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.
UPON THE FORMATION OF A DEAF VARIETY OF THE HUMAN RACE.
By Alexander Graham Bell
A PAPER PRESENTED TO THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES AT NEW HAVEN, NOVEMBER 13, 1883.
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
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.”