By Kevin Li
November 24, 2008
Louis Laurent Marie Clerc
Louis Laurent Marie Clerc also known as Laurent Clerc was born on
December 26, 1785 in La Balmes-les-Grottes, in southeastern France.
The first year of his life, he fell into a fireplace which caused him
to become deaf, lose his sense of smell, and created a permanent facial
scar on his right cheek.
Clerc was lead to believe he was born was
these disabilities, but his family believes it was caused by him
falling into the fireplace. As he grew, he did not spend time in
school, he spent his time taking care of cows, turkey, and horses. He
did not have an education until the age of twelve; when he was sent to
the National Institution for the Deaf.
The National Institution for the
Deaf was the first school for the deaf in the world.
Clerc did great at the school and in 1805 he was appointed as a
tutor and a teacher one year later. His salary was two hundred
In 1815, Clerc met Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet in England.
Gallaudet wanted to find a method to educate the Deaf in
America. Clerc and Gallaudet became good friends, and Gallaudet convinced
Clerc to move to America. Clerc was "on loan" to America for three
years according to the contract signed by Gallaudet.
The voyage took fifty-two days and during
the trip, Clerc taught Gallaudet “the method of the signs for
abstract ideas.” Gallaudet taught Clerc the English language. Clerc
taught for fifty years and finally retiring in 1858, when he was
seventy –three years old.
In 1817, Clerc and Gallaudet created the first Deaf American
institution. They rented a room and began to teach students how to
sign. The institution originally was named Asylum at Hartford for
the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb Persons; today it is called the
American School for the Deaf. Gallaudet became the principal, and
Clerc was the first teacher. Alice Gosgwell was the first student to
enroll into the school along with seven other students. Eventually,
the school had several hundreds students, ages ten to fifty. Those
students established their own schools across the nation and taught
other students the Clerk’s method of teaching education.
Clerc married Eliza Boardman at the age of thirty-four, who is a
deaf person. Clerc was the first deaf in America and is known as the
“Apostle of the Deaf in America” and “The Father of the Deaf”. Clerc
passed away on July 18, 1869 at the age of eighty-four. Clerc, never
received a college education, but had many honorable awards for
paving the pathway for deaf education. Clerc was a very honorable
man; he was the guest of honor at the inauguration of Gallaudet
University; Gallaudet being one of the most well known schools to
this date for the deaf. Today, Gallaudet offers the same degrees as
any other university would, Business, Chemistry, Counseling,
Education, Math and Computer Science, and many more. Overall,
thirty schools were created all over the nation during his lifetime. Clerc and Eliza were both buried at Spring Grove Cemetery in
Loida Canlas. Clerc-Gallaudet Week “Apostle to the Deaf People of
the New World.” http://www.irish-cream.com/clerc-gallaudet.html
Academic Departments – Gallaudet University. http://www.gallaudet.edu/x302.xml
Lauren Clerc – Ray Foster http://www.famousamericans.net/laurenclerc/
Harlan Lane . When the Mind Hears. New York: Random House, 1984,
Vintage, 1988. http://saveourdeafschools.org/when_the_mind_hears_chapter_1.pdf
June 6, 2005
Laurent Clerc was born into a noble family on December 26,
1785. His father was mayor of the village La Balme. Although Laurent
may have been born hearing his family attributed his lost sense of
sound to an accident, when at the tender age of one year when he was
left home alone and fell into a fire. His family tried for many
years to “undo” the damage to his hearing through ways thought
practical by physicians of the day. He underwent a painful process
that consisted of a doctor injecting fluids into his ears. In 1797,
at the age of twelve, his father, who was ashamed at the prospect of
having a deaf son, sent him to live at The Institution for
Deaf-Mutes in Paris. (Lane, 1984)
Upon arriving to Paris, Laurent was entrusted to the care of
Jean Massieu, a man that would be a mentor to him for most of his
life. Laurent was amazed by the simple majesty of the Institution.
To many the Institution may have seemed ordinary but to an
uneducated boy from a small village it seemed magnificent. During
the first year living at the institution Laurent learned many signs
in Manual French. This form of sign was quite different and much
more difficult then French Sign language.
In 1815, Laurent Clerc met an American by the name of Thomas
Gallaudet. Thomas was in search of learning how to teach deaf
students in America. Laurent became Thomas’ teacher. After working
together for three months the time came for Thomas to return home.
“Gallaudet was so impressed by Clerc that he invited this ‘master
teacher’ to go to America and help him establish a school for the
deaf there.” (L.C.N.D.E.C.) Abbe` Sicard was reluctant to lose his
teacher, but after Laurent promising to return after three years he
The trip from London to New York took fifty-two days. Laurent
and Gallaudet spent five months touring and fundraising, in seven
cities throughout New England, to start the new school. After
obtaining $17,000 they bought a building to renovate into a
schoolhouse. When it opened the school had only seven pupils. By the
end of the year, the number of students had risen to thirty-one.
A year later Laurent got married to a student named Eliza
Boardman. His contract to return to France was soon coming to an
end. After promising to stay in France for only a year, Laurent
returned to his homeland. After the year was over he remained true
to his word and returned to the States. Upon his return he was
given a house next to the school to live in.
“At the school, Clerc led a busy life. He taught signs to
Principal Gallaudet; he taught the pupils; and he taught hearing men
who came to the school to study deaf education.” (Goodstien, 1979)
Laurent went on to teach for a total of 50 years. Laurent was the
first deaf man to ever appear in front of the American Congress.
Although he never went to college himself he had several honors
placed upon him. Laurent Clerc may arguably have been the most
influential man in bringing American Sign Language to where it is
Lane, H. 1984. When the Mind Hears: A History of the Deaf. Random
House: New York.
L.C.N.D.E.C. "Laurent Clerc: Apostle to the Deaf People of the New
Goodstein, A. & Walworth, M. Interesting Deaf Americans. Washington,
DC: Gallaudet University. 1979.
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