Laurent Marie Clerc
"The Father of the Deaf in America" as he is called, Laurent Clerc who was deaf
from the time he was a baby, became a valuable instrument of learning for the deaf in the United States. He
helped to establish the first school for the deaf in 1817; The American Asylum at Harford for Education and
Institution of the Deaf and dumb. It is now called The American School for the Deaf.
Laurent Clerc was born the day after Christmas on December 26, 1785 in Le Balme les
Grattes, France. His parents served the King. As a baby, he fell and burned the side of his face. Shortly
after, the family realized he was deaf. They didn't know if he was like that from birth or if the accident
caused it. Therefore, he spent his young years without voice or communication.
When he was twelve years old, he was taken to a school for the deaf, National
des Jeune Sourds-Muets or the National School for the Deaf in Paris run by Abbe Sicard. There,
Clerc advanced and learned quickly. He became a tutor and then he became a teacher.
In 1815, Laurent Clerc went to England with Sicard and Massieu to lecture and do
demonstrations of their teaching methods. A man from America was there to learn more about the teaching methods
because of a little girl back home who was deaf. His name was Thomas Gallaudet. This little girl was Alice
Cogswell, who was his neighbor. At the time, there were no schools for the deaf in America. Gallaudet convinced
Clerc to come to America with him to start a new school. Together, Clerc and Gallaudet petitioned congress for
money. They accomplished the first appropriation ever from the Connecticut General Assembly to help with the
education of the handicapped.
The school was much needed. When it opened, deaf students of all ages came there,
anxious to learn. Their first student was Alice Cogswell. The school not only taught them how to communicate, but
they learned manners and other important social behaviors. Some of the students who arrived were from Martha's
Vineyard in Massachusetts. For generations the people there had many who were deaf in their communities. They
used a French form of sign language. When they came to the school, many of their signs were blended with other
signs being taught there. All the signs combined have become what is now American Sign Language. Over thirty
percent have French origins.
Throughout Laurent Clerc's life he continued to teach others his methods of
teaching the deaf. They went on to establish schools all over America and Canada. He was also an advocate for
the deaf all his life. He died at the age of 84 and is buried in Connecticut with his wife.
Canias, Loida. Laurent Clerc: Apostle to
the Deaf People of the New World .
Laurent Clerk National Deaf
Deafwiki. Laurent Clerc. http://deafwiki.org/index.php?title=Laurent_Clerc
Lowenstein, Felicia. All About Sign Language. New Jersey: Enslow
Publishers, Inc., 2004.