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A Brief History Of The Pennsylvania Institution For The Deaf And Dumb

Creator: H. Van Allen (author)
Date: 1893
Source: Available at selected libraries
Figures From This Artifact: Figure 2  Figure 3  Figure 4  Figure 5  Figure 6

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According to the Wallis and Braidwood plan, the deaf are taught to speak, which is always possible when the powers of hearing are alone suspended, and when they have sufficient intellect to receive instruction. But this is extremely difficult. It requires greal labor, and, with the most perfect, the voice is very disagreeable and monotonous. The pupil is taught to utter vocal sound and to know when he utters it, but as he cannot hear, it is long before he can ascertain the meaning of his teacher.


After acquiring the power of uttering sound, he is taught that each letter produces a different motion of the muscular organs of speech which is communicated to the lips, and by steadily observing a speaker, be is able to comprehend in this way what is expressed.


As the art is still in its infancy and the different systems are the conceptions of but a few individuals, let us now promote a language combining the advantages of each, or the opportunity will be forever lost of establishing a uniform system of communication without which those taught by different tutors will be unintelligible to each other. No individuals are better calculated for this purpose than Mr. Gallaudet and Mr. Clerc, and at the first and only establishment in the United States let persons be instructed to promote the important object. With this view I should decidedly conceive any attempts at introducing Mr. Gard would be impolitic and premature.


Mr. Thompson's wise counsel was followed, and the citizens of Philadelphia gave their undivided support to the school at Hartford. No steps were taken at the time towards the founding of a school in Pennsylvania, and the establishment of the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, the third oldest in the country * and now admittedly the finest and most complete school for the deaf in the world, was brought about in an altogether unlooked-for way.


*The New York Institute for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb was opened in May, 1820.


There were quite a number of deaf children in Philadelphia, who were frequently to be seen wandering about the streets, exciting by their neglected appearance and uncouth gestures the laughter and ridicule of the cruel and thoughtless, and the interest and compassion of the benevolent. To one man in Philadelphia the miserable condition of these children appealed most powerfully, and led him to perform an act of practical philanthropy which deserves to be forever held in grateful remembrance. This was David G. Seixas, an humble Israelite, who kept a little crockery store on Market street, between Sixteenth and Seventeenth streets. Picking up on the streets a number of these children he clothed and fed several out of his scanty means, and, with other deaf children whom he induced to come, instructed them as best he could. What particular method of instruction he pursued is not certainly known. He was doubtless aware of the main incidents of Laurent Clerc's visit to Philadelphia, if he was not actually present at the public meeting, and he had probably read of the methods of instruction pursued at Hartford, of accounts of which the newspapers of the day were full, and with this meagre knowledge, supplemented by the crude sign language which his ingenuity devised, he was able to begin the education of his unfortunate charges. The little school, which must have been established late in 1819, or early in 1820, had eleven pupils, five boys and six girls. Notwithstanding his lack of experience the success of Mr. Seixas must have been considerable, for the fame of the little school and of its devoted teacher spread rapidly and enlisted the sympathy and support of the philanthropic people of the city.


On the ninth of April, 1820, Several prominent citizens, among whom were Roberts Vaux, Horace Binney, Clement C. Biddle, Jacob Gratz, Dr. N. Chapman, William Wilkins, of Pittsburg, and Joseph Correa de Serra, the Portuguese Minister, met Mr. Seixas, by appointment, at the house of Mr. Vaux, and after a lengthy interview, decided to call a public meeting to consider the propriety of establishing an institution for the education of the deaf and dumb.


The meeting was held in the hall of the Philosophical Society, on South Third Street, on Wednesday evening, April 12. Rt. Rev. William White presided and William Meredith acted as secretary. Mr. Vaux made an address, in which he submitted a plan for organizing an institution. This plan was referred to a committee, of which Mr. Vaux was chairman. The report of this committee was submitted at a meeting held on Saturday evening, April 15. The constitution presented by the committee was adopted with some amendment, and was signed by those present. The constitution was as follows:


ARTICLE I. The Institution shall be located in Philadelphia, and supported by the annual and life subscriptions of its members, by the donations and legacies of the charitable, by such aid as the Legislature may be pleased to afford, and by the money to be received for the education of children whose parents, guardians or friends are of ability to pay.

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