NY times article

Short 1884 NY Times article about AG Bell’s paper on the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race
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NY Times article


Bell's "Upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race" paper

Few people have seen the primary document (see below) in which AG Bell put forth his analysis of deaf to deaf marriages contributing to the possible development of a deaf variety of the human race and ways to stop this from happening. This 86 page paper shows Bell’s interest in social Darwinism, eugenics, and his paternalistic attitudes towards Deaf people.

While it is noted that even the NAD had a resolution statement in 1920 to discourage deaf to deaf marriages in the interest of the offspring, Bell’s writings and activities in this area lays out his blueprint for a highly aggressive and systematic campaign against deaf people’s civil liberties, their culture and their language. Again, gratitude and credit to B.R. for getting this material to us.

By Alexander Graham Bell


The influence of selection in modifying our breeds of domestic animals is most marked, and it is reasonable to suppose that if we could apply selection to the human race we could also produce modifications or varieties of men.

But how can we ascertain the susceptibility of the human race to variation produced by selection? We cannot dictate to men and women whom they shall marry, and natural selection no longer influences mankind to any great extent.

We can see around us everywhere evidences of the transmission by heredity of characteristics both desirable and undesirable, but at first sight no general selective influence appears to be at work to bring about the union in marriage of persons possessing the same congenital peculiarities. On the contrary, sexual attraction often appears to operate after the manner of magnetical attraction–“unlike poles attract, like poles repel.” Strong, vigorous, and robust men naturally feel a tenderness for weak, delicate, and fragile women, and are generally repelled by physical strength and masculine traits in one of the opposite sex. Even in such characteristics as the color of the hair and eyes, it often appears that unlikes attract.

Certain diseases are known to be liable to transmission by heredity. But we do not find epileptics marrying epileptics, or consumptives knowingly marrying consumptives. Even though persons afflicted with the same hereditary disease were to intermarry for a number of successive generations, it is doubtful whether any permanent variety of the race could be formed in this way, for the increased tendency to disease inherited by the offspring would probably cause a greater tendency to premature death and ultimately occasion the extinction of the variety.

On the other hand, it is reasonable to suppose that the continuous intermarriage of persons possessing congenital defects not associated with diminished vitality or vigor of constitution would result after a number of generations in the production of a vigorous but defective variety of the race. For instance, the absence of coloring matter from the skin and hair is a defect occasionally found among human beings, and we may learn from the success of attempts to propagate Albinism among animals, that we would probably produce a pink-eyes, white-haired variety of the human race by causing Albinos to marry one another; but this is only speculation. We cannot control the marriages of men as we can the breeding of animals, and at first sight there seems to be no way of ascertaining how far human beings are susceptible to variation by selection.

Such a conclusion, however, would be incorrect; and I desire to direct attention to the fact that in this country deaf-mutes marry deaf-mutes.

An examination of the records of some of our institutions for the deaf and dumb reveals the fact that such marriages are not the exception, but the rule. For the last fifty years there has been some selective influence at work which has caused, and is still causing, the continuous selection of the deaf by the deaf in marriage.

If the laws of heredity that are known to hold in the case of animals also apply to man, the intermarriage of congenital deaf-mutes through a number of successive generations would result in the formation of a deaf variety of the human race.

On the other hand, if it can be shown that congenitally deaf persons marry one another without any greater liability to the production of deaf offspring than is to be found among the people at large, then it will be evident that we cannot safely apply to man the deductions that have been drawn from experiments upon animals.

There are good grounds for the belief that a thorough investigation of the marriages of the deaf and the influence of these marriages upon the offspring will afford a solution of the problem, “To what extent is the human race susceptible to variation by selection?”

Although the statistics I have been able to collect are very incomplete, I have ventured to being the subject to the attention of the Academy, in the hope that publication of the results so far obtained may lead completion of the statistics.

To see full paper – see links at bottom

Conclusion (p. 47-48 excerpt)

The grand central principle that should guide us, then, in our search for preventive measures should be the retention of the normal environment during the period of education. The natural tendency towards adaptation would then co-operate with instruction to produce accommodation to the permanent conditions of life.

The direction of change should therefore be towards the establishment of small schools, and the extension of the day-school plan. The practicability of any great development of day schools will depend upon the possibility of conducting very small schools of this kind economically to the State; for the scattered condition of the deaf and dumb in the community precludes the idea of large day schools, excepting in the great centers of population. The principle referred to above indicates that such schools should be of the minimum size possible; for the school that would most perfectly fulfil the condition required would contain only one deaf child. It also points to the advisability of coeducation with hearing children–but this is not practicable to any great extent. No instruction can be given through the ear, and complete coeducation would only therefore be possible by a change in the methods of teaching hearing children. It is useless to expect that such a change would be made for the benefit of the deaf and dumb on account of their limited number.

Partial coeducation is, however, possible, for some studies are pursued in the common schools in which information is gained through the eye. For instance, deaf-mutes could profitably enter the same classes with hearing children for practice in writing, drawing, map-drawing, arithmetic on the black-board, sewing, &c. For other subjects special methods of instruction would be necessary, and those demand the employment of special teachers. They do not, however, necessitate special schools or buildings, and a small room in a public school building would accommodate as many deaf children as one teacher could successfully instruct. Considerations of economy render advisable the appropriation of a room of this kind, as the appliances of a large school might thus be obtained without special outlay.

The average per capita cost of the education of a deaf child in an American institution is $223.28 per annum [Footnote: See Table X in the Appendix.] Very small day schools could be maintained at no greater cost. The cost, at an institution, however, includes board and industrial training. On the day-school plan the parents would generally assume the expense of maintenance, and some special provision would have to be made for industrial training. This need give no concern, for so many deaf-mutes are earning their livelihood by trades which they were not taught in the institutions as to demonstrate the practicability of apprenticing deaf-mutes in ordinary shops.

The indications are that in all places where three or four deaf children could be brought together near their homes the cost would be no more to form them into a class in the nearest public school building under a special teacher than to send them to an institution. On the basis of the average per capita cost at an institution the sum of $669.84 would be received for three, and $893.12 for four pupils; and such sums would probably be sufficient to pay the salary of a special teacher, as well as to cover incidental expenses.

If this is so the day-school system could be made to penetrate into the smaller centers of population as well as into the large cities, in which case it would exert a considerable influence as a remedial agent. The plan of forming small classes of deaf children in public school buildings recommends itself as affording the closest approximation possible, on the large scale, to the normal conditions of life.

Segregation during education has not only favored the tendency towards the formation of a race of deaf-mutes, but has led to the evolution of a special language adapted for the use of such a race–“the sign-language of the deaf and dumb.” This is especially true in America where the sign-language is employed by a large majority of the teachers in instructing their pupils. In foreign countries the vast majority employ, for this purpose, the ordinary language of the people. This will fully appear by reference to Table V in the Appendix.

The lack of articulate speech should also be noted as an indirect cause of segregation in adult life, operating to separate deaf-mutes from hearing persons. Hence, instruction in articulation and speech-reading should be given to every pupil.

This is done in Germany. Indeed, in 1882, more than 65 per cent. of all the deaf and dumb in foreign schools were being taught to speak and understand the speech of others, whereas in America less than 9 per cent. were to be found in oral schools. [Footnote: See American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb, vol. xxviii, pp. 47-61; also, Table V, in the Appendix–from which it will appear that of 7,155 American deaf-mutes, only 584, or less than 9 per cent., were to be found in oral schools; whereas of 19,318 deaf-mutes in foreign schools, 12,662, or more than 65 per cent., were taught to speak in purely oral schools.]

According to more recent statistics compiled by the Clarke Institution [Footnote: See Appendix to Sixteenth Annual Report of the Clarke Institution. See, also, Table Y in the Appendix. Complete returns were not obtained, but the cases noted number 6,232, thus comprehending the vast majority of the pupils under instruction in May, 1883. Of these 886, or 14 per cent., were under oral instruction; 1,105, or 18 per cent., received occasional instruction in speech in sign institutions; and 4,241 received no instruction in articulation whatever.] we find that in May, 1883, about 14 per cent. of the deaf and dumb in American institutions were using speech in the school-room as the language of communication with their teachers; 18 per cent. were taught to speak as an accomplishment, and 68 per cent. received no instruction whatever in articulation.

Nearly one-third of the teachers of the deaf and dumb in America are themselves deaf, [Footnote: See American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb (January, 1883), vol. xxviii, pp. 56-57. Out of 481 teachers 154, or 32 per cent., were deaf.] and this must be considered as another element favorable to the formation of a deaf race–to be therefore avoided.

The segregation of deaf-mutes, the use of the sign language, and the employment of deaf teachers produce an environment that is unfavorable to the cultivation of articulation and speech-reading, and that sometimes causes the disuse of speech by speaking pupils who are only deaf.

Having shown the tendency to the formation of a deaf variety of the human race in America, and some of the means that should be taken to counteract it, I commend the whole subject to the attention of scientific men.

LINK TO DOWNLOAD ENTIRE PAPER (PDF, 38 MB, very slow to download) or download one page at a time


then change the number after race for each page 4 – 89

If dont have adobe – change pdf in url to jpg

NOTE: Bell’s paper was re-published in 1969 by the Alexander Graham Bell Association under the longer title: “Memoir Upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race.”

EM Gallaudet's full address at CAID re: AG Bell

Full text of an address by Gallaudet President Edward M. Gallaudet, at the Convention of the American Instructors for the Deaf in 1895, in regards to Alexander Graham Bell’s extremely dishonest activities in promoting oral-only education and banning sign language and deaf teachers from the classroom. Article typed up and submitted by B. Riley.


Chairman of the Standing Executive Committee of the Convention
[Fourteenth Convention of the American Instructors for the Deaf, Flint, Michigan,
Wednesday morning, July 3, 1895]

The period indicated in the title of this paper has been one of more than usual importance and interest in the work of our profession.

It is not my purpose to present at this time a report of the progress of the education of the deaf in America since 1890, for to do this would be “Carrying coals to Newcastle.”

The many journals devoted to the interests of the deaf have kept the members of our profession well informed as to the establishment of new schools, the enlargement of some of the older ones, modifications in methods, and the healthy advancement which has, in general, been made in many quarters.

From this record, familiar to most of you, the conclusion may, without question, be drawn, that during the past five years the cause of deaf-mute education in America has been liberally sustained by the public, and has fully kept pace with other educational movements, the success of which marks the period as one more fruitful of good results than any of similar length in the history of America.

While we may find occasion for congratulation in the general results thus very briefly alluded to, it is true that, during years just passed, there have been at work in and on our profession, influences, the presence of which is to be greatly regretted, and the spirit and method of which are open, in many instances, to very serious criticism.

Many who are here present remember with pleasure the large and harmonious gathering gathering of our profession, at Berkeley, Cal., in the summer of 1886.

Advocates of all the methods then in vogue attended the Convention, and after much friendly discussion and comparison of views, a platform of principles was adopted, with entire unanimity, which it was hoped might serve as a basis for enduring harmony in our profession.

The preamble and resolutions forming this platform were as follows:–

WHEREAS, The experience of many years in the instruction of the deaf has plainly shown that among the members of this class of persons great differences exist in mental and physical conditions, and in capacity for improvement, making results easily possible in certain cases which are practically and sometimes actually unattainable in others, these differences suggesting widely different treatment with different individuals; it is therefore

Resolved, That the system of instruction existing at present in America commends itself to the world, for the reason that its tendency is to include all known methods and expedients which have been found to be of value in the education of the deaf, while it allows diversity and independence of action, and works at the same time harmoniously, aiming at the attainment of an object common to all.

Resolved, That earnest and persistent endeavors should be made in every school for the deaf to teach every pupil to speak and read from the lips, and that such efforts should be abandoned only when it is plainly evident that the measure of success attained does not justify the necessary amount of labor.

These resolutions certainly furnished a platform broad enough and sufficiently liberal to afford ample standing-room for all in our profession, even though there were considerable differences of opinion existing as to the relative value of methods.

And I believe the harmony manifested at the California Convention would have continued undisturbed, had not an influence from outside our profession forced itself in at the meeting held in New York, in 1890, effecting an organization quite independent of the Convention, and equally beyond the control of the profession, although its members generally were invited to contribute their moral and pecuniary support to this new association.

It will be remembered by many that on the first day’s session of the New York Convention of 1890, Professor [Alexander Graham] Bell called the attention of the Convention to a resolution adopted by the Third Convention of Articulation Teachers, held in New York, in 1884, requesting the Convention of American Instructors of the Deaf to organize a section for the promotion of articulation teaching. The records of the Convention of 1890 show that this resolution was referred to the Business Committee; that at the third day’s session this Committee reported a recommendation inviting the oral teachers present to form “a section for the promotion of articulation teaching, to be organized under its own officers;” and that on the following day Dr. Crouter, of Philadelphia, representing the oral teachers, reported that the suggested section had been organized under an Executive Committee consisting of Caroline A. Yale, Chairman, Ellen L. Barton, Sarah Fuller, David Greene, and A.L.E. Crouter. The acceptance of this report by the Convention certainly gave to the work of oral teaching all the recognition and support that its warmest friends could reasonably desire or ask from the profession as a whole. But that this did not satisfy every one soon became evident; immediately following the creation of the Oral Section came an announcement that Prof. Bell had secured the organization of an Association to promote the cause of oralism in America, had endowed it with the sum of $25,000, and was to be at the head of its Board of Trustees.

These facts were stated in such terms as to lead the members of the Convention to assume, wrongfully, as the sequel has proved, that the new Association was to be composed mainly of and governed by teachers, and the hope was expressed that all instructors of the deaf would ultimately become members. Definite disclaimers of partisan purposes were accepted, as given by the authority of the founder of he Association, and it was believed by most of those present that an advance was being made in a good cause and on the line of harmony in the profession. Few, if any, who joined in the rising vote of thanks to Prof. Bell for his benefaction, dreamed that he was establishing a propaganda for the persistent advocacy of the pure-oral method, and the ultimate abolition of every other method from the schools for the deaf in America.

And no one, certainly, would have undertaken to predict that in each of the five years immediately following this action, definite and strenuous efforts would be made by Prof. Bell, and those he might be able to induce to act with him, to push the cause of pure-oralism to the fore, and to secure for it, as soon as possible, a controlling influence in the work of deaf-mute education in America. That such has been the course pursued by the promoters of pure-oralism in this country during the past five years, and that they have worked with a partisan spirit and purpose, calculated to engender serious if not permanent antagonism in the profession. I will now undertake to show.

And having done this, I shall offer a few suggestions as to the course to be pursued in the future by those who wish to promote harmony in the profession, and the permanent prevalence of methods, the practice of which has the support, not only of the great majority of teachers in this country, but of the intelligent, well-educated deaf people of all countries.

In the autumn of 1890, the authorities of the College, at Washington, declared their purpose, through the annual report to the institution, to establish, as soon as practicable, a Normal Department in which graduates of colleges might learn how to teach the deaf by both the manual and oral methods. The immediate suggestion for the establishment of this department came from a prominent promoter of pure-oralism, who has for several years been a director of the Speech Association, Mr. L.S. Fechheimer, of Cincinnati, O. A letter from this gentleman to his representative in Congress, Hon. Benjamin Butterworth, then a member of the Committee on Appropriations, in aid of this measure, appears in the report of the institution for 1890.

The matter was considered by Congress, in February, 1891, and Prof. Bell appeared before the Committee on Appropriations in earnest opposition to the new department, making misstatements as to the purpose of the authorities of the College, in excuse for which no plea of ignorance on his part could be entered. Had Prof. Bell made his opposition to the College at this time only personal, I should have made no allusion to it in this paper. But when, after his appeal to the House Committee, the Committee and the House took action wholly favorable to the request of the college authorities, Prof. Bell solicited and secured the backing of all the oral schools of the country, but of no others, and renewed his attack before the Senate Committee, sending in to the Chairman of that Committee statements intended to be damaging, which he had previously been informed were at variance with facts.

While this controversy was in progress, the President of the College addressed a communication to the Board of Directors of the Speech Association, referring to a circular then recently received, in which schools for the deaf needing assistance in the matter of teaching speech were requested to apply to the Association for aid. In this letter the President of the College set forth that the proposed Normal Department would provide for the training of oral teachers and that its successful organization would enable the College to offer instruction in speech to all its students. In view of this fact, the aid of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf was invoked in behalf of the measure then pending before Congress.

The Association declined to respond to this appeal favorably, thus giving its support practically to its President, in the attitude of hostility he had taken towards the College before Congress, which he continued to the close of the session of that body. And on the day Congress adjourned, Prof. Bell sent telegrams to many of his supporters, announcing the result of his efforts. One of these telegrams, sent to a northern school, states that “finally the Normal Department has in part succeeded;” while another, sent south, reads, “the Normal Department scheme finally defeated.” It need hardly be added that neither of these conflicting telegrams gave the truth. So much for the efforts of the partisan propaganda of pure-oralism, in 1891, of which many interesting details might be added, did time permit.

In the summer of 1892, when many were on their way to the Colorado Conference of Principals, the members of the Standing Executive Committee of the Convention had arranged to meet, in Chicago, Dr. S.H. Peabody, Director of the Department of Liberal Arts in the Columbian Exposition, with the view of arranging an exhibit of the schools for the deaf in America. The meeting was held in the Grand Pacific Hotel, and as Professor Bell was a guest of the hotel at the time, he was invited by the Chairman of the Committee to be present. Similar invitations were extended to several heads of schools who were also stopping at the hotel. The consultations between the Committee and Dr. Peabody had hardly begun when Prof. Bell, speaking as President of the Speech Association, suggested that the space to be set apart in the Exposition for an exhibit of the schools for the deaf, ought to be placed under the control of his Association rather than in the hands of the Committee of the Convention, giving as reasons for his claim, that the Association was an incorporated body, which the Convention was not, and that the Association had money, which the Convention had not.

Prof. Bell must not be held responsible for his failure to oust the Committee of the Convention from the enjoyment of the legitimate rights and privileges to the exercise of which it had been invited by the authorities of the Exposition. He exerted himself to the utmost to accomplish this result.

At the Colorado Conference of Principals, of which Prof. Bell was an honorary member, by courtesy of the Conference, he opened a discussion which, as the sequel proved, was intended as a serious advance toward the overthrow of the Combined System of educating the deaf, then, as now, the system prevailing in a large majority of the schools in this country.

The paper which Professor Bell brought forward at this time was on the Proper Classification of Methods of Instructing the Deaf, and its evident aim was to secure the elimination of the term “Combined System” from the literature of deaf-mute education.

As is well known, the proposals of Professor Bell were referred to a committee of three, consisting of Professor Fay, the editor of the Annals, as Chairman, with Dr. Noyes and Professor Bell.

The exhaustive, not to say exhausting discussions of this Committee, which were fully published in the Annals, are familiar to many members of the profession, and I have no intention of rehearsing them at this time. My purpose in calling attention to this incident is simply to show that in this matter, as in others to which I have alluded, Prof. Bell, founder and President of the Speech Association and champion of the cause of pure-oralism in America, pursued a course that is subject to serious criticism, as being partisan and highly unprofessional. For, not satisfied with pressing his peculiar views on his long suffering associates of the Committee, with a persistency out of all reason, when a result was finally reached, which Prof. Fay proposed and Dr. Noyes voted for, as a “choice of evils,” and which the former characterized as “a most lame and impotent conclusion,” and hoped would “fail to receive the two-thirds vote of the schools necessary to its adoption,” Prof. Bell again revealed his partisan spirit and committed an unprofessional solecism, by sending to all the schools of the country an earnest personal appeal for favorable votes. It will be remembered that, with all this effort, only twenty schools out of eighty-six sustained Prof. Bell with their votes.

Early in 1893, believing it to be of the greatest importance to rescue our profession, if possible, from the unhappy antagonisms to which the ill-advised policy of the pure-oralists was subjecting it, I approached Prof. Bell with a proposition, which has occupied the attention of the profession in no small degree up to a somewhat recent period. I have been criticised in certain quarters for proposing, as I certainly did, that we surrender the very existence of the Convention to its young competitor, the Speech Association. But I am comforted, under this criticism, by the reflection that the proposal for the union of the Convention with the Association, by the absorption of the former in the latter, has commanded the general approval of the profession, and that no one has even attempted to answer the arguments I ventured to bring forward in favor of union, from a professional point of view, at Chautauqua last summer.

I trust no one will suppose that I wish or intend to renew the discussion of union at this time. Nothing is further from my thoughts. The scheme of union is dead, beyond all hope of resuscitation–and I would not revive it if I could.

It is due, however, to the profession, that the manner and occasion of its death should be understood–for this will furnish another illustration of the partisan and unprofessional spirit of pure-oralism, with an especial emphasis, this time, on the word “unprofessional.” So I will attempt to give, as briefly as possible, something of the inner history of the inception, progress and failure of the scheme for “union.”

Prior to my first interview with Prof. Bell on the subject, which occurred May 4th, 1893, I had sought the opinion of several prominent members of our profession, and all were agreed that, if Prof. Bell could be brought to consent to such an enlargement of his new Association as I proposed, no better plan of uniting the profession in one strong organization could be devised. And those with whom I consulted were equally agreed that without Prof. Bell’s approval it would be useless to take any steps in the matter. Those who have read the Overture of the Convention to the Association, on the subject of union, will remember that Prof. Bell did not receive my suggestions with disfavor at the outset. On the contrary, he met my proposals as to the amendment of the Constitution of his Association with a counter proposition which I accepted without qualification, which was, later on, adopted by the Standing Executive Committee, then by the Convention, and finally incorporated into the Overture.

Every safeguard for the endowment of the Association and all the suggestions of Prof. Bell as to the new name of the Association and other amendments to the Constitution, were accepted by the Standing Executive Committee. The assertion which, I am informed, Prof. Bell has recently made to a prominent member of the profession, that if the proposals of the Convention had been accepted by the Association, such men as he and Mr. Hubbard could have had no voice in the Association, because they were not instructors, is entirely unwarranted.

In the face of these facts, it is interesting to inquire why the scheme for union failed:–and the answer is not far to seek. Afraid to come forward, even at Chautauqua, with a manly positive rejection of the overture for union, Prof. Bell, as the event has proved, never really regarded the plan with any favor. On several occasions in my interviews with him, I said that if he would say positively that he was opposed to union, all my efforts in that direction would cease. He had it in his power at any time to put a stop to the whole measure. But he was unwilling to bear the odium of the rejection of an offer so magnanimous as that of the Convention, and he was equally indisposed to allow the matter to be settled by a vote of the Association. In this connection another chapter of the inner history should be unfolded.

Some will remember that in one of the circulars of the Standing Executive Committee reference was made to President Gillett’s cordial invitation to all the members of the profession, and to the deaf outside of the profession, to join the Speech Association, and that the Committee of the Convention seconded the invitation of President Gillett, suggesting that it would be well to have a large meeting of all interested at Chautauqua, with a view to the free discussion and settlement of the question of union.

Several of the officers of the Speech Association took great umbrage at this act of the Committee of the Convention, and expressed their fears that a plan was on foot to stampede the Association in favor of union.

So decided was this fear in the minds of some, that Mr. Hubbard invited me to a conference with him and Prof. Bell, which was held at the latter’s residence, in Washington, on the 20th of May, 1894. In this conference Mr. Hubbard and Prof. Bell proposed, if I would agree not to bring the question of union to a vote at Chautauqua, that they would there come out publicly in favor of union in the near future.

As I had never had the least idea of trying to carry “union” over Prof. Bell’s head, I was quite ready to agree to his and Mr. Hubbard’s proposal. And all who were at Chautauqua will remember with what degree of earnestness those two gentlemen “came out” for union.

The tub which was thrown to the whale, in the form of a Joint Committee on Union, misled very few, while the monstrosity brought forth, after hard and long labor, by the non-union side of the Joint Committee has amused many.

If we would have now the conclusion of this whole matter in a few words, it may be said that a plan for uniting not only all instructors of the deaf, but all the active friends of the cause of deaf-mute education, in one broad strong organization, which might seek the advancement of every means and every method proven to be of advantage to the deaf, has failed because one man, outside the profession, to whom the promotion of speech teaching was of more interest than all things else concerning the deaf, could not trust the great body of American instructors of the deaf, supporting as they do the California resolutions, which give speech to every deaf child that can take it,–because he could not trust these men and women, known to be honorable and devoted to the uplifting of suffering humanity; because he could not trust you with the careful and honest administration of his gift of $25,000, on the lines to which he had devoted it; and because he did not wish to bring his pet “cause” into the intimate relations of a professional organization.

But this is not quite all. Every one knows that the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf is governed by one man–its founder–and that no measure to which he is opposed is even seriously considered. None who were present at the so-called annual business meeting of the Association, at Chautauqua, need to be told that it was little more than a meeting of Directors–and they under the lead of one man–which the members of the Association were permitted to attend as spectators. In evidence of which it need only be said that a code of By-Laws which the Directors had prepared was presented and adopted without even being read to the members of the Association.

We see, then, that “union” was impossible because Prof. Bell was not willing that the Association he had created and endowed, and which he controlled, should become the organization of our profession, governed as such professional organizations usually are, by its members, in accordance with the principle generally accepted in America of popular sovereignty. He wished his Association to remain as he had created it, an absolute despotism. To what extent an association so organized should command the support of our profession will be considered before this paper is concluded.

It would be a serious omission to pass over in this discussion the attitude of the leading pure-oralists of this country toward the work of the College for the Deaf, at Washington. This has been unmistakeably unfriendly. No principal of an Oral school, so far as I am aware, has ever encouraged a pupil to seek admission at Kendall Green, and it is known that, in not a few instances, strenuous efforts have been made by such principals to deter pupils who wished to enter the College from doing so.

It is understood that the main objection of the oralists to sending their pupils to the College is because they fear the speech of such pupils will suffer detriment therein. The published testimony of parents of orally taught pupils, who had graduated from the College, that the speech of their children was not impaired by their connection with the College, has, apparently, had no weight with these partisans of pure-oralism. Equally unmoved are they by the fact that during the past four years ample means have been provided in the College, not only for the preservation of whatever speech students may bring with them, but for its improvement. And so unwilling are they to allow facts favorable to the College in the matter of speech teaching to become known to their pupils, that a short time since one of their leading organs, published where it comes every week under the eye of young men and women who might be glad to enter the College at Washington, in commenting on an important circular just issued by the College, carefully concealed the fact that the college authorities were ready to provide oral recitations for orally taught students, if such were desired.

Many cases have come to my knowledge, of young people taught in oral schools, capable and desirous of taking the higher education, who have been kept in ignorance by their teachers of the existence of the College at Washington, and who, learning later of the opportunities they had lost, did not hesitate to condemn their teachers severely. One very recent instance will speak for all. A teacher in a western combined system school wrote me a few weeks since of a young man in his class of exceptionally bright mind, who might have gone to the College in ’91, at which time he completed the course offered in a western oral school. My correspondent adds:–“When he came here, last fall, and learned about the College, he felt very bitter against his old teachers for not telling him of it. They were pure oralists you know.”

When the distinct loss is considered, of valuable advantages incurred by the scores and perhaps hundreds of bright young deaf people who have been kept away from the College by the advice of their teachers, it cannot be unjust to characterize such advice as an exhibition of a partisan and unprofessional spirit which ought not to be continued.

I come now to the last illustration of this spirit of which I propose to speak in this paper, although there are others which might be brought forward did time permit, such as the pressing of the ill-advised policy of day schools in Wisconsin and Michigan, and the opposition to the adoption of the Combined System in the Portland School. And what I am now to speak of deserves severer condemnation than anything yet brought to your notice; for whatever individuals are responsible for it, it has been a carefully planned scheme to misinform and mislead the public, and is apparently as much a part of the programme of the propaganda of pure-oralism as it would have been if the names of its promoters had been published along with it.

Having said so much, I need hardly add that I refer to the series of articles published in many journals and newspapers during the past year over the name of S.M. Millington Miller, M.D., assuming to state facts of importance and interest relating to the education of the deaf. The innumerable blunders of this ambitious dilettant would sustain the feeling of amusement they at first excite, did it not become speedily evident, on reading his absurd paragraphs, that he wrote with a bias not to be accounted for in any manner creditable to him, and the exhibition of which gives rise to honest indignation. That his writings have been inspired by pure-oralists goes without saying. That he has been furnished with certain points and data, not otherwise attainable, by well informed oralists is equally apparent. All this is surprising enough to people who honor the truth and like to see fair play; but more astonishing is it to find in one of the leading journals, whose bias toward pure-oralism is marked, the following editorial on a re-hash of some of Dr. Miller’s articles.

“An excellent editorial appeared in the Medical Record, of December 8th, on oral work in general, and Dr. Miller’s articles, in the Philadelphia Press, and Churchman in particular. The Record is also imbued with the true spirit of oralism, and presents oral work in a clear and forcible manner.”

In face of the fact that the editorial in the Medical Record contains at least ten glaring mis-statements on important points, for all of which Dr. Miller or his promoters are responsible–the unqualified commendation given as above quoted can only be accounted for by concluding that the editor in question is governed by the same partisan and unprofessional spirit to which Dr. Miller has either given or sold himself. I should be sorry to impute this spirit to all the oralists of this country–but their utter failure to come forward with a single published correction of any one of Dr. Miller’s mis-statements, certainly suggests a degree of indifference, not to say willingness to profit by misrepresentation, that is open to criticism.

And now, in closing, I will beg the indulgence of the Convention, while I fulfill the promise made in the early part of this paper, of offering a few suggestions as to what may best promote harmony in our profession, and the most rapid and wholesome advance of the good cause we all have at heart.

First, last, and all the time, I beg you to keep in mind that we are members of a profession–one well deserving our honor and fealty–one that has made an honorable record, covering three-quarters of a century in America, and more. To the interests of this profession, and the cause its members are pledged to sustain, all considerations of a minor and non-essential character should be subordinated. You have before you for consideration a plan of organization which offers a place in a broad self-governing association for every one sincerely and actively engaged in the education of the deaf, who is not wedded to the dogma that any single method can suffice for all.

Presuming that the Association to be formed before this Convention adjourns will be one that will deserve and receive the support of our entire profession, the question naturally arises:–What shall we do with the other society, whose invitation to join it we offered to accept in a body, foregoing our prerogative to form any other association, but which lacked the courage to make itself large enough to receive us?

Before answering this question it will be necessary to scrutinize with some care the platform, aims, achievements and character of the A.A.P.T.S.D. For its platform it adopts but a single paragraph of the California resolutions, while we propose to stand on them in their entirety. The aim of the oral society is to take a single feature, by no means the most important one, of the education of the deaf, and elevate it to a pedestal of undue prominence, making the society’s work necessarily narrow and one-sided.

If we would know what the A.A.P.T.S.D. has done during the five years of its existence, a few statistics may help us to ascertain.

In 1884, of the 8,232 pupils then in schools for the deaf in the U.S. and Canada, 2,624 or 318 in a thousand were taught speech. Five years later, in 1889, just before the oral association was formed, out of 9,325 pupils, 3,602, or 386 in a thousand were taught speech. In 1894, after five years’ work of Prof. Bell’s society of promotion, out of 10,834 pupils, 5,059, or 466 in a thousand were taught speech. So it appears that during the first five years, before the Speech Association came into being, there was an increase in the number of deaf children taught speech, of 21 3-10 per cent., while during the five years in which the Association has been at work, the increase has been at the rate of only 20 7-10 per cent.

It should be said in explanation of these figures that they underestimate, somewhat, the progress made in speech teaching between 1889 and 1894, for the reason that the statistics in the Annals for the three dates quoted are not made up in the same way. On this account an absolutely accurate comparison is impracticable. But were this possible, the advance made since the Speech Association was organized would be shown to be so moderated in comparison with those of the preceding five years, as to raise the question if they justified the amount of time and money that has been expended by the Association and those acting with it.

But in trying to answer fully the question, what shall be done with the Speech Association? we must ask what kind of a society it is. I have already shown that it is an autocracy, in the management of which its members are practically, though perhaps not theoretically, without a voice. But worse than this, it is not in any true sense a professional society. It is essentially a body of promoters, as its name indicates. A bare majority of its Board of Directors, only, are actual instructors of the deaf, and I have the authority of its founder for saying that he does not care to have it an association of teachers, but that he is more anxious for the membership of those who come in as promoters, and are willing to contribute considerable sums of money to its treasury. This declaration Prof. Bell made at both the meetings held by the Joint Committee on union.

I conclude, therefore, that when we consider the narrow platform of the Speech Association, the meager aggregate of its achievements, but, above all, the expressed preference of its founder that it should be sustained by promoters rather than by teachers, we who are only men and women who bear the actual burden of teaching, and are not capitalists, will do well to lend all our aid, pecuniary and personal, to our own strictly professional association, leaving the other to be upheld by those non-professional contributors who may think it worth while to continue their benefactions.

Under the auspices of one association, by whatever name it may be called, ample provision can be made for normal institutes on all lines, to be held in convenient localities, for sufficiently frequent general meetings–in short, for everything needed in an association of instructors to give our noble cause a healthy development in all desirable directions.

We shall be a self-governing body, controlled by the actual members as a whole, and not an aggregation of powerless individuals, managed by one or more promoters.

Under these conditions it is not easy to discover what important work remains for the Speech Association to perform, or what claim it has on the members of our profession for support.

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Convention, you will easily believe it has been far from a grateful or welcome task to bring to your notice, this morning, the facts and considerations set forth in this paper.

I have been well aware that I ran no small risk of incurring the enmity of some whose friendship I should be sorry to lose. I venture to hope, however, that any who may feel resentment towards me, at this moment, for what I have said, will find after reflection that they have no good reason to strike me from their list of friends.

I have not questioned the motives of those whose actions a stern sense of duty to my profession has compelled me to criticise. I am quite ready to believe that those who glory in the name of pure-oralists are sincerely desirous of promoting the welfare of the deaf, and no one is more ready than I to accord all due praise for the many generous things Prof. Bell has devised and done in behalf of this class, the infirmities and disabilities of which first touched his sympathetic heart in the days of his early manhood. For all those whose course I have called in question I have none but kindly personal feelings. It is not them whom I condemn, but simply such acts of theirs as are justly open to the charge of being partisan or unprofessional.

The harmony and prosperity of the profession, to the exercise of which I have devoted nearly forty years, are very dear to me. I have seen them menaced by the exhibition in our midst of a spirit certain to work serious damage if allowed to continue.

Far from wishing to encourage controversy, or incite dissension, my great desire is to promote and settle a policy of good will and mutual regard in our profession. Such a policy cannot prevail so long as such things are done or approved as I have brought to your notice to-day.

My plea is, therefore, for the future, that all partisanship shall be laid aside, that nothing unprofessional shall be attempted, and that we may join hands for the promotion of a common end in the spirit of Him, who while he did not fail to rebuke error and wrong doing when he met with them, proclaimed to the world that gospel of love and good will which is mankind’s greatest blessing in all the centuries.

Link to PDF of the speech

Quotes from AG Bell

Quotes from AG Bell – In his own words

“Nature has been kind to the deaf child, man cruel. Nature has inflicted upon the deaf child but one defect — imperfect hearing; man’s neglect has made him dumb and forced him to invent a language which has separated him from the hearing world. Let us, then remove the afflictions that we ourselves have caused… let us banish sign language from our schools. If—it is our object to destroy the barriers that separate them from the outside world and take away the isolation of their lives, then I hold that our energies should be devoted to the acquisition of the English language as a vernacular in its spoken and written forms. With such an object in view we should bring the deaf together as little as possible and only for the purpose of instruction. After school hours we should separate the deaf children from one another to prevent the development of a special language and scatter them among hearing children and their friends in the outside world”

Bell, Alexander Graham
1883 Fallacies Concerning the Deaf, and the Influence of Such Fallacies in Preventing the Amelioration of their Condition. Wahsington: Judd & Detweiler, pp. 76-77

“A hearing partner will wed you to the hearing world and be of inestimable value to you in all the relations of life. Not only will your own success in life be thereby increased, but the welfare of your children will be materially promoted. It is surely to the interests of children, both deaf and hearing, that one at least of their parents should hear.”

Bell, Alexander Graham. Marriage: An Address to the Deaf, Literary Society of Gallaudet College. Washington, DC: Volta Bureau, 1891.

Excerpts from a letter from AG Bell to George Veditz, NAD President:

“.. I may say, after examining your resolutions, that we differ chiefly upon one point: the use of the sign language in the instruction of the young. You advocate its use, and I do not; and that is the chief point of difference between us…

My objections relate chiefly to the use of the language in the instruction of the young; and I look at the matter from the standpoint of a teacher pledged to do his best for the little pupils entrusted to his care…I hold that, in an English-speaking country like the United States, the English language, and the English language alone, should be used as the means of communication and instruction in all of our public schools.”

Alexander Graham Bell, January 5, 1910, published in the Proceedings of the Ninth Convention of the National Association and the Third World’s Congress of the Deaf, Aug 6 to 13, 1910

Bells are ringing for AG Bell

For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.


1. Oralism: AG Bell was the chief architect and advocate of the oral / aural only exclusive method in Deaf education in the US. Bell never tolerated sign language as part of the deaf child’s educational experience however deaf and hearing leaders advocated for a bilingual education for deaf children. Schools that used sign language also taught English and allowed for speech. Many oral / aural ONLY exclusive programs and schools resorted to physical punishment to stop students from signing, gesturing or even pointing.

2. Mask of Benevolence: AG Bell repeatedly declined Deaf and hearing people’s request to work together. In all his writings he takes a very paternalistic attitude towards helping the deaf and knowing what is best for them – better than they themselves know. (Olaf Hanson – NAD president asked Bell to help push for mandating the teaching of fingerspelling in all public schools, which would only require a few minutes to learn, so that hearing people could communicate with their deaf brethens – Bell replied that it was wrong to expect the majority to change for a minority. George Veditz – NAD president asked Bell to contribute to the NAD funds, attend the NAD convention, and write in support of the importance of the right to sign language for the deaf child, Bell wrote to the contrary advocating for speech only for the deaf child. Edward Miner Gallaudet had numerous exchanges with Bell where he gave evidence of his combined method including speech for deaf children; yet, Bell would never concede to allowing sign language be part of a deaf child’s education.) Many others tried to reach out to Bell’s extreme position to see if they could find a common ground for the best interest of the deaf child. Bell continually declined.

3. Social Darwinism and Eugenics: AG Bell promoted social Darwinism and eugenics – the belief in creating a perfect race via selective breeding. He was the Chairman of the Board of Scientific Directors of the Eugenics Record Office and on the Committee on Eugenics, under the auspices of the American Breeders Association, which at one point advocated for the sterilization defective people to prevent unfit offsprings. In his Memoirs upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human race – Bell discarded a repressive means of stopping Deaf to Deaf marriages (via legislating that Deaf could not marry each other) and went instead for preventive means which he proposed and succeeded at:

a. putting deaf children into hearing schools or oral day schools – closing down Deaf signing residential schools
b. banning ASL from the classroom
c. banning Deaf teachers from the classroom
d. denying Deaf people the right to become teachers
e. closing down Deaf publications, organizations, and conventions
f. keep deaf people apart from each other (physically, emotionally, and communicatively)

4. Plagiarism and Forgery: AG Bell’s invention and patent of the telephone have been disputed and contested since it originated

5. Discrimination: The telephone led to the worse employment discrimination Deaf people ever experienced and there is no evidence that AG Bell attempted to make any invention that would aid d/Deaf people in communicating great distances despite a plea from Veditz- “I wonder if you could be induced to turn your attention to a sort of television that will do for the eye what the telephone does for the ear.”

6. Organization and Publication: Bell used his wealth from telephone to establish an organization to promote the teaching of speech only (later named the AG Bell Association), the Volta Bureau and the Volta Review.

Why Bell at NTID?

In 1979 Dr. Castle proposed AG Bell’s name and plaque for a dorm at NTID/RIT and RIT approved it. Shortly after, Dr. Castle became the president of the AG Bell association while also being the director of NTID.
– When explaining the naming of the new buildings, the campus paper stated: “Mr. Bell is noted for his commitment to helping the deaf children to develop their limited communication skills.” (NTID Building Named, Reporter, Oct 19, 1979)

All the NTID buildings at RIT honor someone who had a direct relationship to the creation and/or running of the first technical college for the Deaf. Bell has no such connection.
ag bell plaque

Baynton, Douglas C. Forbidden Signs: American Culture and the Campaign Against Sign Language. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Baynton, Douglas, Jack Gannon, and Jean Lindquist Bergey. Through Deaf Eyes: A Photogrpahic History of an American Community. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2007.

Bell, Alexander Graham Memoir upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race. 1883.

Edward, RAR, “Chasing Aleck: The Story of a Dorm”, The Public Historian, Vol. 29, Nov 3, pp. 87-107, Summer 2007.

Lang, Harry. A Phone of Our Own. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2000.

Lane, Harlan. When the Mind Hears: A History of the Deaf. New York: Random House, 1984.

Schulman, Seth. The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Bell’s Secret. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008

Van Cleve, John V. and Barry A. Crouch. A Place of Their Own: Creating the Deaf Community in America. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 1989.

Veditz, George, De Moruis Nil Nisi Bonum, Obituary for AG Bell, The Jewish Deaf, October 1922, pp. 13-15.

Veditz, George, Dec. 29, 1909 letter to AG Bell, retrieved 5/18/08 http://memory.loc.gov/mss/magbell/169/16910210/0001.jpg

Veditz, George, February 15, 1915 letter to AG Bell, retrieved 5/18/08 http://memory.loc.gov/mss/magbell/169/16910212/0001i.jpg

Winefield, Richard. Never the Twain Shall Meet: Bell, Gallaudet and the Communication Debate. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 1987.


corrections are welcome