Draper’s defence of Deaf association

It’s the early 1890s, and the Royal Association in Aid of the Deaf and Dumb in London are responding to the findings of the Royal Commission on the Blind, Deaf and Dumb who tell them that they should be wary of allowing Deaf people to assemble. The risk, the Royal Commission state, is that Deaf people will end up separating themselves from hearing society entirely.

The RAD’s response is “We don’t encourage Deaf people to separate themselves from society… but we do allow for their natural inclination to come together. If we didn’t, then Deaf people would do it anyway…”

And then they quote this in support of their stance, from Amos Draper, an American Deaf man.

The tendency of the deaf to associate is marked, is almost universal. Not merely the manually-taught, but likewise the pupils of every pure oral school in America seek one another and, if near enough, form societies as soon as they leave their schools.

From a theoretical and scientific point of view this tendency must be deprecated. From that point it would be infinitely better if the deaf could, upon leaving school, be sundered and scattered among the hearing, and live out their lives in contact with the hearing alone.

On the other hand we are bound to view the matter from the warm regions of humanity, religion and love, as well as from the airy heights of idealism and the cool pinnacles of science. We have got to remember that, comparatively speaking, the deaf man is always and forever a unit in society.

Circumstances may mitigate, but they can never cancel the pitiless fact… The deaf man is a man still. He hath still hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; he is hurt, healed, warmed and cooled as a hearing man is; if you prick him he will bleed, and if you tickle him he will laugh like a hearing man. These susceptibilities are what make a human creature, and they are fully gratified only in a society where there is ease, equality, freedom, and that sympathy which grows out of a common experience.

It follows that the deaf in general do not find with the hearing alone that incredible happiness, that fruition of the soul, and of all the faculties which springs from true human intercourse; and when they incline to cheer the dull round of daily toil by meeting one another in leisure hours they only obey impulses which are at once the sweetest and most dominant in human life.

For these reasons societies arise among them almost by a law of nature, and it can be safely assumed that no arguments, no system of education, and no power whatever short of despotism will ever greatly check the existence and development of such societies.

Draper’s speech is taken from the 1893 Chicago International Deaf Congress (page 245).

How history smells and feels…

After an (over) long break imposed by conferences and Easter, I’m picking up this blog again. Within the project team, we are now beginning to draft outlines for the book that we’re going to write, and that involves trawling through thousands of historical manuscripts… so it seems good to make some of them available to you again.

Today, I’ve been working through the RAD’s Annual Reports, looking for the changes in ‘feel’ that occurred in the organisation in the late 19th century. There’s a definite shift, through the 1890s, from an organisation that feels more like a club, warm, healthy, thriving, boisterous, active… to one that is mired in bills and maintenance, and good-for-you callisthenics, and doilies.

It’s hard to put my finger on the change, except to compare it to my own boyhood experiences of sensing within the village that I grew up in.

The RAD pre-1880 comes over like an old pub snug; smelling of warm leather and pipe smoke… or like the village shop where you could taste the fizz in the sweets before you bit into them… or my grandparents’, where the fire smelled of coal, the parquet smelled of polish, where there was always a worn cardigan on the back of the bedroom door to hug, and where it was OK that the water was cold because it always seemed to taste of the smell of toothpaste.

The RAD post-1892/3, on the other hand, is beginning to feel like the village hall – smelling of stale baked potatoes, Calor gas heaters, dusty pianos, the wet of abandoned umbrellas dripping onto a cement floor in the entrance, water from the tap so cold that it makes your hands ache, and the eternal worry that your bike is being stolen from the railings outside.

Your senses won’t be attuned to the same things that mine are, and you might not be able to share my experiences unless you also grew up in a small village in East Anglia, but I hope this gives you more of a ‘feel’ for the RAD in its evolution in the late 1800s.

I’ll try and provide more as I get into the 1900s.