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Laurent Clerc:

Kyle Oien
June 8, 2016

Laurent Clerc

Laurent Clerc was born into an important and wealthy family in 1785. Clerc's father, Joseph Francis was the Royal Attorney, and Mayor of their town, La Balme-les Grottes (Canlas). His village is located near Lyon in southeastern France.

When Clerc was a young child of just one year, he "fell from his high chair into the kitchen fireplace" (Canlas). This left Clerc with severe burns on his face. His wounds Became infected causing a high fever. The fever left Clerc without hearing or smell. His name sign is derived from the scar that was left on his face from this accident (Lapiak). Clerc remained home, taking care of the farm animals and did not attend school until he was twelve.

Once he turned twelve his uncle and godfather enrolled him in the Institut National Des Jeune Sourds-Muets. This school was the first school that was made specifically for deaf children. Clerc immersed himself in his studies and excelled. Clerc eventually learned then mastered the art of French Sign Language. The school's philosophy was to teach the deaf children to talk as well as sign. One of his teachers, Abbe Maragon, became agitated with Clerc for not pronouncing words correctly and viciously struck him in the lower jaw, causing him to severely bite his tongue. Clerc angered and humiliated stopped taking speaking classes and swore never to speak again. From this experience Clerc created the belief that the best way to teach deaf students is to only use sign and not talking (Canlas).

Once he completed his training his teachers were impressed by his signing and asked him to stay on as an assistant teacher. "He was a dedicated teacher; and consequently, was promoted to teach the highest class" (Kononenko).

After 10 years of teaching clerc went to London England with Abbe Roch-Ambroise Sicard, the head of the school (Canlas), and Jean Massieu, a fellow teacher. In England Sicard and Clerc taught and demonstrated their sign language. Interestingly Clerc and Massieu had an easier time communicating with the English than Abbe Sicard, because they knew how to communicate with body language. "Massieu and I had no trouble getting around. We were used to feeling separation from those around us. Further, we knew how to use our bodies to ask from things. One doesn't need words in a bake shop to buy bread. One merely gets the owner's attention, points to the loaf of bread one desires, and smiles and nods ‘thanks' when it is given." (Carroll 136) Gesturing and signing to speaking people in France was the same as in England.

An American Minister, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, From Connecticut, attended one of their lectures and was impressed. He later met with Sicard and was invited to study at their school. Gallaudet accepted the offer and Clerc became his teacher. (Kononenko). Gallaudet studied hard at the institute in Paris.

Gallaudet learned a fair amount of sign language to speak with it, but not enough to teach others. Knowing he needed another teacher Gallaudet asked Clerc to come with him to America to teach deaf students. (Through Deaf Eyes) Taking a boat the two traveled to America. During the voyage, Clerc taught Gallaudet sign language and Gallaudet taught Clerc further English (Lapiak)."

Clerc and Gallaudet founded the first Deaf school in 1817 in Hartford, CT. Clerc taught for 41 years in the United States, inspiring many teachers and administrators to teach their deaf students (Through Deaf Eyes).  Clerc was Influential in creating American Sign Language, melding old French Sign Language with homemade sign from Deaf people in America. Clerc was able to watch and assist his work his work spread to over 30 schools throughout America. In 1819 Clerc married Eliza Crocker Boardman, and they had six children. Their eldest child, Elizabeth taught at the American School for the Deaf. Clerc died on July 18, 1869 at the age of 84 in Hartford, CT.

Works Cited

Canlas, Loida R. "Laurent Clerc: Apostle to the Deaf People of the New World." Laurent Clerc: National Deaf Education Center. Gallaudent University, 2015. Web. 08 June 2016. <>.

Kononenko, Melissa. "Laurent Clerc." Gallaudet University. Ed. Thelma Schroeder. Tutorial and Instructional Programs, Gallaudet University, 2016. Web. 07 June 2016. <>.

Lapiak, Jolanta. "Laurent Clerc: America's First Deaf Teacher." Clerc, Laurent: America's First Deaf Teacher. Handspeak, 2016. Web. 08 June 2016. <>.

"Through Deaf Eyes - Prominent Figures in Deaf History." WETA. Public Broadcasting for Greater Washington, 2016. Web. 08 June 2016. <>.

Carroll, Cathryn, and Harlan L. Lane. Laurent Clerc: The Story of His Early Years. Washington, D.C.: Kendall Green Publications, 1991. Print.



Notes: Also see: Laurent Clerc (9)


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