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Laurent Clerc:

Michelle C. Martinez
Nov. 13, 2006

Laurent Clerc

Laurent Clerc was born on December 26, 1786 in La Balme, France. His birth name was Louis Laurent Marie Clerc. In the 15th century, the males in his family worked the king. Moreover, his father was the royal civil attorney, justice of the peace and mayor of the village from 1780 to 1814.

At the age of one year old, Clerc fell into the kitchen fire from his highchair. His right check was burned. This scar became the foundation of the sign for his name, the "U" hand shape stroke twice downward along the right check. Clerc parents believed that due to the accident, Clerc lost his sense of smell and hearing. His parents attempted to bring back his hearing through numerous treatments, but none were successful. In later years, Clerc wrote that he was unsure if the accident was the cause of his loss of smell and hearing. He believed that he may have been born that way. (Wikipedia)

For eleven years, Clerc remained at home with no education. In 1797, at the age of twelve, Clerc's uncle enrolled him in the Royal Institution for the Deaf in Paris. While he was there he met his mentor and life-long friend Jean Massieu. While attending the school, Clerc and students from the deaf school lead by Massieu petitioned for the release of Abbe Sicard who was prisoner and sentenced to the death for empathizing with the overthrowing of King Louis XVI. Due to the petition, Sicard was released.

Within eight years, Clerc became a teacher-in-training at the Royal Institution for the Deaf. He later became the teacher for the highest class. However, he never learned to talk. Abbe Margaron, an assistant teacher, attempted to teach Clerc to pronounce words but once became enraged with Clerc. He punched Clerc under the chin, causing him to bit his tongue and vow never to learn to speak. (L.C.N.D.E.C.).

Clerc, along with his mentor Massieu and Sicard, traveled the country giving lectures and demonstrations in their teaching methods. On July 10, 1815, at one of their lectures, Sicard introduced Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet to Clerc. Gallaudet had traveled to Europe to learn methods to teach deaf people after meeting Alice Cogswell, a neighbor's deaf daughter. At first he was unsuccessful in find the help he needed. At the lecture, Clerc, Massieu and Sicard invited Gallaudet to attend classes at the Royal Institution for the Deaf in Paris to which Gallaudet accepted.

During Gallaudet's stay in Paris, he attended classes with Sicard, Massieu and Clerc. Furthermore, Clerc gave Gallaudet private lessons. Gallaudet asked Clerc to travel with him to start up a school for deaf people in America. Clerc discussed his options with his mother and Sicard. Sicard gave his permission to go only if Gallaudet would sign a contract stating that Clerc would go for only three years. Clerc's mother tried to convince Clerc not to leave. However, Clerc, at the age of 28, made up his mind to travel to the United States on June 18, 1816.

During their fifty two day trip on the Mary Augusta, Clerc taught Gallaudet to sign and Gallaudet became Clerc's interpreter. Once they reached the states, they made speeches and gave demonstrations to raise money for their school. They raised $12,000 from the public. The Connecticut General Assembly donated $5,000.

ON April 15, 1817, Clerc and Gallaudet opened the American Asylum at Hartford for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb, which would later be names American School for the Deaf. With Gallaudet as principal and Clerc as head teacher, they had seven students the first year. A year later their school was fill with students of all ages. In January of 1818, Clerc was the first deaf person ever to address the Congress in Washington D.C. Due to his address on May of 1818 President Monroe granted them a 23,000 acre of government land for their school.

On May 3, 1819, Clerc married one of his former students Eliza Crocker Boardman. They had six children. He took some of his children to visit his home land of Paris. His last trip was with his son Charles in 1864. Clerc retired at the age of 73, but did not stop his work. He continued to work as an advocate for deaf education.

Clerc taught for 50 years, 41 of which were in the Untied States. Clerc passed away on July 18, 1869 at the age of 84. He is laid to rest with his wife at Spring Grove Cemetery in Harford.

Clerc's influence on deaf education is still being felt today. His former students opened deaf schools across the country. Moreover, one of the dorms at Gallaudet University in Washington is names Clerc Hall. Even though Clerc taught the students the French signs for words, the students incorporated signs they already knew. These changes are what is now knows as American Sign Language which has about two-thirds French signs.


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

L.C.N.D.E.C. "Laurent Clerc: Apostle to the Deaf People of the New World." <>

L.C.N.D.E.C. "Laurent Clerc: Questions and Answers." <>

Wikipedia <> . "Laurent Clerc."  < <> >

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