Monday, April 7, 2008
was called "Apostle to the Deaf People of the New World" by
generations of Americans. He co-founded the first school for
the deaf in North America on April 15, 1817, with Thomas
Hopkins Gallaudet. The Hartford Asylum for the Education and
Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb was located in the old
Bennet's City Hotel in Hartford, Connecticut. The school was
re-named The American School for the Deaf and in 1821, was
moved to its present site. The school is the oldest existing
school for the deaf in North America.
Clerc was born December 26, 1785 in La Balme-les-Grottes,
département of Isère, France, a village on the northeastern
edge of Lyon. His father was Joseph-François Clerc, the
mayor of their small village, and Marie-Élisabeth Candy was
his mother. Laurent Clerc's household was one of affluence.
When he was about a year old, Clerc, fell from a chair into
their fireplace, suffering a blow to the head and sustaining
a permanent scar on the right side of his face just below
his ear. Clerc's parents believed his deafness was caused by
this accident. Clerc would later write that he was not
certain and that he may have been born deaf. According to
author Loida Canlas, "His name-sign derives from the scar
that remained - the middle and index fingers brushed
downward across the right cheek near the mouth" (Canlas).
Laurent Clerc's name sign would become the best known and
most recognizable name sign in American deaf history.
In 1797, at the age of twelve, Clerc was taken to the
National Institution for the Deaf in Paris. Author Stanley
L. Klos writes, "… under the direction of the Abbe Sicard
who had succeeded it's founder, the Abbe de l'Epee … Clerc
attained rapid proficiency, in 1805 was appointed tutor, and
in 1806 a teacher (Klos). At the age of 30, Clerc would come
to know Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. The two men met while
Clerc was visiting England. He convinced Gallaudet to come
back to Paris to examine other methods of deaf education.
While Gallaudet was in Paris he persuaded Clerc to travel
across the ocean to America with the concept of starting an
educational facility for the deaf in the New World.
Clerc and Gallaudet set sail for America on June 18, 1816.
The entire trip across the Atlantic Ocean lasted more than
fifty days. The two men did not waste their time while
aboard the ship. Clerc studied English, while Gallaudet
studied sign language. They conferred with each other about
the school for the deaf which they planned to begin. Once in
Connecticut the real work began. Author Vivion Smith writes,
"At the school, Clerc led a busy life. He taught signs to
Principal Gallaudet; he taught the pupils; and he taught
hearing men who came to the school to study deaf education"
(Smith). While being a teacher at the American School for
the Deaf, Clerc met and married Eliza Crocker Boardman, who
was a pupil of his. Together they had six children.
Clerc was the most influential figure in deaf education in
the world. According to his obituary in The New York Times,
"Laurent Clerc, for more than fifty years prominently
identified with the cause of deaf-mute instruction, died at
his residence in Hartford, … aged 83 years …" (New York
Times). The school survives to this day and it carries on
the legacy of deaf education in America that was begun by
Canlas, Loida. Who was Laurent Clerc. The Gallaudet
University Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center.
March 26, 2008.http://clerccenter.gallaudet.edu/Literacy/MSSDLRC/clerc/
Klos, Stanley L. Laurent Clerc. Virtualology: A Virtual
Education Project. March 26, 2008.http://www.famousamericans.net/laurenclerc/
Smith, Vivion. Reading Exercise: Laurent Clerc. Gallaudet
University March 26, 2008.http://depts.gallaudet.edu/englishworks/exercises/exreading/reading7.html
The New York Times. Obituary: Laurent Clerc, the Instructor
of Deaf Mutes. July 19, 1869.
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