History of Sign Language – Deaf History

The events that occurred in the history of sign language are actually pretty shocking.


How deaf people experience life today is directly related to how they were treated in the past. It wasn’t long ago when the deaf were harshly oppressed and denied even their fundamental rights.

The are many famous deaf people who have made a name for the deaf throughout the history of sign language and proved that deaf people can, in fact, make history.

Who is Your Favorite Person from the history of sign language?
Share Your Thoughts!

Aristotle was the first to have a claim recorded about the deaf. His theory was that people can only learn through hearing spoken language. Deaf people were therefore seen as being unable to learn or be educated at all.

Therefore, they were denied even their fundamental rights. In some places, they weren’t permitted to buy property or marry. Some were even forced to have guardians. The law had them labeled as “non-persons”.

Aristotle’s claim was disputed in Europe during the Renaissance. Scholars were attempting to educate deaf persons for the first time and prove the 2,000 year old beliefs wrong. This mark in the history of sign language is what started the creation of a signed language.

Starting to Educate the Deaf

Geronimo Cardano, an Italian mathematician and physician, was probably the first scholar to identify that learning does not require hearing. He discovered, in the 1500s, that the deaf were able to be educated by using written words. He used his methods to educate his deaf son.

Pedro Ponce de Leon, a Spanish monk, was very successful with his teaching methods while teaching deaf children in Spain. This was around the same time that Cardano was educating his deaf son.

Juan Pablo de Bonet
Juan Pablo de Bonet

Juan Pablo de Bonet, a Spanish priest, studied Leon’s successful methods and was inspired to teach deaf people using his own methods. Bonet used the methods of writing, reading, and speechreading as well as his manual alphabet to educate the deaf. His manual alphabet system was the first recognized in Deaf history. The handshapes in this alphabet corresponded to different sounds of speech.

Organized deaf education was non-existent until around 1750. This was when the first social and religious association for deaf people was founded by Abbe de L’Epee, a French Catholic priest, in Paris. Abbe Charles Michel de L’Epee is one of the most important people in the history of sign language.

A common story retold throughout the history of sign language claims that L’Epee encountered two deaf sisters by chance when visiting a poverty stricken area of Paris. Their mother wanted him to educate her daughters in religion. After discovering their deafness, he wanted to educate the sisters. Soon after, he completely dedicated his life to educating the deaf.

Abbe Charles Michel de L’Epee established the first public free deaf school in 1771. In English, the school is known as the National Institute for Deaf-Mutes. Deaf children came from all across France to attend the school. The deaf children had signed at home then brought these signs with them to the school. L’Epee learned all of these different signs and utilized the signs he learned to teach his students French.

These signs soon became a standard signed language L’Epee taught to the students. More schools were founded and the students brought this language back to their neighborhoods. The standard language L’Epee used in the history of sign language is known as Old French Sign Language. This language spread across Europe as more students were educated.

Today, Abbe de L’Epee is known in Deaf history as the “Father of the Deaf” because of the twenty-one schools he established and all he has done for the deaf.

Laura Bridgman
Laura Bridgman

Many people say that Abbe de L’Epee invented sign language–which is not true. If you want to know who invented sign language, read my “Who Invented Sign Language” article.

Although Abbe de L’Epee claimed sign language is the native language for the deaf, Samuel Heinicke believed in Oralism. Oralism was brought about as people used speechreading and speech to teach deaf students instead of manual language.

Even though this positive advancement in Deaf history took place, oralism was the bump in the road.

Helen Keller
Helen Keller

In relation to the deaf-blind, the first deaf-blind person to be educated was Laura Bridgman. She was born 50 years before Helen Keller, but is usually not credited with being the first deaf-blind person to learn language.

Helen Keller is the most well-known deaf-blind person (she has taken the credit before Laura Bridgman). While she wasn’t the first deaf-blind person to be educated, Helen was the first one to graduate from college, and she did it with honors.

Another common topic in the Deaf Community is deaf people and sports. My favorite deaf athlete is William “Dummy” Hoy. Dummy Hoy was the first deaf major league baseball player. He hit the first grand-slam home run in the American league, and created the hand signals that are still used in baseball today. I think it is so amazing that one deaf athlete can have so much impact and break so many records in baseball, yet many people don’t know about him. Truly amazing.

There are many famous deaf people in the history of America as well. Deaf Smith, for example, is famous for the important role he played in the Texas Revolution. Deaf Smith County, Texas is named after him.

American Sign Language

The history of American Sign Language has earned its own page. Please don’t forget to read about this important part of the history of sign language in the United States.

Speech versus Sign

Sign language is now seen as the native communication and education method for deaf people. However, it wasn’t always this way.

Even though sign language became commonly used, supporters of the oralism method believed the deaf must learn spoken language to fully function in hearing society.

Two of the largest deaf schools in America began educating the deaf in 1867 using only oral methods and encouraged all deaf schools to do the same. These methods did not use any sign language and began to spread to schools for the deaf across the U.S.

Probably the most devoted supporter of the oralism method was
Alexander Graham Bell

(yes, the man who invented the telephone). Bell started an institution in Boston in 1872 to train teachers of deaf people to use oral education. He was one person in the history of sign language who really tried to damage the lives of deaf people.

In 1890, he founded an organization that is now known as the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf.

Alexander Graham Bell
Alexander Graham Bell

The dispute of sign language versus spoken language continued for the next century. The International Congress on the Education of the Deaf met in Milan, Italy in 1880 to discuss the issue. This meeting is now known as the Milan Conference.

The supporters of the oralism method won the vote. Congress declared “that the oral method should be preferred to that of signs in the education and instruction of deaf-mutes”.

The outcome of the conference were devastating. Over the next ten years, sign language use in educating the deaf drastically declined. This milestone in the history of sign language almost brought the Deaf back to ground zero after all of their progress. Almost all deaf education programs used the oralism method by 1920.

Even though oralism won the battle, they did not win the war. American Sign Language still was primarily used out of the classroom environment. The National Association of the Deaf was founded in the United States and fought for the use of sign language. They gained a lot of support and maintained the use of sign language as they argued that oralism isn’t the right educational choice for all deaf people.

In 1960, something big happened. William Stokoe, a scholar and hearing professor at Gallaudet University, published a dissertation that proved ASL is a genuine language with a unique syntax and grammar.

ASL was henceforth recognized as a national language.

In 1964, the Babbidge Report was issued by Congress on the oral education of the deaf. It stated that oralism is a “dismal failure” which finally discharged the decision made at the Milan Conference.

In 1970, a teaching method was born that did not fully support either sign language or oralism. Instead, the movement attempted to bring together several educational methods to form Total Communication. This method became a new philosophy for deaf education.


Heather Whitestone
Heather Whitestone
heatherwhitestone.com

Allowing the deaf access to information by any means, Total Communication can include fingerspelling, sign language, speech, pantomime, lipreading, pictures, computers, writing, gestures, reading, facial expressions, and hearing aids.

Another huge event in the history of sign language was the Deaf President Now (DPN) movement. The DPN movement unified deaf people of every age and background in a collective fight to be heard. Their triumph was a testament to the fact that they don’t have to accept society’s limitation on their culture.

In 1995, a woman named Heather Whitestone became the first deaf woman to be named Miss America in the Miss America pageant. She showed the world that a deaf person can do anything a hearing person can do, and that all things are possible with God’s help.

The Best History of Sign Language Books

Forbidden Signs: American Culture and the Campaign against Sign Language (Paperback)


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Deaf History Unveiled: Interpretations from the New Scholarship (Paperback)


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A Place of Their Own: Creating the Deaf Community in America (Paperback)


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Deaf President Now!: The 1988 Revolution at Gallaudet University (Paperback)


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Read Our Reviews Of These Books

Deaf Culture

Deaf history greatly affects how deaf people live their lives today. And not only do deaf people have a history, they have a culture…

Deaf Culture.

Deaf culture is culture like any other. Deaf people share a language, rules for behavior, values, and traditions. The way the Deaf culture is living today is a direct result of the Deaf history that preceded it.

Who is Your Favorite Person from the history of sign language?
Share Your Thoughts!

What Other Visitors Have Said

Click below to see the favorite historical figures from other visitors to this page…


William “Dummy” Hoy 
I first heard of William “Dummy” Hoy on a show called Switched at Birth. Daphne, one of the deaf characters, during the first all ASL show ever aired on …

William “Dummy” Hoy 
I was born hard of hearing and I have heard of a few famous deaf people on and off in my life such as Helen Keller, Beethoven, Alexander Graham Bell, Heather …


The Likeness of 9 year-old Alice Cogswell

Challenging Society: Alice Cogswell 
Despite a short life, Alice Cogswell led a life well-lived. I admire her greatly because she did not allow society to tell her that being deaf in the 1820’s …


Marlee Matlin 
If you haven’t seen ” What the bleep do we know ” stop reading this and go watch it right now. This incredible movie, staring Marlee Matlin may not be …

Any people of color here? If not, I choose William Hoy 
William Hoy was a very bright man. After completing his high school education, he set up a shoe repair shop and played baseball on the weekends. He was …

Candace Schultz/Helen Keller 
I first heard of Helen Keller in the third grade, and was just amazed by her story. I couldn’t imagine anyone going through life not only blind but deaf …

Alexander Graham Bell a Villain? 
This article was very interesting to read. I would have to say my favorite person is Abbe de L’Epee. In reading his story I can see that he truly was …

My admiration 
It was not until I read this history lesson that I realized how difficult is must have been growing up deaf. I have been hearing all my life, but I fell …

Linda Bove 
The person from Deaf History that I admire the most is Linda Bove. She frequently came into my living room via “Sesame Street”. She was kind and friendly …

I Am At A Loss… 
Well, I have read the Deaf History part, as suggested, before writing this. I have even read a few of the other posts to see who people have picked. …

William C. Stokoe Jr, A Present History In The Making 
After having carefully read and reread Step Three in The ASL Student’s Essential Guide To Learning American Sign Language And Getting Involved In The Deaf …

A lost part of my culture 
Growing up I was a victim of oralism or audism. The doctors and specialists told my mother not to put me in deaf school or for ASL to be taught, rather …

A Second Look at Myself  
I do not believe Helen Keller is the most important person in Deaf History, but I do believe she inspired me the most. I have learned quite a bit about …


Longing from afar off… 
This may not be my favorite person, and as little as I have read on deaf history I don’t feel like I can pick just one, so these are just a few of my thoughts…Ever …

Marlee Matlin 
In order for a person to be a significant role in history, they really need to be known. Someone like Helen Keller gets the credit for being the first …

Touched By A Touch 
Hands that speak all I needed to hear.

In history, time spans endlessly. I, on the other hand, need go back only 40 years to find my favorite person …

Laura Bridgman – An Inspiration 
Many people know of the life and achievements of a woman named Helen Keller who defied the odds that were stacked against her. She accomplished what the …

Helen Keller 
The reason I choose Helen Keller is because she not only being blind but also deaf demonstrated that impaired people can also lead a very good life. …

Anne Sullivan 
I believe the person I admire most in the history of the deaf would have to be a person who was not deaf at all but a person who had a tremendous impact …

Marlee Matlin -A Super Star born  
Before reading your piece on deaf history, I didn’t know there were so many important/famous deaf people. Marlee Matlin is the only deaf person that I …

The People from Deaf History 
I can’t say for sure that I have a favorite person from Deaf History. So many people played such wonderful roles in the support and progress of the Deaf. …

William Stokoe 
I have to say that many of them deserve a recognition, but I will say that William Stokoe took it to the next level, fighting for the rights of the Deaf …


Courtesy of https://worldpersonalities.com. Original at https://worldpersonalities.com/personalities/helen_keller.jpg

Helen Keller: A Present Just Waiting to be Unwrapped 
Deaf History and Culture is something that not many people take the time to think about. However, very important lessons can be learned from these past …

Deaf Advocate 
My favorite was Frederick Schreiber, former President of the NAD. He was a simple man with a simple ego and his humble leadership resulted in many Deaf …

Heather WhiteStone 
Heather Whitestone is my favorite person from deaf history simply because she really did prove, just like Beethoven, that a deaf person can in fact pull …

Geronimo Cardano 
As a parent of two hearing children, I am amazed at what I learn from them. I chose Geronimo Cardano as my favorite. As a busy physician having seen …

What are we learning? 
In our stream-line schools today in America we virtually do not learn anything of deaf history. We learn of wars and slavery and discoveries, but not about …

Absolutely Not worthy! 
As a hearing person just discovering the wonder and beauty of ASL and the incredible community of people that use it, I am blown away that this part of …

Helen Keller: A True Inspiration 
Even though it sounds kind of corny, Helen Keller should be an inspiration to everyone, not just those challenged ones. She was denied TWO things that …

Giving God the Credit He is Due 
Unfortunately, I feel almost materialistic for deciding that Heather Whitestone is my favorite person mentioned on this page. Although, my choice was not …

The Deaf Children 
In my inept attempt to answer this question, I find myself so ignorant of Deaf history and culture and am amazed how little is taught in our schools. That …

William Stokoe finally gets the world to hear 
I actually have three favorites. The first is Ludwig Von Beethoven. He developed his own method of composing music even though he was deaf. By placing …

Nothing is Impossible 
I came to be on this site because my nephew decided that he wanted to learn ASL. We are both martial arts instructors and plan on opening a school soon. …

Caring is the Key 
My favorite person from Deaf history would have to be Abbe Charles Michel de L’Epee born 1712 in Versailles. Before he came along, deaf people were cast …

Helen Keller and Deaf-Blind Education 
I would like to choose Helen Keller. Working as a volunteer for a non profit religious organization that regularly produces, makes and distributes thousands …

The First US Deaf Educator 
My favorite person from Deaf History would have to be Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. While I find much of Deaf History intriguing, I am particularly interested …

Nothing is Impossible 
Wow! How amazing. I never knew much of anything about Deaf history, and it is so interesting. I knew the bare basics of Helen Keller from books and …

Difficult to say 
To be honest, I can’t really choose a favourite person from Deaf history since I am just now learning and getting involved with ASL. I can only say that …

Marlee Matlin 
My favorite deaf person, by far, is Marlee Matlin — the youngest woman to ever win an Academy Award for Best Leading Actress (she won at age 21!)

Stokoe’s Signs 
Undeniably, William Stokoe had a major impact on Sign Language as we know it today. Mr. Stokoe was instrumental in bringing about legislation within the …

Abbe de L’Epee 
I have to say that Abbe de L’Epee is my favorite person from the history of sign language because he is a first timer. I know how hard it is to introduce …

My Daughter is Amazing! 
I would have to say that my favorite person is my daughter. I was her teacher for the past twelve years and I must say that she was a very good student. …

Rebel! 
As a young man L’Epee had certain expectations given to him by the people around him. His father was a well-know architect and probably wanted a great …


Brenda the Bridge

Lou Fant 
Lou Fant, CODA, is my favorite historical figure. Unlike Stokoe, he could sign, had a Deaf heart and spent his life making services for the Deaf include …


A portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

Beethoven or Helen Keller?  
For me, it is extremely hard to decide between Ludwig Van Beethoven and Helen Keller. Honestly, my favorite *historical* figure is Beethoven. Beethoven …


Laura Bridgman

Laura Bridgman 
Laura Bridgman is my favorite person from deaf history. She is my favorite person because she did something no one else had never done before her. She …


A picture of Dummy Hoy

William Ellsworth Hoy 
My favorite historical figure from Deaf History is one of the least known – even in his own field. His name is William Ellsworth Hoy. He was often called …

No Limits 
The Abbe de L’Eppe is my favorite role model in deaf history. In a world where deaf people were considered unteachable and basically useless solely based …


Malibu Coast Spring by Granville Redmond

My Favorite Deaf History Figure is Granville Redmond! 
My favorite deaf historical figure is Granville Redmond. His struggle to be accepted by the common man is fairly touching, and his paintings are simply …

Sean Berdy 
O.K., O.K., I admit, Sean Berdy isn’t exactly a historical figure… By any stretch of the imagination. But in 20 years he will be, and I’m going to count …

The deaf children in France 
It may seem strange but these were the children that inspired others to realize how creative and intelligent the deaf really are. They not only devised …


Ms. Low (center) with two Girl Scouts

Juliette Gordon Low, a Hero to All People 
Perhaps no greater tribute can be said than she is not remembered as a “deaf person who” but rather as an outgoing and exciting example of what all people …


Laurent Clerc

My Favorite Person from Deaf History is Laurent Clerc 
Hello everyone, I’ll start off this discussion :). My favorite person from the history of sign language is Laurent Clerc.

Laurent Clerc was the first …

Helen Keller 
My favorite is Helen Keller. She seems so real, not like a far away historical person. I’ve read books about, and she sounds normal. I would go crazy if …


Favorite Deaf Person 
Helen Keller is my personal favorite deaf person. I was completely astounded when I heard her story. As a second or third grader, I simply couldn’t imagine …


Laura Bridgman

Laura Bridgman and Helen Keller 
I admire them both because at a time when learning to communicate, for the Deaf, was difficult they not only learned to communicate but also became educated. …

To Choose 
When it comes to Deaf Culture and its people, how do you pick a favorite. The accomplishments that these people have made have not only changed the community …

Louise Fletcher 
I’m going to talk about someone here who first opened my eyes to sign language, and that is the actress Louise Fletcher. Louise Fletcher most famously …

Helen Keller 
Actually I have two favourites!! Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan! When I think of one, I automatically think of the other. Helen’s successful history …

Abbe de L’Epee 
Of all of the brilliant people that have helped nourish the use of sign language in history, Abbe de L’Epee definitely stood out the most to me. I fully …

William Stokoe 
My favorite person in Deaf History is William Stokoe. At first, I was going to go with Geronimo Cardano because being the first to do something takes conviction …

Father of the deaf 
My favorite historical figure is of course Abbe de L’Epee I will admit I don’t know much about the deaf community, culture or history aside from what I …

Abbe Charles Michel de L’Epee 
Abbe Charles Michel de L’Epee devoted his life to helping others who he could barely even communicate with at first. He decided it was his job and duty …

A man who saw beyond 
From what I have learned, I would say Abbe de L ‘Epee would have to be my favorite. because he saw beyond the title, notions, and ideas that had been set. …


Juan Pablo de Bonet 
Juan Pablo de Bonet is my favorite person to go down in the Deaf community history because all he did. He established many schools, made some signs for …

I can’t choose just one! 
Is it possible to have more than one favorite in deaf history? I am in awe of the people throughout history (and even today) who gave their all to make …

Heather Whitestone McCallum 
Heather Whitestone McCallum is my favorite person from Deaf History because she used her fame and popularity to bring the Deaf Community into the spotlight …

Julia Brace: The Beginning of a domino effect.  
I enjoyed learning about Julia Brace. Of course I had heard about Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan as I was growing up, but when the article introduced …


I Met William Dummy Hoy 
William Dummy Hoy. My parents are deaf and when I was little I met him at a Ohio School for the Deaf. Now that I teach ASL and I teach a unit on famous …

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet 
Thomas H. Gallaudet is a remarkable figure in deaf history. He went above and beyond to help Alice Cogswell by traveling to Europe to learn from deaf educators …

Heather Whitestone  
The person I find most interesting in ASL history is Heather Whitestone.

Women in general are so often put down because of looks, body figures, and …

The Gallaudet Family 
I was really impressed to learn about the Gallaudet family. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet’s contribution to deaf history comes in his founding of the American …

Laura Bridgmn and Helen Keller 
I had to pick both Laura Bridgmn and Helen Keller because both are amazing women who did amazing things. Before Deaf Culture was actually recognized as …

Geronimo Cardano 
Geronimo Cardano is my favorite person in this article, because although he did not think of using sign, he still believed that deaf people could learn, …

Helen Keller + Annie Sullivan 
Although Helen Keller was not the first deaf-blind student to be educated, I still feel inspired when I read the story about how she and Annie Sullivan …

“Father of the Deaf” — Abbe Charles Michael de L’Epee 
Abbe Charles Michael de L’Epee is my favorite person from Deaf History. He led the way in education for the deaf community. He was able to see a need for …


Thomas H. Gallaudet 
I am a hearing person who first heard the name Gallaudet on Switched at Birth when Gallaudet University was mentioned all through out the TV Show. the …


Juliette Gordon Low

Too many to choose just one….. 
There are so many deaf, hard of hearing as well as hearing people that have made such great contributions to the deaf community and how they are interacted …

Mabel Gardiner Hubbard Bell  
Yes Bell ! The deaf wife of Alexander Graham Bell. She met “Alec” as a 15 year old medically deaf student in his oralism school. And the story begins …

Helen Keller 
Helen Keller is my favorite historical figure. This is because she tried her hardest even though she had tough obstacles. She was able to learn without …

Dummy is no Dummy 
My favorite person from Deaf History is William “Dummy” Hoy.

William “Dummy” Hoy lived from 1862 to 1961 (almost 100 years!). He was born hearing, …

Abbe de L’Epee 
My reason for choosing Abbe de L’Epee as my favorite Deaf historian has to do with the fact that he took the time to educate the Deaf people. The story …

I Don’t Think He Was A Dummy ! 
My favorite person that I read about was William “Dummy” Hoy. I have read about Helen Keller and on the history of Sign Language but, never about him and …

Helen Keller 
My favorite person is Helen Keller and she was independent and she is the most famous deaf and blind person. She went to college and she was the first …

Helen Keller: Limitless 
Imagine finally breaking down a wall in your life that allowed you to see that you weren’t nearly as limited as you had once thought. Imagine the new possibilities …

Beethoven: Black and Deaf 
I don’t feel like I know enough about Deaf History to have an actual favorite yet, but Ludwig van Beethoven has been in my thoughts a lot lately due to …

Dr. Andrew Foster – From Gallaudet to Africa 
Andrew Foster is my favorite historical figure from Deaf history. Not only was he intelligent, talented and dedicated to bringing deaf education to so …

Helen Keller 
When I first became interested in sign language I decided to read Helen Keller’s biography, The Story Of My Life. I had heard of her, but I didn’t really …

Off the beaten path… 
I’m with others in noting that all of these individuals played a significant role in the history of sign language – some from a positive perspective, others …


Much More Than I Expected! 
Even though I never realized that she was not the first blind and deaf person to be educated I would have to say my favorite person in Deaf history is …

Helen Keller 
For my assignment of who I consider my favorite deaf person I would have to say it is hands down HELEN KELLER.

I think not only her deafness at first …

Helen Keller 
All have a place earned in History. And to choose ONE is very difficult. I choose Helen Keller. Not only for the fact that she was blind and deaf. But, …

Abbe de L’Epee 
I am impressed most by Abbe de L’Epee and his effort to educate the deaf. After meeting two deaf sisters, he decided to dedicate his life to educating …

Here’s to the teachers 
My strongest admiration goes out to those who teach deaf children and young adults – whether the teachers are themselves hearing or deaf.

Of course, …

Helen Keller  
Helen Keller is so inspirational. With being blind and deaf she managed to go to school and go to college and graduated with honors. That’s amazing to …

Alexander Graham Bell 
My favorite person from Deaf History is Alexander Graham Bell because he gave the deaf population something to fight for.

Every story needs a great …

Helen Keller 
She graduated from college with honors – I think that says more than anything that Helen Keller is the biggest inspiration for deaf people. She proved …

My Favorite Deaf Person in History 
My favorite person in deaf history by far is William Stokoe. Before I had read this article, Hellen Keller was my favorite, because she was the only deaf …

Abbe de L’Epee 
My favorite sign language hero would have to be Abbe de L’Epee. Abbe de L’Epee is one of the most important people in deaf history. He was the first recorded …

William “Dummy” Hoy 
I would have to say William “Dummy” Hoy is my favorite because he showed a lot of Deaf power. He became deaf at the age of 3 because of meningitis. He …

Laurent Clerc 
My favorite person in deaf history is Laurent Clerc. He was not given an education for the first eleven or twelve years of his life. He stayed at home …

William “Dummy” Hoy: Deaf Wonder 
It makes me sad when I see or hear about others mistreating the deaf. It shocks me to know that there was a time that they were not accepted.

However, …

Abbe Charles Michel de L’Epee 
I really enjoyed learning about Abbe Charles Michel de L’Epee and all that he did for the deaf people. At that time, deaf people were treated very poorly, …

My own views on deaf history 
After reading this article, as well as the other available ones on this site and a few from another ASL book I am reading I have come to the conclusion …

So Many Contributions 
I can’t really choose one to identify with. There are so many people who made contributions to sign language becoming what it is today. People that were …

Enterprise Technology Analyst 
To me, Abbe de L’Epee is my favorite person because he showed that deaf people could learn and be productive people just as much as hearing people. I …

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet 
Up until now, the only deaf (famous) people I was really familiar with was Helen Keller. Most of us had heard her story and found her to be inspiring. …

Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller 
I was born with full hearing. At the age of three, I came down with meningitis and suffered a profound loss of hearing from battling the illness. My ability …

Favorite Deaf Historical Figure 
I’d have to say that after reading this article, Abbe Charles Michel de L’Epee is my favorite figure in Deaf history. He literally and figuratively opened …

Gallaudet and Deaf President Now 
My favorite people are those deaf individuals that stood up at Gallaudet and demanded a Deaf president. They risked their freedom, their future, and their …

My Thoughts 
The person I admire the most from deaf history is Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. The reason for this is the great impact he had on the deaf people in America. …

William Stokoe 
My favorite person from Deaf history is William Stokoe, because he proved in his dissertation that ASL is a genuine language with unique syntax and grammar. …

My Favorite Person from Deaf History 
Without a doubt, Helen Keller is my absolute favorite person from Deaf History. My third grade teacher read the story of Helen Keller to us and showed …

“Father of ASL Linguistics”  
After reading this article, I decided to look into the life of William Stokoe because the work he did for Gallaudet as well as the development of American …

A greater sense of life: Helen Keller 
Several people come to mind when considering who has most impacted me from the Deaf community and history. Evelyn Glennie, for example, has contributed …


Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan

Helen Keller 
Helen Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama on June 27, 1880. Her father was Arthur H Keller and her teacher was Anne Sullivan. Helen Keller at 19 months …

Contemporary Deaf Performers: Focusing on Joel Barish 
I have read a lot about the oppression of the Deaf, but I really appreciate people who have embraced Deaf culture and have a passion for studying the social …

Alexander Graham Bell 
I know that Alexander Graham Bell is a very controversial figure in Deaf culture, understandably.

I can also see how his invention isolated an already …

My Ancestor 
My favorite significant role in the history of sign language has to be my ancestor Helen Keller. She comes from my dad’s side of my family tree. It wasn’t …


Village on Taro River by Oreste Carpi

Inspiration from the Deaf 
I am not deaf, but have been allowed the chance to come across this amazing language, and have started learning it at my school. However I never really …

Thank GOD  
The persons that I feel contributed most to the advancement of communication with and for the Deaf is GOD because he gave the Deaf, their desire to express …

Edward Miner Gallaudet: My Favorite Person from Deaf History 
I’ve chosen Edward Miner Gallaudet as my favorite person from Deaf History because he founded Gallaudet University. I have had the pleasure of visiting …

Name forgotten but lesson remembered 
I was surprised to read that President Lincoln played a role in deaf history. This is something that isn’t mentioned in American history. I know most Americans …

Deaf people. Deaf History. 
Honestly, I don’t think I could choose one person to be my favorite of all Deaf people. I mean, after all, the reason we have Deaf History is because of …

Can’t pick just one… 
I would have to say that there are three categories of people that really stand out to me as heroes for the Deaf.

First, those dedicated souls who …

Laura Bridgman and Me  
Laura Birdgman was born on December, 21, 1892 to a hard working farm family. At the age of two her and her family became very ill with Scarlet fever. This …

Dr. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet 
In learning about the history of American Sign Language, it is hard to pick a favorite historical figure related to deaf history.

I have always been …


Leroy Colombo 
While Leroy Colombo was not born deaf, he became deaf at the age of seven and went on to become an amazing lifeguard, who saved a total of 907 lives. …

Hmm…who to pick? 
This is a difficult choice, who is MY favorite. They are all amazing people, who have done so much to help the deaf and learn about the deaf, and create …

Thomas H Gallaudet 
I cannot believe how much I am learning about the Deaf Culture. Every chapter is fascinating because I had no idea how much there was to learn. I had no …

Deaf President Now 
My favorite among the Deaf Community are those young adults who stood their ground and demanded a Deaf President Now.

It took great courage and strength …

Marlee Matlin and Linda Bove true inspirations!! 
My favorite people from deaf history are Marlee Matlin and Linda Bove. Marlee Matlin has shown us that being deaf is not a disability. She has accomplished …

My favorite deaf educator is Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet 
My favorite person in the history of deaf education is Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. What I admire most about him was the sacrifice he made for one little …

So Much History To Cover 
I am not sure I could pick one person that is a favorite at this time. I have already learned so many interesting things from deaf history that are not …

The Strength To Rise Above Disabilities 
Helen Keller is my favorite famous deaf-blind person in history. She has so many gifts and strengths, they obviously outnumber her disabilities. Her gifts …

The minister and teacher: Dr. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet 
As a teacher and Christ-follower myself, I relate well with Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet (1787-1851) who was a social reformer, Congregationalist minister …

Thomas H. Gallaudet 
I found it very difficult to choose just one favorite, but in the interest of the essay subject I chose Thomas H. Gallaudet.

He must have been very …

Discovering the Beauty of Sign Language 
I’ll never forget the first time I truly witnessed Sign Language in use: I was lazing around in my room, absent-mindedly watching a music video on YouTube …

Geronimo Cardano is my favorite, Aristotle is a jerk 
My favorite person from deaf history would probably be Geronimo Cardano because he was the first person to recognize that just because a person was deaf …

Alexander Graham Bell 
He is not my favorite. He is the one most interesting to me.

He is interesting because he had a deaf parent, married a deaf individual, and had deaf …

My Least Favorite 
I have to say the Alexander Graham Bell is my least favorite historical figure in the Deaf community. I saw details of his work in the documentary film, …

William Ellsworth Hoy (Dummy Hoy) 
With all the people that have made a huge impact on the world with the deaf culture it is hard to just pick one. But I was able to pick one out. It is …

Geronimo Cardano Wow! 
I have to say that Geronimo Cardano is my favorite person from Deaf History at this point. The reason I chose him is because from Aristotle, one of the …

William Stokoe 
My favorite deaf person would have to be William Stokoe. The reason for this is that if he had not brought the importance of American Sign Language to …

Belinda 
Well, I really don’t have a favorite person from deaf history. I do love reading about deaf history and all they have gone through. Each story about each …


Children of Deaf Adults 
Born 1933 on a black land farm near Penelope Texas raised by Deaf Grandparents and grew up with deaf siblings, family and friends. Most of whom attended …

Whoever started the Total Communication Movement 
This is an unfair question because Deaf History has too many great persons to only choose one. If I had to choose it would be a tie between Pedro Ponce …

Marlee Matlin 
I pick Marlee Matlin as my favorite deaf person. I wasn’t going to submit an answer to this question, because I didn’t think my reason was very impressive. …

Dr. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Alice Cogswell 
I chose Dr. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Alice Cogswell as my favorite people from Deaf history.

Why did I chose both instead of just one? Well the …

Introducing Laura 
My favorite deaf person from history could have been one of many. There were so many who had contributed to American Sign Language, to sports and to entertainment. …

Great People of the Deaf Community 
There are so many inspirations in this world, but deaf people inspire me the most. I see deaf people as equals, but much more courageous. The things they …

Helen Keller 
Helen Keller is the reason why I decided to learn sign language. In sixth grade we were watching a video about Helen Keller and when I saw her sign, I …

Helen Keller 
Helen Keller has to be my favorite Deaf person. She accomplished so much for being Deaf… and blind! I’m learning sign right now and I think that it’s …

Helen Keller 
My favorite deaf person has definitely got to be Helen Keller. She was not only deaf, she was also blind, too, and was amazingly able to learn how to read …

Helen Keller 
The first time I heard about Helen Keller was in 1968, the year she died, I was 10 years old. I was immediately intrigued by what I was hearing about her …

Oh the ringing irony 
I do not find Alexander Graham Bell to be inspirational or admirable in this case, and yet I must say he is my favorite historical figure.

Mr. Bell’s …


My sister in law, Danielle

My inspiration: Helen Keller 
I chose Helen Keller because she was the first person that I heard about that was deaf and blind.

There was a young lady in my church, when I was younger, …

Abbe de L’Epee 
It is actually hard to pick just one because all of them played important roles. But if I had to pick just one I would pick Abbe de L’Epee because he saw …


Jerry and George attempting to hide their lips from Laura (Matlin)

Seinfeld: Humor Nonetheless 
Reading about all the famous Deaf people, I found that I was unaware of most of the more influential in Deaf History. However, immediately Marlee Matlin …


Helen Keller (8) with Anne Sullivan on vacation in Cape Cod

Helen Keller 
There are many great people in deaf history, ones that earned rights, encouraged signed language, started organizations, but what would that all mean if …

Athletics and Deafness 
I’d have to say that my favorite person that I have been introduced to has to be William Hoy, the baseball player.

I myself do not know any deaf people …

Dr. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet  
Here is a man that went to great lengths to educate a child that was not even his own. A child that most people would not have taken the time to bother …

Helen Keller 
I truly respect Helen Keller. She was a woman who went after what she wanted, she did not let her handicap slow her down or stop her. By Helen going out …

My heart belongs to Abbe de L’EPee 
After reading the article, I fell in love with what Abbe de L’Epee had done for the world of the deaf people. Creating the first free school for the deaf …

Abbe Charles Michel de L’ Epee and Heather Whitestone  
I actually have two favorites. One being Abbe Charles de L’Epee because of his determination and compassion to open twenty-one free public schools for …

Helen Keller 
I remember watching The Miracle Worker with my mother when I was a child and it is still one of my favorite movies to this day. Helen Keller changed a …

My Choice… 
I have always been interested in sign language and was excited to find out more about how to sign, as well as, the history of its development. I was amazed …

The Pioneer 
I picked Geronimo Cardano because without him it would not even be possible for anyone else to improve on or even establish ASL. He was the one who decided …

William Hoy 
It was so neat to read about William Hoy. I hadn’t known about him until reading this account of deaf history, which is really well written by the way. …

Anne Sullivan 
“The Miracle Worker” has always been one of my favorite movies. Even when Melissa Gilbert did the remake of it with Patty Duke switching from Helen’s …

I don’t know! 
All of the individuals in this article are all important. Without them, sign language, and potentially the deaf society wouldn’t be the way that it is …

Priestly Devotion 
One French priest made an extraordinary impact on the education and lives of deaf people in France, and ultimately, the United States. His name is Abbe …

The amazing history of the deaf 
The deaf history of the world is very interesting on its own. I enjoyed reading about both French and American deaf history. I disagree strongly with oralism. …

William Stokoe 
One of my favorite people in Deaf history is William Stokoe because when I read about him I felt a sense of relief and triumph that someone in recent history …


Geronimo Cardano

Geronimo Cardano 
Geronimo Cardano was my fave because he was the first to realize that deaf people are just as smart as hearing they just cant hear. I think he should have …


Who is Your Favorite Person from Deaf History? Share Your Thoughts!

There are so many people who played a significant role in the history of sign language. So, naturally, everyone is bound to have a favorite!

Who is YOUR favorite historical figure? Is it Abbe de L’Epee? Thomas H. Gallaudet? Alexander Graham Bell? Share your thoughts!

For Start ASL Assignment Submissions: Don’t forget to tell us why this person is your favorite as well–make it a good well thought-out answer of at least 200 words. It will be fun to see why everyone chose who they did! 🙂

Who is Your Favorite Person from the history of sign language?
Submit It Here!


Comments

  1. Reilly

    Helle can I please have a name for the author of this article? Thanks I need it for a project

  2. Sarah Looper

    I am inspired by Dr. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. I am amazed at the passion he had for teaching the deaf. For a man to leave his home country, his family and friends, and his ministry, and travel half way across the world simply to learn how to teach the deaf is mind boggling. And why did he do it? Because he had a young deaf girl as a neighbor; not a family member, but just a neighbor. What love and care he must have had for that young lady and her family to go to such lengths to help her. Also he took it a step farther and started a public school for the deaf, inviting the deaf to come from all over the country. He not only did all of the above, but he made teaching the deaf his life long ministry. I find such a commitment extremely intriguing. Oh that people in today’s day and age would have such compassion for others! I, myself have had a strong, burning desire to learn sign language and to work with the deaf for as long as I can remember, but I’m not sure that even I could say that I have that kind of a commitment to it.

  3. Alex Roman

    Anne Sullivan is most interesting to me, because, even though she did not have hearing loss herself, she overcame her own visual impairment to prove that Deaf/Blind individuals can learn to read, write, and speak fluently. She overcame innumerable obstacles in her fight to educate Helen Keller whose family and herself did not make it easy for this first-time teacher. Sullivan dedicated her entire life and health to educating, interpreting for, and supporting Helen Keller. She was so successful that Keller learned multiple languages, gave speeches around the world, and wrote articles and a memoir without assistance. After graduating from university, Helen Keller became an enormous advocate of education for the Deaf, Deaf/Blind, and individuals with other disabilities. Without Anne Sullivan, none of that would have been possible, and Helen would have languished without language or direct interaction, probably ending up in an asylum.

  4. Patricia marie

    At the risk of coming across as a cliche, I have to say that Abbe de L’Eppe is my favorite person from the history of American Sign Language. Reading about how much he did for the Deaf community brought tears to my eyes and inspiration to my heart. The fact that he decided to learn how to communicate properly with the Deaf instead of forcing his usual ways of communication onto them was an extremely honorable rarity for that time period. Though everyone should have that mind-set, it was uncommon and amazing that he was able to stray from what others thought and aid the Deaf in showing their true potential. I definitely understand the reasoning behind his being named “Father of the Deaf.”

  5. Amanda

    I first learned about Sue Thomas through the T.V. show named after her. It was this show, I think, that sparked my long lasting interest in learning ASL. The lead role is played by Deanne Bray who portrays Sue Thomas so well.
    Sue has such great faith in God that has held her through so many trials in her life. After her mom passed away she started a program called Silent Night to help homeless people. There is also The Levi Foundation, a dog training centre named in honour of her first hearing dog, Levi. She has written a book, learned piano, and worked for the F.B.I. Thomas has accomplished so many things in her life.
    Along with Sue Thomas F.B.Eye, I recently found another movie called No Ordinary Hero. It shows a little bit of what life for Deaf people is like. You can see how some people can be so rude and others can be more understanding.
    If I had to choose someone else in Deaf history who lived a little longer ago, I would probably choose William Stokoe. He proved that ASL is a language in and of itself, and without him, I don’t know if this website, StartASL.com, would have been created in the first place