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Deaf Arm

ASLDeaf Clubs were places where Deaf people could gather together to chat and socialize on a day to day basis.  Much more than a place for card games and conversation, Deaf Clubs  were deeply ingrained into the Deaf Culture of their time providing a place where Deaf people could attend performances by Deaf comedians, plays, lectures, film screenings, and holiday parties, as well as get caught up on the news of the day, conduct business and arrange for services before telephones were practical.  Deaf Clubs even frequently sponsored athletic events and group outings.  Many of the cultural practices still visible in the Deaf community today have their roots in Deaf Club performances, including ABC Stories. 

Though the 1940s and 1950s were the golden age for Deaf Clubs, many started meeting as early as the late 1910’s.  These early clubs usually rented space in which to meet, and frequently the places changed location.  As Clubs gained in popularity, many were able to collect dues from their members and buy permanent accommodations.  These were the first public spaces owned by Deaf people, spaces carved out of a Hearing wilderness to form permanent places where Deaf could be themselves without reservation. 

Deaf Clubs were born out of the solitary lives most Deaf people led during the 1920’s to the 1950’s.  Many were working in jobs with no other Deaf people around, such as blue collar jobs in manufacturing and printing.  In a time before the civil rights movement, interpreters  and other important communication tools were frequently unavailable and Deaf people were expected to perform their mindless assembly line job without comment.  The Deaf Club was a place to go and blow off steam, where everyone spoke the same language and was ready for fun. 

In the 1960’s, Deaf Clubs began to decline.  As more and more Deaf people started working in white collar jobs such as teaching, and the civil rights movement insisted to America that everyone deserved to be treated equally, Deaf people were not so isolated in the workplace.  The invention of the TTY in the 1970’s and the wider use of Closed Captioning put the final nails in the Deaf Club coffin.  Deaf people no longer needed the Clubs for entertainment, nor to conduct business or arrange for services.  There are still a few Deaf Clubs in America, but their membership is usually small and decidedly aging.  The era of Deaf Clubs is definitively over.

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ASLSo far, I haven’t been living up to my expectations for the summer.  Work got a little crazy.  Ok, work got a lot crazy and I’ve been running my little bum off at all hours of the day and night.  When I come home at the end of the evening, I don’t want to look at where the Deaf Events are taking place, I just want to sleep.  I realized the other day that I hadn’t had a conversation with anyone in sign in more than a month.

At the same time, I’m only beginning to realize how ASL has been marinating in my consciousness.  I work in costuming, and I looked at my notes last night to realize that I had written “fairy shoes where?” so I could remember to find them, a distinctly ASL pattern of speech.  I briefly waved an “R” handshape at one of the costuming crew when I wanted to ask if she was ready to leave from across the room, before realizing that she couldn’t understand me and feeling slightly foolish.  I touched my middle finger to my forehead and rolled my eyes when a co-worker made a horribly bad pun.  Sometimes I visit my husband  at work and we have lunch together.  It’s not unusual to see me with a sandwich in one hand, signing with the other and a mouth full of food, trying to answer a question I was just asked.  ASL makes the rule “It’s not polite to talk with your mouth full” pretty much a moot point, and I love that.  Of course he doesn’t speak ASL, so I’m always repeating myself, but I can’t seem to help it.  Luckily he’s usually amused with me, not annoyed. 

The one thing I have been doing is reading a lot about Deaf Culture.  I’ve finished 2 1/2 books so far, and I have another 1 1/2 waiting for me on my bedside table in all their hard backed library glory.  I may not be signing, but I’m certainly still learning.  I started looking up Deaf Events again today, and I know I’m ready to return to the world of boisterous quiet just as soon as I find something that I don’t have to drive more than an hour to attend.  I’m looking forward to getting back out there soon.

BearHunt Baseball Player tilden TildenPenelope Mechanics Monument Tilden

ASLDouglas Tilden was born May 1st, 1860 to William Peregrine Tilden and Catherine Hecox Tilden.  His father was a doctor.  Douglas caught Scarlett Fever when he was four years old and became completely deaf.  His parents wanted him to have an education, so they sent him away to the California School for the Deaf, which was then located in Berkley. The school moved several times before finally ending up in Fremont where it’s located today.  After he finished school, Douglas accepted a teaching position. 

Throughout his eight year teaching at the school, Douglas made many figures out of clay.  When some of his work came to the attention of the faculty at the California School for the Deaf, they took up a collection to send him to New York and Paris to learn about sculpture.  In 1887, Douglas spent eight weeks in New York and about five years in paris studying under several famous sculptors, but mostly Paul Chopin who was also deaf.  While in Paris, Douglas won many sculpture design contests and had his work installed all over the world.  He returned triumphantly to the California School for the Deaf in 1893. 

In 1896, Douglas got married to Elizabeth Delano Cole.  Elizabeth was the deaf adopted daughter of a local entrepreneur, and renowned for her beauty.  They had two children, a daughter named Gladys, and a son named Willoughby Lee.  Their marriage was tempestuous, and ultimately ended in an extremely unfriendly divorce.  Elizabeth did serve as the model for an angel in Douglas’ sculpture titled “Native Son Monument”, now located in San Francisco. 

When he got married, Douglas left the California School for the Deaf to pursue sculpture full time.  The faculty at the school was upset by this.  They felt that because they had paid for his schooling in Paris, he owed them by either staying a teacher at the school or reimbursing them for the cost of his education.  Douglas had thought that his education had been a gift, and he felt he shouldn’t have to pay them back.  The California School for the Deaf ultimately confiscated one of his sculptures, “The Bear Hunt”, as payment for his tuition.  This sculpture is displayed on the campus today.  At this time, San Francisco was spending tons of money on public works of art to be displayed around town.  Because the Mayor of San Francisco, James Phelan, greatly admired Douglas’ work, he was chosen to do many of the sculptures that were comissioned, including “The Baseball Player” in Golden Gate Park, “Mechanics Monument” in Lownsdale Square, and “Admission Day” and “California Volunteers” on Market Street. 

Many of Douglas’s sculptures depict young athlethic men, and because of his failed relationship with his wife, many people have surmised that he may have been homosexual.  There has never been any evidence found to back up this theory, even among the extensive personal papers Douglas left behind after his death.  Though Douglas was most likely not gay, some of his sculputres, especially the sculpture called “The Football Players” on the UC Berkley campus have become adopted symbols of the gay pride movement.

After his divorce and James Phelan’s promotion to State Senator, Douglas tried to seek employment with the Californai School for the Deaf again, but fell prey to the tide of Oralism sweeping the nation: The California School for the Deaf no longer employed deaf teachers.  Instead, Douglas moved to Hollywood and began to sculpt dinosaurs and other extinct animals for historical and educational films.  The income from these films allowed him to set up a studio and take students, and he also became very active as an advocate for the deaf community. 

By 1930, even the small amount of work Douglas was getting in Hollywood had dried up.  He moved back to Berkley and filed for welfare.  Douglas died in Berkley on August 4th, 1934.  His daughter Gladys donated all of his old paperwork, correspondence, and photos to UC Berkley.  Because of Douglas’ habit of making small bronze sculptures for friends, and also as thank you gifts, many of his smaller works are still being discoverd by the general public today.

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