce among them some branches of mechanical employment. They were thirty-six in number; of whom eight were between the ages of eight and sixteen; seventeen between fifteen and twenty one; six between twenty and twenty-six; and five between twenty-five and thirty-one. — How much longer than the present year many of them would remain at the Asylum, was very doubtful. — Eight, from their youth and other causes would not probably engage in learning a trade; of the remaining twenty-eight, three were shoe-makers or knew something of the trade; one was a cooper, and one wished to learn that trade; one was a joiner, and two wished to learn that trade; one was a blacksmith and cutler, and three wished to learn that trade; four wished to be shoemakers; four to be tailors; one to be a book-binder; one to be a cabinet-maker; and no less than six to be printers. In making this choice of a trade, the parents and friends of the pupils were written to; in some cases they themselves decided, while in others, they left the matter wholly to the inclination of the pupil; and, indeed, it is well known that, without this inclination, and somewhat, also, of what is termed a natural taste or bent of the mind, for any particular mechanical employment, success in it is always difficult, and often doubtful.

How was this incongruous mass to be moulded into any thing like form or regularity? How were such difficulties to be overcome? They have been thus minutely stated, not to produce discouragement, and the abandonment of so important an object as that of qualifying a deaf and dumb person to take a respectable and useful station in society, and to support himself, if necessary, by the labour of his own hands; nor to justify remissness and delay on the part of those to whom the management of the Asylum is entrusted; nor unduly to enhance the value of any efforts or sacrifices which they have made in endeavouring to encounter these difficulties; but simply to enlighten the public mind on a subject which, from its peculiar nature, is very little and imperfectly understood; to engage public confidence, by a frank avowal of the obstacles with which such an Institution has to contend; — to awaken public sympathy, by letting it be fully known under what numerous and singular embarrassments, a very interesting and unfortunate class of our kindred and countrymen labour, in attaining to any thing like an equality with those whom a kind Providence has distinguished by more exalted privileges; and thus to produce public co-operation in the adoption and prosecution of such comprehensive yet prudent plans for the relief of all our deaf and dumb population who are capable of instruction, as will result in the accomplishment of an object which not only benevolence but justice forces upon our regard.

In forming and proposing such plans, the Directors have felt the importance of not being too precipitate. It is but a few years since the Institution was founded. Our country is an extensive one, and it takes time both to diffuse information on a new and difficult subject, and to collect the public sentiment with regard to it. Experience is a wise counsellor. Besides, every year since the very generous grant of land in Alabama, made by Congress to the Asylum, the prospect has been brightening, that it would eventually be in possession of funds sufficient to enable it to propose such terms to the public, as would lessen very much the expense of providing for the education of the deaf and dumb, and lead to their being sent at an earlier age, and for a longer period of years, to the Institution; thus enabling them to devote a considerable part of their time to manual labour and the acquisition of a trade, while enough would be left for all the purposes of making them acquainted with the duties of morality and religion, and of imparting to them that knowledge which is necessary for their usefulness and happiness in life. — The Directors regret, that the time has not yet arrived when they can do this, though their hopes of its approach are constantly becoming stronger. — Much expense and labour, however, will yet be necessary, in addition to what has already been bestowed, to convert the lands in Alabama into money. — They lie at distance, and in a part of our country where great pecuniary embarrassment exists. They have all been patented, but a considerable portion is yet unsold. — Of what has been sold, much the greater part yet remains to be paid for. Failures, to a considerable amount, on the part of some of the purchasers, to meet their payments, have occurred, and urgent solicitations for still further indulgence, continue to be presented to the Directors.

Trusting, however, in that Providence which has heretofore so kindly watched over this Institution, to enable them to overcome the embarrassments which attend some of its operations; and anxious to satisfy the public and the friends of the deaf and dumb, that their great desire is to do good to the interesting objects of their care; — the Directors have lately made an attempt, at a considerable expense, to introduce mechanical employments among the pupils, upon a regular and systematic plan.

Two neat and commodious brick workshops have been erected near the Asylum. An ingenious and skilful mechanic, himself a cabinet-maker, has been employed to oversee this department of the Institution. He resides with the pupils; the better to become familiar with their language of signs and to be able to discharge the duties of his station. — Tools and other necessary accommodations have been provided, and, although it is vacation, a considerable number of the pupils are at work, while others are expecting to join them, on their return. — Six are now engaged in learning the trade of a cabinet-maker or joiner; and another who had acquired considerable skill in this branch before he came to the Asylum, aids in instructing them. One who understands the cooper’s business, is at work. — In one of the shops, a forge is erected, at which a very ingenious blacksmith and cutler is employed, while three of the pupils, under his instruction, are learning the same trade. — Six shoemakers are at work; two of whom had previously made considerable proficiency, and another, a first rate workman, gives instructions to the rest. Several of the female pupils are employed in binding the shoes. It is hoped, that those who wished to be tailors will soon be placed at work; much effort has been made to find a suitable person to instruct them, but, as yet, without success. In the present state of the Institution, it was impossible to make provision for the six pupils who wished to be printers; three of them, however, have begun to learn the trade of a cabinet-maker, and two others will join them at the end of vacation. Some of the articles, already made by the pupils, evince much skill, and command a ready sale; the patronage and custom of the friends of the Institution, in this department, are respectfully solicited.

From what has been previously stated, it will be easily seen, that these arrangements for the introduction of mechanical employments among the pupils, must have been attended with a considerable pecuniary sacrifice on the part of the Institution. It was made, however, in hopes that the way might thus be prepared, for meeting the wishes of the public, and of the friends of the deaf and dumb, with regard to this very interesting and important part of their education, and preparation for the active duties of life. This object will be kept steadily in view by the Directors, and hastened to its complete accomplishment, as rapidly as the funds of the Institution, now having an encouraging prospect of an increase, will permit.

There is another topic, which though not, perhaps, properly forming a part of the report of the operations of the Institution, is, nevertheless, connected so intimately with the interests of the deaf and dumb generally, that the Directors wish to avail themselves of so good an opportunity of expressing their sentiments upon it to the public. In doing this they profess to be actuated, by what they conceive to be liberal and comprehensive views, with regard to the best mode of promoting the education of the deaf and dumb throughout our common country; and, while they offer their thoughts with freedom and frankness, they disclaim all feelings of rivalry or competition towards other Institutions either now, or yet to be, in existence.

How far it is desirable to increase the number of establishments for the instruction of the deaf and dumb in our country, and especially in this northern section of it, is an inquiry which certainly deserves the patient and candid consideration of all who take an interest in this unfortunate class of our fellow-men. In forming an opinion on this subject, possibly the following remarks, founded on a considerable course of experience and observation, may not be without their use.

A school for the deaf and dumb is so entirely different from those for the education of youth in possession of all their faculties, that it is difficult to give one correct ideas respecting it, without actual inspection. A prominent feature of such a school is, that one instructor cannot successfully teach but a comparatively small number of pupils; and hence, the instruction of this class of people is attended not only with a considerable increase of labour but of expense. It is one of the greatest difficulties which such a school has to encounter, to procure individuals of such an education, and more especially of such peculiarity of talents and skill, as to qualify them for the employment of teaching the deaf and dumb; an employment, which, strange as it may seem to those not familiar with it, demands for its successful prosecution a certain natural turn of mind, somewhat like that, though directed to a very different object, which is called, a genius for mechanical pursuits. In addition to this, a training of several years is necessary to make one competent to the task of undertaking the complete instruction of a deaf and dumb person in the common branches of education. To induce one to engage permanently in such an employment so unlike that of an instructor in a school, academy, or college, which is usually considered as but temporary, and introductory to some professional pursuit, a prospect not only of present, but of future support, must be offered; for nothing would be more embarrassing to the progress of an Institution for the deaf and dumb, than to have its instructors frequently changing; inasmuch as each new instructor must himself, for some time, become a learner, while the task of teaching him devolves upon his more experienced colleagues. Hence the department of instruction in such an establishment, is attended with much greater expense than is necessary for the education of youth who are in possession of all their faculties.

In a school for the deaf and dumb, if it is ever to have any accession to its numbers, it is absolutely indispensable to have more than one well-qualified instructor; for pupils who have just entered cannot possibly be introduced into a class which has been some time under a course of instruction. If pupils were admitted at all times, perpetual confusion and embarrassment must ensue. Once a year seems to be, on the whole, the most suitable period; and since four or five years are absolutely necessary to give the deaf and dumb even a tolerably correct command of language; in a school of such a kind, especially a public one, intended for the general good, there must be, at least, four or five classes, and as many instructors.

Besides it would be unwise to suspend the fate of such an establishment on the precarious life or health of an individual. Temporary indisposition may occur. The occupation is an exceedingly laborious one, demanding a great deal of patience and perseverance. Several instructors together keep alive each other’s interest; aid each other in difficulty; make new discoveries, or invent new modes of instruction; and thus give life and vigour to an Institution, which, it is to be feared, under a solitary individual, (even if no other obstacles existed,) would soon languish, from the fact, that human nature is so constituted, as to make loneliness in any difficult pursuit soon to produce irksomeness and irresolution.

To conduct an establishment for the deaf and dumb with success, the pupils should be assembled together. To have them board in private families would exceedingly impair, if not quite destroy, the efforts made for their improvement and government. Now, they can as well be assembled in considerable numbers, as in small; for there would be no difficulty in providing for them, if suitable accommodations and instructors were furnished.

To have schools for the deaf and dumb in each town, or county, or even state, would be attended with an expense which would be so great as to result, at last, in the entire abandonment of them to their native and hopeless ignorance. Without such an expense instructors could not be found, and trained, and supported for such a purpose.

It might seem, indeed, at first sight, to justify the establishment of such a school in any section of the country, that one hundred deaf and dumb persons were found within it. But these one hundred have been accumulating for fifty or sixty years. Many of them are too young, and some too old, to be instructed. Other causes, too, will prevent many from attending the school. But, even supposing that the one hundred were all assembled, and, in the course of a few years, educated; it is obvious, that, afterwards, provision would have to be made only for the annual increase of the deaf and dumb. It is for this only that permanent institutions need to be established; just as our common schools are necessary, not for the whole population, but only for the rising generation.

It is the rising generation of the deaf and dumb, for which permanent institutions are needed, and a considerable extent of territory must be included, to furnish a sufficient number of pupils, to justify the time, labour, and expense necessary to the getting even one such establishment into successful operation. For it will be found, that the annual cases of deafness and dumbness, whether at birth, or from any subsequent cause, bear a very small ratio to the whole number of deaf and dumb persons within any district of country. What individuals of intelligence and skill in such a pursuit, would devote themselves to it, without a prospect of the school with which they are connected, becoming both permanent and flourishing. To become so, it seems to be capable almost of demonstration, that it must derive its pupils from a considerable extent of territory.

It was with such views, that the Directors of the Institution have so conducted its affairs, as to prepare it to become adequate to the wants of at least all this northern section of our country. It has been but a few years in operation, and has had, like all other infant establishments, to contend with many difficulties. Yet it has all along furnished the means of education and support, at a rate considerably less than what it has cost to provide them, and has reduced the charges as low as the state of its funds would permit. It has, as peculiar exigencies required, dispensed charitable aid to several of the pupils, among whom by far the greater proportion belonged to other states than that in which the Institution is located. Its expenditures have always exceeded the income derived from the pupils by an amount of from three to four thousand dollars annually, and this, without taking into consideration the large sums expended in the buildings and grounds, now occupied and used by the Asylum. Thus it has aimed to be in fact, not yet in name, a charitable Institution. There is now a fair prospect of its soon being able to furnish the means of instruction to the deaf and dumb, at the lowest possible rate, and also to extend charitable aid to the indigent.

If no other consideration, therefore, were deserving of attention, it might be well for any section of our country, contemplating the establishment of a school for the deaf and dumb, to calculate the probable expense and difficulties of such an undertaking; of inducing instructors to devote themselves to its interests; of insuring its permanent prosperity; and of supporting at it the indigent deaf and dumb; — and then inquire, whether, even on principles of economy, it might not be best to have the same objects accomplished at an Institution already established, possessing the experience of several years in this novel and arduous department of education, and having overcome many of those embarrassments with which a new Institution must, of necessity, have to contend.

Heretofore, the return of each year has furnished occasion of devout gratitude to Almighty God, for His singular preservation of the lives of all who have been inmates of the Asylum. Since the last report was published, however, an affecting instance of mortality has occurred in the death of one of the female pupils, who had been residing in the Institution five years. With this exception, the pupils have still continued to enjoy unusual health; a fact, no less remarkable in itself, than deserving of heartfelt thanks to that Being on whom we are dependent for life, and breath, and all things. To His paternal care, the Directors would once more commend the Institution, beseeching Him, by His Good Spirit, so to guide all their deliberations and direct their doings, and so to bless, counsel, and support both those who teach, and those who are taught, that the happy result may be, the preparation of all the unfortunate entrusted to their care, not only for usefulness and respectability in life, but, through the merits of that Redeemer, who is emphatically the Friend of the wretched, for an admission to the mansions of eternal rest.


I. THE Asylum will provide for each pupil, board, lodging and washing; the continual superintendence of health, conduct, manners and morals; fuel, candles, stationary and other incidental expenses of the school room, for which, including tuition, there will be an annual charge of one hundred and fifty dollars.

II. In case of sickness the necessary extra-charges will be made.

III. No pupil will be received for a less term than two years, and no deduction from the above charge will be made on account of vacations or absence except in case of sickness.

IV. Payments are always to be made one quarter in advance, for such pupils as reside within this State, and six months in advance for such as come from other States; for the punctual fulfilment of which, and the continuance of the pupil for two years, except in case of sickness or dismission by the Directors, a satisfactory bond will be required.

V. Each person, applying for admission, must not be under ten or over thirty years of age; of good natural intellect; capable of forming and joining letters with a pen legibly and correctly; free from any immoralities of conduct, and from any contagious disease. A satisfactory certificate of such qualifications will be required.

By order of the Directors.

JAMES H. WELLS, Committee.

VACATIONS begin on the last Wednesdays in April and September, and continue, each, four weeks. The time of admitting pupils, is at the close of the spring vacation. Punctuality, in this respect, is very important; as it cannot be expected, that the progress of a whole class should be retarded on account of a pupil who joins it after its formation. Such a pupil must suffer the inconvenience and the loss.

It is earnestly recommended to the friends of the deaf and dumb, to have them taught how to write a fair and legible hand before they come to the Asylum. This can easily be done, and it prepares them to make greater and more rapid improvement.

In the name of the Directors.

T. C. PERKINS, Clerk.

Hartford, May 15th, 1824.


Eighth Report Of The Directors Of The American Asylum, At Hartford, For The Education And Instruction Of The Deaf And Dumb, May 15, 1824. Disability History Museum, (January 28, 2014).


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