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

Veditz, George, February 15, 1915 letter to AG Bell, retrieved 5/18/08

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


corrections are welcome


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Deafchipmunk
    May 18, 2008 @ 16:38:26

    Hi there

    Thanks for sharing valuable resources with us. We need to point that out to the world.


  2. Beth Emerson
    May 18, 2008 @ 19:10:10

    No pointing? We learn from the past, and hopefully do better in the future.

    Beth Emerson

  3. Jerome Cain
    May 29, 2008 @ 09:12:44


  4. pdurr
    May 29, 2008 @ 10:35:50


  5. Alejandro ROMERO LÓPEZ
    Feb 08, 2009 @ 23:52:42


    I share everything what you say on A.G. BELL, it was a great enemy of the language and culture of the Deaf . I invite you to my BLOG in which Harlan LANE publishes an advance of his new book, which will call ” PEOPLE OF THE EYES: Deaf Ethnicity and Ancestry “.

    Http: //

    Best regards from Argentina

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