The Apostle of the Deaf in America

March 29, 2018
Category: Submitted Posts

By: Kylie Sundsmo (04/18/17)

Laurent Clerc is one of the most famous people in Deaf history. He is known for helping start the first permanent school for the Deaf in the United States, called the American School for the Deaf. He is one of my favorite people from deaf history because he devoted much of his time to improve the lives of deaf people in America.

Louis Laurent Marie Clerc was born in France on December 26, 1785. When he was one year old, he fell out of his highchair and into the fireplace. It is believed by most that this incident was the cause of his deafness. When Clerc was twelve, he started attending the School for the Deaf in Paris. He had received no formal education prior to this. He did very well in most of his studies. Once, an assistant teacher grew frustrated with Clerc’s difficulty to pronounce some syllables and hit him under the chin. He bit down hard on his tongue, reenforcing in his mind that sign language was the best way to teach deaf students. In 1806, Clerc was hired as a teacher at the School for the Deaf in Paris.

Clerc was in England to give a lecture when he met Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. Gallaudet was invited by his new friend to attend classes at the school where Clerc taught, and he readily agreed. Gallaudet soon asked Clerc to go to America with him and establish a school for the deaf. On June 18, 1816, they left France to travel to America. Although they successfully arrived in America, they could not start the school just yet. They spent time traveling to different cities, spreading the word and gaining support. On April 15, 1817, Clerc and Gallaudet started their school in rooms that were rented. They had only seven students at first. The school was called the Connecticut Asylum at Hartford for the Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons. Today it is called the American School for the Deaf. In 1819, Clerc married one of the former pupils of his school named Eliza Crocker Boardman. Together they had six children. Clerc only returned to France three times since moving to the US. He dedicated much of his life to provide better education to deaf people. Laurent Clerc died at home on July 18, 1869, at the age of eighty-three.