Abbé Charles-Michel de l’Épée was born in 1712 to a rich family of Versailles, France. He is considered the father of the Deaf and devoted his life to deaf education after meeting two deaf sisters in a poor neighborhood in Paris. The mother of the girls wanted her daughters to be educated in religion. l’Épée, being a Catholic priest, was the perfect option. Contrary to popular belief, these girls taught Abbé Charles-Michel de l’Épée sign language, many people believe he taught them, but it was vice versa. l’Épée just taught the girls about the Catholic religion.
After meeting these girls and seeing that deaf people still could communicate, l’Épée set out on a mission to inform others. He learned Spanish, Italian, English, Russian and German in order to let the rest of Europe know deaf people aren’t worthless, and how they can function as members of society.
Unlike many other deaf instructors, l’Épée didn’t want to profit from education others, he opened a public school for the deaf where he taught many more people sign language. He developed a teaching method after the girls taught him the signs they created. He would sign a sentence and his student would write it in French. Many people heard about his success in teaching Deaf people. One of l’Épée’s famous quotes is “the education of deaf mutes must teach them through the eye of what other people acquire through the ear.”
l’Épée established 21 schools throughout his years, and two years after his death, the National Assembly declared that Deaf people have rights!
After l’Épée died, Abbé Roch-Ambroise Cucurron Sicard became his successor. Sicard was also a Catholic priest, which is why they both have Abbé before their names. He was originally a principal of a deaf school in Bordeaux, France, but moved to Paris to take over l’Épée’s practice. Sicard was so inspired by Deaf people and Abbé Charles-Michel de l’Épée that he made it his goal to bring Deaf Education to the rest of the world. He hired two graduates from the school to come back to help teach, Laurent Clerc and Jean Massieu.
Sicard met Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, an American from Connecticut, in England. Gallaudet was inspired to teach the Deaf after meeting a deaf girl and writing the letters H-A-T in the dirt to tell her the thing on his head was a hat. The girl’s father was a wealthy doctor and paid Gallaudet to travel to Europe to learn more about Deaf education. He first went to England, where he found mostly oralism, a form a deaf education where lip reading and speech is used, very ineffective and limiting.
Gallaudet went back to France with Sicard and company to learn at the school. Gallaudet asked Laurent Clerc to come back to America with him to teach Americans. On the way back, Gallaudet taught Clerc English and Clerc taught Gallaudet Sign Language. They both established the American School for the Deaf in 1817. Gallaudet’s youngest son founded Gallaudet University in 1864.
This shows how one man’s dream can influence the whole world.
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