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Laurent Clerc: 

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 dollars.

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 Hartford.

Work Cited:

Loida Canlas. Clerc-Gallaudet Week "Apostle to the Deaf People of the New World."

Academic Departments -- Gallaudet University.

Lauren Clerc -- Ray Foster

Harlan Lane . When the Mind Hears. New York: Random House, 1984, Vintage, 1988.

Laurent Clerc:

Bethany Polley
June 6, 2005

Laurent Clerc

     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 reluctantly agreed.
     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 today.

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 World." <>
Goodstein, A. & Walworth, M. Interesting Deaf Americans. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University. 1979.




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