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Samuel Heinicke:
(Also see: Samuel Heinicke 1)

Bobby Miller


Samuel Heinicke

     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. Danville, Illinois:

     Interstate Printers & Publishers, Inc.

Van Cleve, V., John. (1987). Gallaudet Encyclopedia Of Deaf People And Deafness, Vol.2, 35-

     38. Gallaudet College: McGraw-Hill, Inc.


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