The late Samuel
Heinicke was not deaf, but he was a teacher of deaf individuals
in Germany and best known as the “father of pure oralism.” He
spent most of his spare time dedicated to his studies and
tutoring children. Heinicke enjoyed teaching but especially
took pleasure in the challenges associated with educating deaf
students. He believed that the key to enriching their thought
process was to develop their spoken language skills. Samuel
Heinicke lived a fairly lengthy life as a teacher for deaf
persons; he opened the first school for deaf Germans, and used
the pure oralism method to teach his students to speak.
Samuel Heinicke was
born in Nautschutz, Germany on April 14, 1727. At the age of
twenty-one, he was expected to inherit the family estate and
follow in his father’s footsteps as an established farmer. He
was also expected to marry the woman of his father’s choice.
Heinicke did not wish to marry her and this upset his father, so
he decided to leave home and join the Saxon army. While in the
military, he had a great deal of free time to work on his
deficient education (Van Cleve, p35). The army chaplain saw a
scholar in him and provided Heinicke with many books and
high-quality discussion. Many of the officers saw his
dedication to his studies and asked him to tutor their own
children. One of Heinicke’s most important students was a young
boy who was a deaf-mute. He felt the boy was competent in
writing and arithmetic but believed he should learn to speak.
Heinicke taught the boy to speak by the pure oralism method and
was very pleased with this accomplishment, so he decided he
wanted to make a full-time career in educating deaf persons.
Politics would not
allow Heinicke to resign from the military because of the Seven
Years’ War, so he remained a soldier. The Prussian military
moved across the Saxon border and took several thousand
prisoners, including Samuel Heinicke. He was afraid of being
forced to fight for the Prussians, so he escaped past the guards
disguised as a vagabond fiddler (Scouten, p62). While on the
run for several years, he lived in Jena attending their
university and later worked as a secretary to Count Schimmelmann
in Hamburg. It was not until he moved to Eppendorf (near
Hamburg) that he once again became a teacher for deaf students
and earned an outstanding reputation for teaching them to
speak. Heinicke was so successful with his teachings that he
was asked to move to Leipzig, Germany and open the first public
school for the deaf. With much success, the school opened in
1778 and was called the Electoral Saxon Institute for the
Mutes and Other Persons Afflicted with Speech Defects.
Today it is called the Samuel Heinicke School for the Deaf.
The new school gave
Heinicke the opportunity to use the pure oralism method to teach
even more deaf students to speak. He followed the Amman method
(oral method) but created his own version called the German
method. Heinicke taught his students reading, writing, and the
manual alphabet, but he favored oralism. He said, “It is only
by learning articulated speech that a deaf person gains position
in a hearing society” (Eriksson, p54). Heinicke felt that deaf
individuals could understand the pronunciation of vowels by
using their taste buds as an aid. He gave his students certain
liquids to taste and told them to pronounce particular vowels
after tasting each liquid. Pure water was used to say ie,
sugar water for o, olive oil for ou, absinthe for
e, and vinegar for a (Lane, p103). This helped to
strengthen the formation and movement of these sounds making it
easier for his students to learn how to speak. He also used
speech machines consisting of an artificial throat and tongue.
These machines were designed to help his students speak by
visual means (Van Cleve, p37). Heinicke’s methods were so well
liked that several German governments sent teachers to train
under him, thus, spreading his oral method throughout Germany.
Samuel Heinicke is an
important figure who helped to pave the way for the education of
deaf Germans. Even though he was not deaf, Heinicke chose to
dedicate his life to help educate deaf individuals. He went
against the wishes of his father to carry on the family business
and ventured out as a young man to fulfill his dreams of an
education and to become a teacher. Heinicke fulfilled his
wishes by teaching many deaf Germans to speak and by spreading
his pure oralism method, which eventually dominated the European
education for the deaf. Samuel Heinicke was a significant
teacher and advocate for the education of deaf persons, leaving
an everlasting legacy when he passed away on April 30, 1790 at
the age of 63.
Eriksson, Per. (1993).
The History of Deaf People. Sweden: SIH Laromedel.
Lane, Harlan. (1984).
When The Mind Hears. New York, New York: Random House.
Scouten, L., Edward.
(1984). Turning Points in the Education Of Deaf People.
Interstate Printers &
Van Cleve, V., John.
(1987). Gallaudet Encyclopedia Of Deaf People And Deafness,
College: McGraw-Hill, Inc.