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s you may already have known, I’m a History Major at Chapman University right now. I’m allowed to do my Senior Thesis on any historical topic that I want (best news ever, by the way), so I have chosen to become a Deaf Historian for the next year-and-a-half! I’m studying the National Association of the Deaf films that were made between 1910 and 1920 in an effort to preserve sign language. So far, it’s been fascinating. I haven’t been able to get my hands on all the films yet, but I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to soon. They’re all at the Gallaudet University archives, along with all the correspondence of NAD President George Veditz. It also looks like a school-sponsored trip to the Gallaudet archives might be in the cards for me. Super exciting!
So, as part of my task to get rolling on this subject, I had to create an essay on how others have studied that topic in the past. It’s ten pages long, and heavily footnoted (Yikes!). I’ve included the intro down below, because I think it really gives a lot of info on the background of the films that’s fun, and also super interesting. I always say to take my stuff with a grain of salt, because it’s not particularly well-researched, but you can take this one as well-researched fact. I’ll paste the footnotes at the bottom. I’ll also post the whole essay at some point, but I want to make it easy for those who don’t want to wade through a ten page essay on historic theory to skip. 🙂 Here it is!
George Veditz and the National Association for the Deaf Films
In 1880 in Milan, Italy, the International Congress on Education for the Deaf voted to ban the use of sign language in Deaf schools.  Spurred by the rhetoric of Alexander Graham Bell, known to most Americans as the inventor of the telephone, American Deaf schools flocked to comply with the Milan Conference’s decision. In return, a movement was spawned by Deaf community leaders advocating sign language instruction, fiercely hanging onto the culture they had fought so hard to create. Still, it looked as if the Deaf were losing this fight as Alexander Graham Bell, a follower of eugenics, tried to convince everyone that the Deaf were forming their own separate race. Even those who didn’t subscribe to eugenics “demanded the elimination of sign language, believing that it undermined English language acquisition and promoted deaf separatism.”  In the end, deaf people would have to live in a hearing world, they argued, and they should have the skills to deal with that fact. Science has since proved what Deaf people knew all along, that this theory does not work in practicality. Keeping sign language away from deaf people keeps all language away from deaf people, and can be harmful to cognitive development. Still, it looked as if sign might become extinct in the near future.
This is the climate in which the National Association of the Deaf, under President George Veditz, decided to make several films for the preservation of Sign Language. “The N.A.D… has collected a fund of $5,000, called the Moving Picture Fund.” Veditz wrote, “…I am sorry that it is not $20,000.” With such a limited budget, Veditz and the NAD Board had to decide carefully which signers they would film and what subjects they would cover. Ultimately, the films they chose to make tended to center on Deaf history, American patriotism, and religion. Eighteen films were made in all, from the years 1913-1920, but only fourteen of these survived to the modern age. The loss of 4 films was due in large part to their heavy use by the Deaf community, and the poorly trained film operators responsible for winding the machines.
The films were made by pointing a static camera at the signers and having them lecture to it. Often, small amounts of scenery such as vases and curtains were placed in the background for visual effect. Because of the black and white picture and the poor resolution of the film, signers had to make sure they produced their signs large and signed slowly so everyone could see them. After a few mistakes, most notably the film showing Edward Minter Gallaudet’s lecture – a retelling of Lorna Doone – filmmakers were also careful to place the lecturers on plain, dark backgrounds so their hands would show up easily. These films compared favorably with other films of the time in technical skill and appearance.
Once the films were completed, they were circulated throughout the United States to local Deaf Clubs. These clubs would often couple the film screening with live entertainment, making each screening a huge event in the local Deaf community. Large groups of signers would congregate in the hall downtown to see the films. Sometimes, requests were made for the NAD to send transcripts of the films that could be read for any hearing visitors in the audience. Although Veditz’s film, featuring his impassioned plea for sign language is the best known today, it was E.M. Gallaudet’s film that was most requested when the films were released, despite the difficult background of his film. This was probably due to the popularity of E.M. Gallaudet’s father, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. T.H. Gallaudet had been instrumental in forming the first school for the Deaf, in Hartford, Connecticut.
Although the films had a major impact on the Deaf community when they were first produced, scholarship on them has been spotty at best. Many books cover the topic, but devote no more than a few pages to the exploration of the history of these films. Some give no more than a brief mention to Veditz’s films as being the precursor to modern Sign Language recording. This paper attempts to explore in greater detail not only the motives behind George Veditz’s creation of these films, and how these films influenced deaf culture as a whole, but also why the topic hasn’t been better covered by Deaf Historians.
That’s it for now. I hope you enjoyed! 🙂 Also, a link to Veditz’s film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XITbj3NTLUQ
 The deaf community uses the term “Deaf” with a capital D to denote the segment of deaf people who consider themselves culturally deaf. This separates them from other groups such as the elderly, who may experience total hearing loss, but hardly identify with the Deaf as a community. I feel it is important to make this designation in the language Deaf people use about themselves, and have continued this practice throughout the paper.
 Daniel Eagan, America’s Film Legacy, (The Continuum Publishing Group: New York, 2012), Page 11
 Signs of Resistance, Page 3
 Oliver Sacks, Seeing Voices: A Journey Into the World of the Deaf, (University of California Press: Berkley, 1990), Page 54
 Eagan, America’s Film Legacy, Page 11
 Susan Burch, Signs of Resistance: American Deaf Cultural History 1900-WWII, (New York University Press: New York, 2002), Page 58
 Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, Inside Deaf Culture, (Harvard University Press: Massachusetts, 2005), Page 58
 Padden and Humphries, Inside Deaf Culture, Page 63
 Padden and Humphries, inside Deaf Culture, (Harvard University Press: Massachusetts, 2005), Page 63
etty G. Miller was born in 1934, and her parents were both Deaf. Betty had two older brothers who were hearing, so everyone just assumed that Betty was too, especially because she could clearly hear a little bit. It was a surprise to everyone in her family when she attended Kindergarten for the first time and was diagnosed as Hard of Hearing. This threw her family for a loop. Remembering all the prejudice and oppression they had experienced at the hands of hearing people, Betty’s parents decided that they wanted her to make the most use of whatever hearing she had. This is why they made the surprising decision to send her to Bell School in Chicago – a school known for Oralistic practices. Later, Betty’s parents took her out of Bell School and switched her into a regular mainstream school. But the mainstream school didn’t have speech therapy, so Betty went to still another school in the evenings to be tutored in speech.
Betty did the best she could at these schools, and was a very successful student. She got her degree in Art Education from Pennsylvania State University , but it wasn’t until she started to teach at Gallaudet University that things seemed to click for her. She finally felt the sense of belonging that she had missed out on in her mainstream school career. Betty’s art focused completely on the Deaf experience, depicting the oppression Deaf people face at the hands of hearing, and also exhibiting the joy of sign that can be found throughout the Deaf community. Many of her paintings depict puppet-like deaf people – no doubt a response to all her speech therapy classes. Artwork that focused entirely on the Deaf experience was an entirely new form of artwork in the 1970’s, and came to be called “Deaf View/Image Art.” Or De’VIA Betty was one of the early pioneers of this form of art.
Betty’s first one woman show took place at Gallaudet University in 1972, entitled “The Silent World”. It was so successful, that throughout the 1970s’, she continued to have shows frequently at Gallaudet. They were all very well received. This spurred a series of one woman shows throughout the 1980’s and ‘90’s, and also many collaborative shows with other Deaf artists. In 1993, Betty put on a showcase of eight Deaf artists, which was the largest collection of De’VIA that had ever taken place.
After 13 years of teaching at Gallaudet, Betty decided it was time to move on. After a time touring around the country putting on shows, she became a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor – the first Deaf person to ever do so. This has allowed her to have a rewarding career helping other Deaf people overcome serious addiction problems, and also educating other Drug and Alcohol counselors on how best to work with Deaf people. She has published a book about her and others experiences entitled “Deaf and Sober: Journeys Through Recovery” which she has both authored and illustrated.
Betty is currently in her 80’s. Unfortunately, she has suffered from some memory loss and doesn’t create art very often anymore. When she does, it’s usually in Neon – a medium she discovered in the late 1990’s. Still, her pioneering efforts in the field of De’VIA will always be remembered as some of the greatest contributions of the 20th century art world. Without Betty, the world would be a little less bright and a little less Deaf-aware.
odger Young was born in the small, rural town of Tiffin, Ohio. His family moved nearby, to the smaller town of Green Springs a few years later. Rodger was the oldest of five children, and the family loved to get together and play music as a group. Rodger also grew up hunting with his father in the woods and was an excellent marksman.
In Green Springs, sports was the hinge-pin of the community. When Rodger started High School, he was determined to make his mark on the ball field despite his small stature. He was too small to play Football, and the coach wouldn’t allow him to participate. At 5’2″ he was also too short to play Basketball, but the coach took pity on him and decided to let him play anyway because of his enthusiasm. Mostly, Rodger played in practice games, but it was during a regular game that tragedy struck. Rodger was fouled and knocked flat onto the concrete, hitting his head and blacking out. In the months following his accident, Rodger’s hearing and eyesight deteriorated to the point where he was almost completely deaf and needed to wear thick glasses.
Rodger’s school work was greatly impacted by his accident. He could no longer hear the teacher, and he could no longer see the blackboard in class, no matter how close to the front of the room he sat. After a year of struggling to keep his grades up, Rodger decided to drop out of High School and go to work for the local factory. His family could use the money, and he didn’t feel like his school career was going anywhere.
A few years later, wanting a little extra spending cash, Rodger joined the Ohio National Guard with his brother. During peace time, the national guard would meet a couple of weekends a year and there was little expectation that they would be in actual combat. Rodger had been interested in the military before his accident, but knew that his hearing and eyesight would keep him out of the official US Army. He didn’t pass the test to get into the National Guard with flying colors, but he explained to the man in charge why he wanted to join up, and they let him anyway.
The expectation that the National Guard wouldn’t be in actual combat ended with Pearl Harbor. Suddenly, the Ohio National Guard had become nationalized as part of the regular US Army, and Rodger was on his way to the South Pacific to fight in World War 2. Because of his amazing performance as a soldier in the National Guard, Roger was given the rank of Sergeant with a troop of men under his command. He did his best to hide the true extent of his hearing loss from the higher-ups in the Army, but it was well known that his hearing wasn’t perfect.
When word came from the top that a big campaign to take control of the Munda Airstrip would be underway, Rodger began to worry. He knew he could take care of himself in battle, but he didn’t want to be responsible for others lives when he may not be able to hear an order to retreat, or hear where the enemy was located. That night, he went to his commanding officer and asked to be demoted to a private. At first, his commanding officer thought he was trying to get out of fighting completely, and he wouldn’t let Rodger step down. Eventually, the officer ordered that a hearing test be performed. When the test showed that Rodger was deaf, the commanding officer tried to send him away from the battle, but Rodger wouldn’t go. He insisted on staying and fighting, and the officer sent in Rodgers demotion paperwork that night. Rodger would be responsible only for himself.
The battle didn’t go well for Rodger’s unit. They were taking heavy machine-gun fire from a mounted gun operated by 5 Japanese men. The machine-gun was set on top of a hill, and covered ground for miles. Rodger’s unit had gotten themselves into a safe position for the moment, hiding behind some trees, but if they were to either advance or retreat, most of them would have probably been killed. They couldn’t wait out the situation, either, as the Japanese would surely have ambushed them. After carefully reviewing the situation, the Sergeant in charge of the unit decided to order the men to retreat anyway, as he didn’t see any other way out of the situation. According to reports, Rodger looked right at the man and said, “I’m sorry Sir, but you know I don’t hear very well,” and went running toward the machine-gun. He was able to launch a grenade into the midst of the five men operating the gun, killing them all, before dying of his wounds. This heroic act allowed the rest of his unit to escape the battle without further loss of life. It also gained Roger Young a posthumous Medal of Honor.
A year or so after Rodger’s death, the Army decided that they’d like to have a song made about one of their heroes. They commisioned a man named Frank Loesser to look through the Medal of Honor citations for a Private, and to tell that man’s story in song. Thus the ballad of Rodger Young was born. Had Rodger kept his rank as Sergeant, he would not have had a song made of his story.
Though Rodger Young was an unlikely looking hero with his coke-bottle glasses and his short frame, he saved many people’s lives that day in the South Pacific. He will be remembered throughout history as a brave and courageous man.
he MacArthur Fellowship Genius Grants were announced a few days ago. For those of you who don’t know what this is, the John D. and Catherine T. Macarthur foundation gives $500,000.00 to 20-40 Americans who “show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.” These Americans can be in any field and they can spend the money on whatever they feel like, no strings attached.
This year Carol Padden was one of the recipients! Carol and her husband, Tom Humphries, wrote several books about Deaf Culture, including “Deaf in America: voices from a culture”, “Inside Deaf Culture”, and two textbooks for learning American Sign Language. I have read many of her books and consider them some of the best I’ve ever read on the subject of Deaf Culture.
Carol was born Deaf to her two Deaf parents and she also has a Deaf brother. She attended a Deaf elementary school for a time before being put into a mainstream school. Currently, Carol is a professor at University of California San Diego and studies signed languages. She recently studied a new signed language in Africa that uses the actual body of the signer to indicate pronouns, as opposed to the area around the signer as in American Sign Language.
Carol is the first ever Deaf recipient of the Genius Grant. She says she has no concrete plans for the money yet, but will probably use it for creative research. “Maybe I have a few wild ideas I’ve been obsessing about,” she said in an interview “But they’re a little bit crazy. I’m not going to tell you about them until I can make them sound a little more rational.”
Not only am I excited that the field of Sign linguistics has gotten such amazing recognition, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person. Congratulations Carol Padden!!!
ranville Redmond was born on March 9th, 1871. At the age of two, he contracted Scarlett Fever and became deaf. His parents wanted him to have every opportunity possible, so they moved the family out to California so he could attend the California School for the Deaf, in Berkley. As soon as Granville entered an art class, it was certain what his profession would be. He was extremely gifted in just about all aspects of art, and studied pantomime, sculpture, drawing and painting. Granville was so talented at painting that his teacher, Theophilus d’Estrella, encouraged him to apply to the California School of Design in San Francisco. He was accepted almost immediately
Granville’s years at the California School of Design were marked by success. He won the famous W. E. Brown Medal of Excellence and was hailed as one of the top students in the school. Perhaps most importantly he met Gottardo Piazzoni, another student at the school. The two became fast friends and remained so for the rest of their lives, Gottardo learning to sign so the two could communicate better.
After three years at the California School of Design, the California School for the Deaf decided that Granville was so talented they wanted to sponsor him to attend an art school in Paris. Granville enrolled at the Academie Julien in Paris with several other students who were sponsored by the California School for the Deaf, including his roommate, Douglas Tilden. Granville’s time at the Paris school was also successful for him, and culminated in his painting, Matin d’hivre, being accepted into the world famous Paris Salon in 1895.
When he returned from Paris, Granville decided to settle in Los Angeles. There he fell in love with the beaches, and started painting many of the ocean scenes he’s best known for. He also fell in love with a deaf woman named Carrie Ann Jean. The two were married in 1899 and had three children. To make ends meet, Granville often worked as an illustrator for various periodicals, and painted scenes for the Santa Fe Railroad. The family moved several times during this period, living in San Mateo, Tiburon, and Parkfield. This gave Granville more and more material for his paintings and by 1905 he was known as the leading California landscape painter. His impressionistic California landscapes were often compared to artists such as Monet and Pizarro.
Although his painting career was going well, Granville was fascinated by the movies. All movies being made were silent at this time, so Granville’s deafness was not an obstacle, and he suspected that with his background in pantomime he could make a great movie star. Granville moved back to Los Angeles in 1917 to pursue an acting career. Shortly after his move, he met Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin was fascinated by Granville’s abilities and the two eventually became friends. Chaplin asked Granville to teach him to sign, and in return Granville was given a bit part in the movie A Dog’s Life. Granville did such a great job that he often appeared in Chaplin’s films after that. Even better, Chaplin arranged for Granville to set up a painting studio on the movie studio lot. In his spare time, Granville also liked to travel to Laguna Beach to paint outdoors.
Granville died in Hollywood on May 24, 1935. He will always be known for his paintings featuring the rolling hills of California dotted by wildflowers, the moody colors of sunsets and moonlit waters, and beautiful brown vignettes of trees. His work is featured in museums across America and is still widely popular. Just before he died, Granville stated: “The highest tribute paid to an artist is the reflection of man’s noblest work – to inspire.” Granville’s life was wealth of artistic experiences. His vision will always live on in the inspiration he has been giving future artists for generations.
ndrew Foster was born in 1925 in Ensley, Alabama where racism was at it’s strongest. His father was a coal miner and the family had very little economic opportunity. When he was 11 years old, Andrew and his brother both contracted Spinal Meningitis and became Deaf. The family did what they could to send the boys to the Alabama School for Colored Deaf in Talladega, but their education wasn’t very good. When Andrew was 16, the family moved into his Aunt’s house so the boys could get a better education. Andrew finished high school at the Michigan School for the Deaf.
The family was deeply religious and attended church services every Sunday. It was in Sunday School that Andrew realized his true calling. A missionary from Jamaica came to the school one weekend and gave a talk about his work in Africa. Andrew was extremely interested in the man’s experiences and felt that it was his calling in life to become a missionary in Africa too. If he was to succeed, Andrew also knew he would need a lot of education. He wrote to Gallaudet College and they accepted him on a full scholarship. He was the first black student to ever have been accepted at Gallaudet; four years later he became the first black, deaf graduate of Gallaudet in 1954. He then went on to accieve two Master’s degrees.
Then came the hard part. Andrew visited every mission he could think of, but in spite of his thorough education they would not accept him as a missionary because of his race. Instead, Andrew finally started his own mission. He flew to Liberia for the first time in 1957. What he saw there was extremely upsetting. The other missionaries he was in contact with told him that deaf people didn’t exist in Africa at all, but eventually Andrew found them. Many people thought that deafness was a sign that a person was cursed, so parents were forced to hide their children. Deaf children who weren’t hidden were frequently left in the wilderness to be eaten by animals. There was absolutely no education available, and most Africans believed that the deaf were unable to be educated. The best a deaf person in Africa could hope for was to become a family’s servant, using rudimentary signs for basic communication. Andrew knew he had to do everything he could to change the fate of African deafs.
Andrew heard about a community in Ghana with a high rate of hereditary deafness, much like Martha’s Vineyard in the United States. Figuring that he could make an impact quickly in this community, he traveled to Ghana and used the regular school facilities to teach deaf students after hours. Within no time at all, he had 300 families from all over Africa requesting that he teach their children as well. The borrowed facilities were no longer enough. Andrew flew back to the United States to raise money for a permanent boarding school to be built. A year later, the first school for the deaf in Africa opened in Nigeria.
Andrew faithfully promoted his new schools everywhere he could. It was at the Third World Congress for the Deaf that he met the love of his life, a German deaf woman named Berta. She felt just as strongly about Andrew’s mission as he did. They were married in Nigeria in 1961, and worked together to establish more schools across Africa. In addition to the schools, they also established deaf Churches, Sunday Schools, Youth Camps, and Teacher Training facilities. The two also had five children, 4 boys and 1 girl.
Sadly, in 1975 Berta was diagnosed with terminal Cancer. Although their worst fears weren’t realized (she is still alive and well today), Berta felt that she could not keep up with their nomadic life in Africa any longer. She and the children moved back to the United States. Andrew still felt that he had not finished his work in Africa. He decided to split his time, spending half of the year in America with his family and the other half of the year in Africa establishing more schools and churches. In 1970, Gallaudet University honored Andrew with an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters.
In 1987, Andrew was on a small plane traveling between schools when the plane crashed in the hills of Rwanda. There were 11 people on board the flight and none of them survived; Andrew was 62 years old. As one of his students, Gabriel Adepoju, said, “Andrew Foster is to Africa what Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet is to the United States of America.” Andrew established 31 schools in over 17 African countries. The mission he started is still going strong, and his legacy lives on in the tens of thousands of deaf Africans who are now literate and living good lives thanks to his lifelong effort on their behalf.
uliette Magill Kinzie Gordon was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1860, the second of six children. Her father was a wealthy and well-known citizen in Savannah, and a Captain in the Confederate army during the American Civil War. Juliette received a debutante’s upbringing, attending several boarding schools before graduating from Mesdemoselles Charbonniers French finishing school in New York City. She was well-known for her vibrant sense of humor and her artistic abilities; she wrote poems, acted in plays, drew, painted, and sculpted. Unfortunately, Juliette’s early years were also plagued with chronic ear infections. When she was 25, one of these ear infections was improperly treated with Silver Nitrate, leaving her almost completely deaf in one ear.
In New York City Juliette met William MacKay Low, the son of a wealthy land owner in England. They dated for four years before getting married. At the wedding, a grain of good-luck rice got lodged in Juliette’s good ear. The doctor who removed it punctured her eardrum and destroyed most of the nerves inside her ear, rendering her completely deaf. That didn’t stop Juliette. She and William moved to his estate in England. He was away a good portion of the time, and he tended to drink a lot, so Juliette proceeded to travel. She divided her time between Scotland, England, and America.
When the Spanish American War broke out at home, Juliette felt it was her duty to move back to America and help her mother establish a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers returning from the war. When she returned to England several years later, she found that William had been having an affair. The two agreed to start divorce proceedings, officially separating in 1902. But before the divorce could be finalized, William died of a stroke and left his entire fortune to his mistress. After months of legal negotiations, Juliette was granted the sum of $500,000, which would enable her to continue living her life as she liked.
Again, Juliette went traveling, this time in hopes that she would find something productive to do with her life. In 1911, she met the founder of the Scouting movement, Robert Baden-Powell, and his sister Agnes. Agnes had started a Scouting group for girls in England, called the Girl Guides. Juliette was excited. She immediately started a troop for poor girls in Scotland, and then two more troops in London. In 1912, she moved her permanent residence back to America and imediately started a group of Girl Guides in Savannah.
In 1913, the name of Juliette’s group was changed to the “Girl Scouts of America.” It took off like wildfire, and in 1915 the organization was incorporated. Juliette put everything she could into the organization, even going without electricity so she could pump more of her money into making the Girl Scouts wonderful. She served as the president until 1920, when she was granted the title of Founder.
In 1923, Juliette learned that she had Breast Cancer. Refusing to let others feel sorry for her, she hid her condition and continued working tirelessly for the Girl Scouts. She died in 1927 and was burried in her Scout uniform in Savannah, Georgia. Though many disheartening things happened to Juliette, she never lost her positive outlook and quirky sense of humor. She fostered pride and self-worth in millions of girls in an era when they were being told to stay at home and have babies. And she did it all without being able to hear.
orn in 1905 in Galveston Texas, Leroy Colombo was the son of Italian immigrants. At 7 years old he got sick with meningitis, which caused him to lose his hearing and also made him paralysed from the waist down. His two brothers encouraged him to take up swimming as a way to strengthen his legs, and within a year Leroy was walking again. More importantly, he discovered how much he loved being in the water. When Leroy’s parents sent him to the Texas School for the Deaf in Austin, Texas, he hardly ever left the pool. In his six years at school, Leroy broke several records for speed and distance. While visiting his parents, he also made his first rescue on Galveston Beach. He was only twelve years old.
After six years at the Texas School for the Deaf, Leroy went back to his parent’s house. He started surfing on the local beaches, becoming one of the first people to surf in Galveston. In 1923, Leroy joined the prestigious Toboggan Club, passing their entry test of swimming three straight hours without outside support or floating. The same year he also became an official lifeguard, although he had been saving lives unofficially for some time. When Leroy would notice a swimmer out too far, he would blow the whistle like crazy and pound his chest to let the swimmer know to come in. His brothers owned a raft, seat, and umbrella rental business, and Leroy would also sometimes work a day or two for them, if they needed the help or were going on vacation.
Leroy was an amazing swimmer and the record books are full of stories about how great he was. In 1927, he completed a 15 mile swim of the Gulf of Mexico in 11 hours. Most of the other participants never even finished the race, dropping out either due to muscle cramps or jellyfish stings. During a 10 mile race along the Mississippi river, he dislocated his arm at mile 8 and completed the race with one hand. He didn’t win, but neither did the Olympic swimmer Johnny Weismuller of Tarzan fame, who was also competing. He rescued two crew men from the water after a tugboat burst into flame, swimming underneath burning oil to save their lives. Most importantly, Leroy saved over 900 lives in his career as a lifeguard, a number proudly enshrined in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Leroy wasn’t just great in the water. He was well-known along the beach as a friendly guy with a great sense of humor. He could read lips well and spoke clearly. He would frequently roam the beaches alone, and he was quick to anger whenever anyone left a mess in the public facilities. After he retired at the age of 62, he still went swimming every day.
After Leroy’s death in 1974, the citizens of Galveston erected a plaque along the sea wall in his honor. The annual 5K run in Galveston is named after him, and there are numerous pictures of him tacked in lifeguard stations all along the beach. Leroy is also frequently used as an example in anti-discrimination lawsuits when deaf people have been denied the right to become lifeguards due to their inability to hear people calling for help. Though his accomplishments are many, Leroy’s greatest legacy is probably the 907 lives he saved from the blue waters of the Gulf.
inda Bove was born on 1945, to two Deaf parents. She grew up learning to speak ASL, and attended the New Jersey school for the Deaf. After graduating, she attended Gallaudet University where she studied Library Science and performed in plays for fun. One summer, she attended a program set up by the National Theater for the Deaf, and decided to join their company after graduating from Gallaudet instead of becoming a librarian as she had previously planned to. She met a man named Ed Waterstreet who was also a member of the National Theater for the Deaf company and they were married in 1970.
When the National Theater for the Deaf was asked to do some work for Sesame Street, Linda was excited to join them, and when Sesame Street decided they wanted to create a position for her, she was thrilled. Linda became Linda the Librarian to millions of children around the United States. She was able to show hearing people a positive portrayal of a proud Deaf woman who was capable of anything. She also taught American Sign Language to children through the show, and published several books designed for teaching ASL to kids. Her role as Linda the Librarian lasted from 1971 – 2003, and brought Linda the distinction of holding the longest roll of any Deaf person in the entertainment industry.
In between her work on Sesame Street, Linda also appeared on the soap opera Search for Tomorrow, and on Happy Days. She also understudied the roll of Sarah Norman in Children of a Lesser God. In 1991, Linda and her husband founded Deaf West Theater in Los Angeles. Deaf West puts on plays and musicals, performed simultaneously in ASL and spoken English. They won several awards for their adaption of Big River, and premiered the first revival of Pippin since the 1970’s at the Mark Taper Forum in 2008.
Today Linda continues to perform on the stage, sometimes with her husband Ed. She is also a big supporter of an organization called the Non Traditional Casting Project, which encourages the casting of minorities and people with perceived disabilities. Through her work in spreading the knowledge of sign into mainstream communities, and also by providing a positive roll for deaf children everywhere, Linda has been a great ambassador for Deaf Culture.
t happens with every American icon, the fathers of progress, the day you realize that they weren’t perfect, that they had troubles in life too. Some of them you also realize weren’t exactly good people either. Walt Disney hired a lot of women specifically so he could pay them less, Henry Ford was anti-Semitic, and Alexander Graham Bell was heavily into Eugenics, to name a few. I grew up hearing about all the wonderful things Alexander Graham Bell did for society, and it can’t be denied that he was a brilliant inventor who gave us the Telephone, among other things. He looks like such a benevolent friend in his old black and white photos, his eyes twinkling, his bushy beard lying Santa-like on his collar with his smiling family surrounding him. Add all this up with the fact that he started a Deaf school and you start to think he was a truly great man who was a wonderful advocate for the Deaf, however the reality lies burried deeper in the facade of his perfect-on-paper existence. Most Deaf people today think of Alexander Graham Bell as the less evil, American version of Hitler who decimated the cultural advances of Deaf people for decades. So, which version is true? A little of both.
At first glance, Alec (as his family called him) looks like he should be a great Deaf advocate. Alec’s mother was deaf, and this made a huge impression on him. He would sit near her when they had company and fingerspell to her so she knew what was going on, and he started his experiments in sound after he realized that she could feel the vibrations of his speech when he talked into her forehead. Speech and sound was also the family business: Alec’s uncles and father were all Elocutionists, and his father had invented Bell’s Visible Speech, a set of phonetic characters by which it was thought that Deaf people would be able to learn to speak quickly and easily. The family toured Europe, America, and Canada promoting Bell’s Visible Speech, which was later found to not work very well. Still, Alec capitalized on his family’s association with Deaf people and founded a Deaf school in Boston which focused only on the Oral method. He took private pupils as well and married one of them, Mabel Hubbard, with whom he had 2 gorgeous little girls, both hearing. A well known figure in the Deaf community, Alec even had a book dedicated to him by Helen Keller. Doesn’t he seem like the perfect Deaf advocate?
The truth is a little more complicated. In reality, Alec’s mother was a woman who couldn’t admit to being deaf. She insisted on being called Hard of Hearing, carried around an ear trumpet, and painstakingly learned to play a piano she couldn’t hear in denial of her deafness. This unfortunate attitude probably colored Alec’s perspective of deaf ideas, making him think that all deaf people felt badly about being that way and wanted to be hearing, a false idea still perpetuated today. By insisting on using the oral method only in his school Alec created a situation in which the Deaf were as isolated from each other as they were from the hearing world. He would sometimes have children’s hands tied behind their backs for hours if they continued to communicate in the only way they knew how, by signing. Worse still, his foray into Eugenics produced a heap of debilitating ideas about Deafness that are still in widespread use 100 years later. Alec railed against America letting in “undesirable foreigners” to procreate with the perfect American race, and insisted that English be made the national language, even at the expense of Sign Language which he claimed was not a real language anyway. Though Alec didn’t promote forced sterilization himself, he belonged to plenty of organizations that did. Instead, he advocated for Deaf people being kept completely apart from one another. He reasoned that if they could never meet, they would never marry, and would not have Deaf children. The myth that most Deaf people have Deaf children is another one of the misconceptions still being refuted today. I always feel a little melancholy for Alec’s deaf wife Mabel. She must have lived a completely solitary existence, ensconced in her hearing family, denying her deafness. Alec’s invention of the Telephone only made things worse for Deaf people. He suddenly had an enormous pulpit of fame and influence from which to shout his damaging ideas, and he made sure to do it. His ideas ushered in an era in which sign language was almost lost, Deaf people were isolated from each other, and many were denied employment.
If you asked Alexander Graham Bell if he was a friend or a foe, undoubtedly he would have said friend. He thought that he was providing deaf people with an important opportunity to be more like hearing people, even though it was something they didn’t want. I’m sure he also would argue that his Eugenic ideas, if not popular, were at least creating a stronger human race. While his intentions may have been harmless, there is no denying the damage he did to deaf equality for more than 100 years. The ideas that deaf people can be easily taught to speak, that they almost always have deaf children, that they don’t want to be deaf, and that American Sign Language isn’t really a language, are all myths that were started by Bell and are still believed by a vast amount of hearing people. The myths he perpetuated and the quest he started to keep deaf people from each other clearly place Alexander Graham Bell in the foe category. I personally think deaf people are right to abhor everything Bell stands for, and I think if more hearing people knew about the negative impact he had on deaf society, they would abhor that too. Perhaps being raised in the family business of Elocution made it inevitable that Bell would be on the wrong side of the issue. It’s sad he couldn’t put aside his preconceived notions and listen to the deaf community all around him.