By Sarita M. Brady----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
|National Deaf Mute College at Kendall Green|
The aim of this article is to sketch faithfully, if briefly, the history of an institution which, aesthetically considered, is the highest expression of a noble philanthropic impulse, yet young among us, and which is, practically viewed, the means of restoring to society many valuable members.
In the year 1855 there appeared in Washington a man professing great zeal in charitable work, who announced his purpose to open a school for the deaf-mute and blind children of the District. Being, like most reformers, as poor in purse as he was rich in promise, he interested several influential patrons, hired a house in the then solitary northwest section of the city, and gathered there all the afflicted children he could find, principally from among the poor classes. He pursued his way undisturbed for some time, but gradually horrible stories grew current about cruelties suffered by those poor little waifs, and the rumor reaching Amos Kendall, who had been deeply interested in the scheme from the first, he went to work
to investigate it. His method was very simple—there was no red-tape entanglement about it he just took a friend with him, went to the house, and finding the door locked, broke it open and walked in. Sterner men than those two kindly visitors would have been moved at the sight before them. No need to repeat the details. Suffice it to say that the villain who had pretended to protect these unfortunate children had taken advantage of their sightless eyes and dumb lips to subject them to every device of inhumanity. Mr. Kendall's remedy was as practical as his inquiry had been prompt: he took the children to his own home, restored the majority to their parents, and placed the five left on his hands in a little frame house on a two-acre lot, which formed a part of his estate, situated just northeast of the city limits. To assist him in the work he now contemplated, the school having been incorporated by Congress under the name of the Columbia Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind, he sent for Edward M. Gallaudet, of Hartford, Connecticut, a son of the first American teacher of mutes, and put him in charge. This was in the summer of 1857, and for seven years the work of the young institution was limited to the instruction of Children in primary courses. In 1864, under the authority of Congress, given in a special act, the course of study was extended so as to include collegiate branches, and with the active support of Thaddeus Stevens, a separate department was established, which was called the National Deaf-mute College. About the same time the blind, who had hitherto formed part of the community, were removed to the Maryland Blind Asylum, and from that time the establishment at Kendall Green has been identified with deaf-mutes only.
|Gymnasium at National Deaf Mute College|
Look at it to-day. Few institutions make such good use of twenty-five years. Remember it began in a two-story frame house on a two-acre lot, and now it is a group of picturesque and stately buildings, surrounded by a fair domain of one hundred acres, standing midway between the pleasant meadows of Maryland and the capital of the nation. It enjoys the rare distinction, too, of being one of the few public works that cost less than the original estimates. The purpose of its foundation seems to touch a chord of universal sympathy, and with rare exceptions no serious opposition has been offered in Congress, while in many cases an examination of the institution has changed prejudice to patronage. Mr. Kendall’s benefactions, bestowed during the early years of the work, and before the permanent support of the government had been secured, deserve to be specially noted. And it is to be remembered that his gifts, though small when compared with the sums since appropriated by Congress, were relatively of much greater importance, because they came in "the day of small things."
Besides the frame house and two acres of ground with which the institution began, Mr. Kendall gave a substantial brick building, erected entirely at his own expense in 1859, together with cash donations at different times as special Deeds arose, making in all a total in value of fifteen thousand dollars. After Mr. Kendall's death, which occurred in 1869, Congress appropriated eighty thousand dollars for the purchase of eighty acres of ground, on which Mr. Kendall's home had been for many years, and to which he had given the name now attaching to the ample and beautiful grounds of the institution.
|Interior of museum, National Deaf Mute College|
The college, which has proved to be national in its work as well as in name, has sent out two hundred and sixty young men, apportioned as follows:
New England, 47; Middle States, 55; South, 36; West,111; Ireland, 1. Thirty of these are teachers in deaf-mute institutions, for which work their college training specially fits them; five are connected, as editors, publishers, and contributors, with literature; six are in the civil service, one, who was for eight years a principal examiner in the Patent-office, is now an eminent and successful patent lawyer in Cincinnati; and others are distributed through various professions and trades.
The course of study comprises the higher mathematics; the Latin, French, and German languages; the elements of natural science, including chemistry, botany, astronomy, geology, mineralogy, physiology, and zoology; a full course of English philology and related studies, with ancient and modern history not omitting proper attention to mental, moral, and political science.
I saw a Latin class not long ago at the college, composed of six good looking young men - five of them Westerners, parsing one of Caesar's speeches in Sallust. Each took a word and gave its grammatical character, derivation and significance so rapidly that the pupils' quick fingers were as marvelous as the teacher's quick eyes. In an adjoining room a preparatory class was reciting a lesson in English grammar, and I doubt if any ten boys, blessed with all their faculties, would have shown such interest in adverbs as these poor fellows did. Every face was alert, every eye was listening, every right hand ready to speak at a glance from the tutor.
In the infancy of the college, scholarships were endowed by Amos Kendall, George W. Riggs, B. B. French, Charles Knapp, W. W. Corcoran, and Jay Cooke and Co., of Washington, Edson Fessenden and Thomas Smith, of Hartford, William Sprague, of Providence, and George Merriam, of Springfield, Massachusetts. These endowments were only temporary, and the subsequent liberality of Congress filled the place of private generosity. The college library has recently been enriched by a very valuable collection made by Dr. Charles Baker, a distinguished English deaf-mute teacher.
Some of the books date back to 1400, and it is one of the largest and best libraries, relating to the education of the deaf, to be found in the world.
The primary school at Kendall Green has an average attendance of fifty scholars. Sometimes men and women of full maturity appear in these classes, but they usually are formed of children ranging from eighteen to eight years of age, there being no advantage gained by sending them very young. Although necessarily subordinate to the college, the school is a highly important and interesting division. The instruction given at this stage is the very foundation, the pith, the key, to all future progress. None but the most experienced teachers are assigned to these classes, and, indeed, some principals declare the primary desk to be the post of honor in deaf-mute institutions.
Of every mortal breast, thought is lord. He is born with the body, and lo! speech his messenger, and hearing, his handmaiden, arise to do his will. Sight and touch are more humble vassals. Served by each in turn, he emerges from the narrow confines of his individual realm to take his place among his kindred, a link in the shining chain of human sympathy with which God binds the world. Not so with the untaught dumb, for though thought lives in them, it is as a prisoner. While they vainly beat against the cage, without and beyond in the clear daylight the unceasing procession of humanity passes, and if in their weak, imperfect way they recognize among the busy multitude, there a passion that reflects their own, here an emotion they might share, it is but a hint of the divine lesson of life. Beside such they possess nothing, know nothing, hope nothing.
Therefore the first thing to teach a deaf-mute child is that there is community of ideas between him and his fellow-beings; the next, to show him how intercourse may be established. He-comes to school not only to learn, but to learn how to learn. Let us imagine ourselves in the primary class at Kendall Green watching a beginner take his first lesson. The teacher, a lady - for surely nothing but a woman's patience could avail here - calls the boy to her, and shows him some familiar object - say a pen; and when he recognizes it, the first step is made: they both know what it is, and he knows they know it. So far, she has only taught him the object; now she shows him its printed equivalent, PEN. Insensibly trained to memory for shapes, lie soon remembers that black lines shaped in that way mean that object. Now, if the object is not present, how can he recall it to her? By spelling pen on his fingers. So she then teaches him those letters. Next she teaches him to write pen on the blackboard; and lastly, to substitute for the rude pantomimes they have both necessarily used up to this time, the sign for pen. This is not the work of one lesson, or of one day - far from it; we should be tired looking on long before our little hero gets as far as spelling on his fingers. But gradually, after many delays and innumerable repetitions, so much is secured, New objects are introduced, then their qualities are specified -"big pen," "white cat"; next the action of those objects "the pen writes," the cat eats": and lastly, the various tenses of verbs - always a most tedious process, as it is almost impossible, with such limited means, to present clearly the difference between past, present, and future action. One way of doing this is to teach the pupils to count up to thirty-one - the number of days in a month - and then connect the action with a past, present, or future date. The protean "ough" puzzles them, as does also the use of the same word with different meanings.
Tiresome as the work is, its results appear sooner than one would expect, for the children learn to read, write, and speak (in their language) simultaneously. Little boys who can hardly reach the blackboard write excellent hands, and spell accurately. An exercise among the more advanced scholars which I witnessed required them to write sentences introducing words from the day's lesson. An example of the use of the word "astonished" was amusing: it was, "A boy went to the woods; he astonished some apples on a tree" - meaning he took them by surprise.
Here is a composition exactly as it was written by a boy twelve years old, a member of this class:
|Edward M. Gallaudet|
"A boy went to the woods. He saw a yellow bird standing on the grass. He want to caught the yellow bird. He put over the bird. The bird would not out. He caught the bird and went away and give for his mother. He tell his mother about the yellow bird. His mother was glad and got the bird and into the cage. Another a yellow bird was glad to meet the bird. Two birds talked about sing sweet. The mother charmed the bird sing. The boy again go to the wood. He saw an old house are weak. He try climbed up. The house with the boy fell to the ground. He soon died on the ground. His mother hoped the boy get the bird. His mother waited. The boy no come it. His mother to go to the old house. She saw the boy died and she was very cried and hurt in her heart."
It reads like a crude translation. That the house "are weak" and old showed he reasoned, for it is not improbable an old house should fall, and the mother being "hurt in her heart" is a little touch that education could hardly improve.
One teacher has kept a record of the odd things the children say, and some entries are funny enough. Here are some of their plurals that make us blush for our illogical language:
Ox ……….. Oxen.
Box ……… Boxen.
Mouse …… Mice.
House ……. Hice.
A little fellow who Iasi his hearing from disease remembers a few words; so when he writes on the blackboard ca t, he articulates "pussy," and when violin, "fiddle." Another time a girl wrote a sketch of Job's history, with the startling information that "the Lord boiled him." But the most touching of all is the record of a little fellow who, when asked what George Washington did when his father inquired about the cherry-tree, wrote on the blackboard: "He took his hatchet in his left hand, and told his father he did it."
"Why did he take the hatchet in his left hand?" asked the teacher, surprised at the expression; and the answer came promptly:
"Because he had to use his right hand to tell his father."
The child thought George Washington was deaf and dumb.
When the blind and deaf-mutes were together, the forbearance and sympathy between them were very pretty. "How sad to be blind!" some deaf-mute would spell on his fingers, and perhaps the girl next to him would beg the teacher to give him an easy lesson, "because he is deaf and dumb, you know." The deaf-mutes make an exceptionally happy community, especially at Kendall Green, where the whole regimen of the establishment is home-like, and tends to make the inmates feel like members of one family, rather than two distinct classes of pupils and teachers. As a rule they are robust, and alive to the pleasures of physical exercise. Their base-ball club has a very creditable record, and at a foot-race run some years ago in Washington a Kendall Green Freshman came in second, and would have been first but for some misunderstanding as to the goal. Within two years opportunities for physical development have been greatly increased by the Creation of a very complete gymnasium, which has been fitted up under the direction of Dr. D. A. Sargent, well known as the able director of the gymnasium of Harvard. It is interesting to watch the deaf athletes in their recreation hours, some playing games entirely by signal, others going through the "Lancers," without music, of course, the inexperienced making a deafening noise with tables and chairs and feet.
As a rule the signs imitate so closely the action or object described that they may be readily understood; but there are as many degrees of intelligibility in sign-making as there are in distinctness of speech. "Open the door" is expressed by joining the tips of the fingers, the hands being horizontal, and swinging the right hand outward from the wrist as a door would swing on its hinges; "improvement" is rendered by stretching out the left arm, and climbing up it, as on a ladder, with the right hand. Animals are usually described by sonic characteristic habit: scratching with two right fingers in the left palm means "hen"; slapping the thigh and snapping the fingers mean "dog." That dear old prayer, "Now I lay me down to sleep," becomes a. touching little pantomime from a deaf -mute child; or, again, a fable is rendered by one with such droll actions, such variety of facial expression, such animation, that it is infinitely more interesting than the recitation could ever be. Few people have ever seen so dramatic a representation as "Sheridan's Ride" was made in President Gallaudet's parlor one evening by a Senior. The danger, the alarm, the hurry, the fear, the snorting of the horse, imitated by his tongue, the clatter of hoofs, imitated by his hands, the booming of cannon, imitated by stamping violently, his eager face, his heaving breast, every limb and feature in significant motion, gave the familiar lines an actuality that was truly wonderful.
Rip Van Winkle's question to his Catskill host suggests itself to visitors of these institutions -" Are there any deaf and dumb girls?" - and not unlike the mountaineer's reply come statistics to show that females constitute a decided minority of the silent community. This flagrant example of the sex's inequality is earnestly commended to the attention of the Woman's Rights Association.
A young Benedictine, the Abbe De l'Epee, first organized a method of instruction for the deaf and dumb. Assuming that pantomime is the natural means of communication for deaf-mutes, he established a sign language by which, and the manual alphabet, they could converse and acquire instruction. This was accomplished in 1760, and with material modifications is known today as the "French method." A few years later a German, Heinicke, devised a system which might be briefly described as the opposite of De l'Epee's. Assuming that articulate speech was the natural method of communication for all humanity, and pantomime but an expedient, he devised a method for teaching deaf-mutes articulation by artificial methods, such as manipulating the organs of the throat, and training them to read from the motion of the lips what was said to them. This is known as the "German method." The third, established about the same time by Braidwood, a Scotchman, and known as the "English method," identical with the German, making therefore virtually but two systems, reviewing which it might be said that while the aim of the German was higher, the benefits of the French must be more general. Schools established on either principle extend all over Europe, from Sweden to Italy, from Great Britain to Russia, and in 1867, desirous to see the practical working of each President Gallaudet visited thirty-six of these institutions. Nine, embracing about one thousand scholars, were conducted strictly on the French method; eight, embracing about six hundred scholars, on the German method; in the remaining nineteen, embracing about twenty-five hundred scholars, the two methods were combined in different proportions. Mr. Gallaudet’s conclusions, set forth in a valuable report, are decidedly in favor of a combined system. The use of the German alone involves excessive labor for both teacher and pupil; in cases of congenital deafness it is useless in a majority of cases; but few of those who pursue it are able to hold free conversation with strangers, and even partial success demands an outlay of time and money few can afford.
The French method, improved by Sicard, was introduced to the United States in 1817 by Dr. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, of Hartford, who, with the aid of Clem, a deaf-mute; established in that city, under private patronage, the first American deaf-mute school. Early in its history it was generously endowed by the national government, and today every State in the Union provides for the education of deaf-mutes, the Illinois institution, which has over five hundred scholars, being the largest in the world. In some of the institutions trades are taught, such as cabinet and shoe-making, tailoring, printing, lithographing, bookbinding, and gardening; and in a few cities rooms in public schools have been devoted to deaf-mutes. The basis of American instruction is the French method, which prevailed exclusively till within the last sixteen years, and the introduction of the German method is regarded by many as experimental.
The French method is retained in the schools at Kendall Green, but articulation and lip-reading are taught in the primary schools, and made use of in the college.
The number of deaf-mutes in the country is about thirty-five thousand, of whom more than seven thousand were under instruction in 1883. Dumbness without deafness is seldom met with except in idiots, but total congenital deafness is invariably accompanied by dumbness. Deafness may be primarily incidental to diseases of the head and ears, fevers, etc., but in three cases out of five it is congenital.
The college at Washington is the only deaf-mute college in the world. Its purpose appeals to all humanity; its success justifies the generosity of the government; its progress reflects high honor on the gentleman identified so intimately with it.
Allied to the philanthropic cause by the example of a noble father, one of its first apostles, and for the sake of a devoted mother, herself a deaf-mute, Edward M. Gallaudet brought to his work the enthusiasm of youth and the incentive of personal interest, and the lapse of time has added the experience he lacked at the outset. From the little frame house with its two acres of ground to the stately buildings which now adorn Kendall Green, for twenty-five years he has watched the institution faithfully, sped its progress, guided its development, controlled it prudently, administered it economically, and inspired it with the high principles of a cultivated Christian gentleman.
Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. July 1884.