Final Project

Part Five: Visualizing the Mission

In a series of blog posts, I have offered a historical examination of the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4). As I described previously, the Mission was founded in 1872 at St. Ann’s Church for Deaf-Mutes in New York City. The organization sought to combine the religious efforts of deaf and hearing clergymen and to expand the “ministry to the deaf of other cities.”[1] Utilizing the annual reports of the Mission, this project attempted to uncover the scale of these efforts in the first six years of the organization (1873-1879).

CMDM Visualization

Using D3.js, a javascript visualization library, I created an interactive map that visualizes the growth of missionary efforts over time.  Green circles are used to locate the worship services offered by members of the Mission. The radius of these circles corresponds to the frequency of services offered at that facility in the given year. Deaf residential schools are also included on the map (marked by orange circles). Moving the cursor over these circles reveals further information about the location. The data can be further manipulated by moving the slider. The thin grey lines that traverse the map represent the train routes in use by 1870.  For ease of examination, the map also contains a zoom function. D3.js is a tool that joins data together. In order to create my visualization, I first uncovered and recorded the missionary data in the annual reports available at the Gallaudet University Archives. These reports varied greatly in length and description of services. Next, I compiled a second data set that recorded the location of deaf residential schools that would have been operating through this period. This information was drawn from Deaf Heritage, a Narrative History of Deaf America by Jack Gannon. Both the mission and school datasets were tidied and geolocated using RStudio. This process has been published on RPubs. I also obtained a shapefile of the United States from NHGIS. This file included state-level geographic boundary information from 1870. Finally, I located a shape file of historical train routes, from Railroads and the Making of Modern America. This file draws on the geolocated railroad data from 1870. Putting these types of data into conversation has unlocked the activities of the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes from the static text and has illuminated the growth of the organization in the first few years, however the concrete conclusions we can draw from this work are limited. In many ways, this project represents the challenges of working with analog primary source materials.

Extracting data from long-form, narrative accounts was not without complications. There are significant gaps in the data; report information for 1876 is unavailable, the frequency of services remains difficult to access as several missionaries did not indicate how often they visited a particular mission in their report, nor do the reports allow us to differentiate between the activities of each missionary. In an effort to access an understanding of the way in which deaf men traversed these spaces and generated a network of deaf communities, I have had to extract meaning from phrases like “monthly Sunday afternoon meetings”, “the third Sunday of November, February, May and August” or “occasional services” from the historical record and develop a means of representing these concepts in a meaningful way. Furthermore, the reports frequently provided overlapping data. When Rev. Thomas Gallaudet and Austin Mann visited a church together, how were responsibilities divided?  These gaps obscure information about how and why clergymen were drawn to a particular region and prevent us from tracing the development of services at a single location. However, even as these findings raise new questions about the scale and scope of the Episcopal deaf ministry, they offer some preliminary insights.

That a greater number of religious services was offered in larger cities, like New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Chicago, does seem to reinforce Rev. Henry W. Syle’s assertion that “It is only in the great cities that the deaf can assemble every Sunday for Divine worship and a sermon by a living preacher… [and] many who are dispersed in places which we can visit only once in one or two months or even longer.”[2] In future work, clarity on this question may be ascertained as the mission reports are correlated with newspaper announcements and diocesan reports. Furthermore, placing the missions alongside residential deaf schools challenged my initial assumption that mission services would likely grow from a relationship with educational institutions. Rather, the map suggests that in the first few years of the organization other factors, like transportation, may have also influenced the locations at which clergymen ministered. That a number of schools, largely those in the West, were not visited by members of the mission is not surprising when we consider that efficient transportation routes were not available at this time.

Given that missionaries did provide weekly services in all of these cities, it is unlikely that they had independent church buildings at each location. Records indicate that in many cases, the Mission developed a relationship with clergymen in various cities and were permitted regular use in their buildings. That mission services continued to be offered at the same location across these years suggests that members of the Mission developed and maintained relationships with the clergy at these facilities. This facet of deaf worship is particularly important when we consider the way in which deaf missionaries and congregants interacted with these negotiated spaces.

Overall, the growth of this organization in this period remains significant. That the Mission was steadily increasing in size in the decade leading up to the founding of the National Association of the Deaf and the Milan Congress suggests that the Mission and its missionaries were firmly in place while these changes occurred. These findings indicate that further investigation may be useful in demonstrating a religious response to these key events.

 

At the start of this project I developed questions regarding the scale and scope of the Mission. In particular I was curious which cities and communities were visited by missionaries? How often were services offered, and to what degree can we estimate the impact missionaries had on the lives of deaf people in these contexts? What relationship did the Mission have to deaf residential schools? What information can it share about other locations with a high population of deaf people? Though imperfect, this visualization serves as a starting point understanding the function and form of the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes. As I continue to investigate the influence of this organization and gain greater access to evidence of its activities, this project will be revisited and updated.



[1] Unknown, “The Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes,” undated, c 1910, Box #45, Archives of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
[2] Henry, Winter Syle, “Silent Catholic (Missionary),” Silent Catholic (Missionary), December 1886, 1.

Part Four: Exploring the Mission

“The Society has established some twenty-five missions for adult deaf-mutes in different parts of the country, reaching directly upward of one thousand persons. They are influencing the whole community of about 25,000 in the country in favor of the Church which uses the Book of Common Prayer, which they can read after their education.”  – Thomas Gallaudet[1]

As the quote above indicates, the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes acknowledged that their missionary efforts relied on the foundation laid at deaf residential schools which introduced literacy as well as religious ideologies. I have described this relationship in a previous blog post and for more information on this project visit this post on historiography and  the introduction.

The Mission grew out of a twenty-year ministry in New York City.[2] Throughout this period, Rev. Thomas Gallaudet, founder and rector of St. Ann’s Church, engaged in missionary trips to nearby cities. Gallaudet made frequent visits to Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore, providing services in sign language and offering assistance to members of the deaf community. He used these opportunities to promote the work of St. Ann’s Church and to encourage the inclusion of deaf people in religious services.[3] By 1871, Gallaudet stated, “this double work had reached its limit.”[4]

On November 29 of that year, a meeting was held at St. Ann’s that resulted in the founding of the Mission. Attendees at the first meeting included hearing and deaf men as well as important figures in the New York community.[5]  They came together in support of forming a larger organization dedicated to establishing an expanded ministry.

The primary goal behind the founding of the organization was to provide services to deaf people beyond the reach of St. Ann’s.  In order to do so, the Mission strove to establish services in “all the larger cities”, to “promote the temporal and spiritual welfare” of deaf people by “encouraging them to make the best use of their education at the various Institutions”, to provide assistance in obtaining employment, and to administer counsel and support “in times of sickness and trouble”.[6]  The organization also committed to the founding of a Home for Aged and Infirm Deaf. [7]

The group reconvened a year later, on November 1, 1872. In the time that had passed committee members had worked to secure an act of incorporation and develop a constitution that defined the parameters of the organization. These required that a board of trustees be appointed and established annual meetings in New York City at at St. Ann’s.  An initial board was elected, composed of both deaf and hearing men.[8] Over the course of the first decade of the organization, the Mission grew in size serving over 30 states by 1883.[9] Between 1873 and 1897, the number of individuals engaged in missionary services under the organization tripled.[10]

As described in the last blog, by midcentury, deaf residential schools had produced a group of educated, elite deaf people. The first members of deaf Episcopal ministry were drawn from this group and the inclusion of deaf people in the priesthood by the Episcopal Church in the United States, disrupted the exclusion of deaf people from full participation of church structures. However, this process was fraught with barriers.

Though deaf men had been frequently licensed as layreaders in the church, it would appear that elevation to the level of deacon was another thing altogether. The ordinations of the first five deaf men were “strenuously opposed” by both clergy and laity.[11] In some cases, they were refused permission to officiate in certain dioceses, or at least to administer sacramental ministrations.”[12] Records suggest that in some cases leaders of the church “had to be convinced that a deaf man was capable of fulfilling such a great responsibility.”[13]

The opposition to the ordination of deaf people in the Episcopal Church focused on several key points. First, there was concern that it was a “a violation of the principle that men who aspired to office in the Church should be physically as well as mentally sound and perfect, and because they believed that the sacraments of the Holy Communion and of baptism would, if administered without the oral accompaniment of the proper words, be invalid and void.”[14] Next, St. Augustine was cited and the suggestion was made that a “deaf man was incapable of faith because he could not hear the word.”[15] When Austin Mann applied for ordination to the diaconate in 1877, he was “flatly refused ordination by his Bishop” in Michigan.[16]

In fact, as late as 1902, missionaries experienced difficulty being recognized as candidates for the priesthood. The ordination of Harry Van Allen proceeded only after he demonstrated particular skill in written English. Upon reading his work, the Bishop reportedly exclaimed, “What, that deaf and dumb man! Well, anyone who can write as good or better poetry than his Bishop, ought to be ordained.”[17]

The first successful deaf applicant to the diaconate, Henry W. Syle, was permitted to submit himself for examination with the explicit support of his Bishop. Rt. Rev. William Bacon Stevens, Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, made an impassioned sermon in support of the ordination of deaf men and asserted that sign language was adequate for administering sacraments.[18] Stevens argued that “the Deacon should show his ability to communicate his Divine message to the intellect and conscience of the people, in such a manner as that the people to whom he ministers shall most readily receive and understand it [emphasis in original].”[19] With Bishop Stevens’ support, Syle completed his canonical examination in writing.[20]

In the first decade of the Mission, three of missionaries were ordained to the diaconate.[21] In 1883, both Syle and Mann would be accepted to the priesthood. They played a considerable role in altering the perception of deaf people within the Church and among the communities they visited. Yet, the importance of these deaf missionaries has not been examined. Susan Burch suggests that “Deaf ministers and supportive hearing ones took leading roles in major social and political organizations.”[22] There is some indication that Burch is correct, as four missionaries would also serve as President of the National Association of the Deaf.[23]

Through their duties as missionaries they provided religious instruction and responded to the social welfare concerns of their congregants. In 1879, Austin Mann visited at least 37 churches at least once. The same year, Job Turner offered sermons at over 50 churches.[24] Despite the breadth of their reach, the scale and scope of this organization has not been discussed by others. To what degree did they influence deaf lives in the communities they entered? As deaf congregants were housed in existing religious facilities, how did they modify temporary religious spaces for their needs? How did deaf members of the ministry travel from place to place? How were locations chosen?

The answers to these questions are obscured in the current record. In my examination of the annual reports of the Mission, complete details as to the frequency of services, division of religious fields, and the nature of their interaction with deaf community members remain unavailable. Despite this barrier, in my next blog post, I will suggest some preliminary conclusions drawn from this project and present the digital visualization that accompanied this work.



[1] The Fifth Annual Report of the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes (New York, NY: Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes, 1877), 6, Gallaudet University Deaf Collections and Archives.

[2] St. Ann’s Church for Deaf-Mutes was founded in 1852.

[3] Otto Benjamin Berg and Henry L. Buzzard, Thomas Gallaudet, Apostle to the Deaf (New York: St. Ann’s Church For the Deaf, 1989).

[4] Elsewhere Gallaudet also indicated that the decision to form a separate organization was also encouraged by the fact that St. Ann’s Church had recently satisfied the debt on their building. As the center of missionary efforts for twenty years, St. Ann’s had subsidized his missionary trips and funded assistants. Having announced the elimination the debt on their church buildings, there was some concern that donations to St. Ann’s would cease or be reduced. In this case the Mission enabled them to continue missionary activities while still encouraging financial support from community members. The First Annual Report of the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes (New York, NY: Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes, 1873), Gallaudet University Deaf Collections and Archives.

[5] Gallaudet, Rt. Rev. Horatio Potter, Bishop of the Diocese, Dr. I.L. Peet, Principal of the New York Institution for Deaf-Mutes, Rev. Dr. Montgomery, John Carlin, D. Colden Murray, Orlando L. Stewart, Henry J. Haight, and S. R. Comstock were all in attendance. Ibid., 6.

[6] Ibid., 17.

[7] The Home for Aged and Infirm Deaf-Mutes, later renamed the Gallaudet Home, was initially founded in the city in 1876. The facility later moved to a farm on the Hudson River, near Poughkeepsie. In 1936, Rev. Guilbert Braddock  emphasized that  the home “rescued many of them from the cold hearthstone of inhospitality, and from the massed isolation of the city and county poorhouses.” While it was intended to serve those in need broadly, due to limited funds, it was required that those living out of state were charged for their stay. Funded by the Church Mission to Deaf Mutes and updates on the Home were also included in the Annual Reports. Eric Whiting, “A Brief History of St. Ann’s Church for the Deaf And Its Founder, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Gallaudet,” undated (around 1960, 6–7, Papers, Henry L. Buzzard, MSS 59, Gallaudet University Archives; “Miscellaneous- Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes,” American Annals of the Deaf 31, no. 2 (April 1886): 166–67; Alexander L. Pach, “Kinetescope,” Silent Worker, May 1900; “History of the Gallaudet Home for Aged and Infirm Deaf-Mutes in the State of New York; Printed on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Opening of the Home at Wappinger Falls, New York, 1936” (St. Ann’s Church Press, New York, NY, 1936).

[8] Rt. Rev. Horatio Potter served as President with D. Colden Murray, James. M. Austin, M.D. as Vice Presidents. Isaac H. Holmes was named secretary and treasurer. The other members of the board included John T. Hoffman, Orlando L. Stewart, John Carlin, Henry J. Haight, S.R. Comstock, William O. Fitzgerald, Robert Gracie, Isaac Lewis Peet, John H. Pool, James F. Ruggles, James McCarter, Charles S. Newell, F. Campbell, James Lewis, Louis F. Therasson, William Niblo, Frederick DePeyster, Samuel V. Hoffman, Edward M. Curtiss, G. Fersenheim, and P.W. Gallaudet. Gallaudet was named General Manager and Rev. John Chamberlain served as Assistant Manager.The First Annual Report of the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes, 1.

[9] Tenth Annual Report of the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes (New York, NY: Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes, 1883).

[10] In 1873 five men were associated with the mission (Gallaudet, Rev. John Chamberlain, Rev. F.J. Clerc (Rector of Burlington College, New Jersey) Rev. Thomas B. Berry (pastor of St. Paul’s Mission Chapel, Albany, N.Y.) and Mr. Samuel A. Adams, (Baltimore Maryland). In 1879, seventeen men and one woman are included in the list of missionaries. (Rev. Thomas Gallaudet (Rector, St. Ann’s Church), Rev. F.J. Clerc (Rector of St. Paul’s Church, Phillipsburg, Pennsylvania), Rev. George C. Pennell (Rector, St. John’s Church, Newark, New Jersey), Rev. Thomas B. Berry (Omro, Diocese of Fond du Lac, Wisc), Rev. John Chamberlain (Assistant Manager/ Assistant Minister St. Ann’s Church), Henry Winter Syle (St. Stephen’s Mission to Deaf-Mutes, Philadelphia, PA), Mr. Austin W. Mann (Cleveland, Ohio), Mr. Thomas Roberts, (Grace Church, Allentown, PA), Mr. John C. Acker, (St. Luke’s Church, Rochester, N.Y.), Mr. R. D. Beers (St. Paul’s Church, Bridgeport Connecticut), Mr James Lewis, Mr. James S. Wells, Mr. Job Turner (St. Paul’s Church, Boston, South), Mr. R.P. McGregor (St. John’s Church, Cincinatti OH), Mr. E. P. Holmes (Nebraska City), Mr. William Bailey (Boston, Salem and Beverly, Mass), Mr. Delos A. Simpson (Christ Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes, St. Louis, and Mrs. Gould (bible study, St. Paul’s Church, Troy, NY). The First Annual Report of the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes; The Seventh Annual Report of the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes (New York, NY: Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes, 1879), Gallaudet University Deaf Collections and Archives.

[11] Jacob Mitchell Koehler, “Ordinations of Deaf Men,” Silent Worker 40, no. 2 (November 1927): 51.

[12] 390 AAD

[13] Sara Lee Jackson, A Voice in the Wilderness: A Brief History of Work Among the Deaf in Alabama by the Episcopal Church, 1961, 3.

[14] Berg and Buzzard, Thomas Gallaudet, Apostle to the Deaf, 151.

[15] Alexander M. Manson, “The Work of the Protestant Churches for the Deaf in North America 1815-1949, II,” American Annals of the Deaf 95, no. 4 (September 1950): 390.

[16] Koehler, “Ordinations of Deaf Men.”

[17] Ibid.

[18] William B. Stevens, “A Sermon Preached in St. Stephen’s Church, Philadelphia, Sunday, October, 8, 1876. On Occassion of the Ordination of Henry Winter Syle, M.A., (A Deaf Mute,) as Deacon in the Protestant Episcopal Church by the Rt. Rev. WM. Bacon Stevens, D.D., LL.D., Bishop of Pennsylvania” (Sermon, Philadelphia, PA, October 8, 1876), https://archive.org/details/gu_sermonpreache00stev; Manson, “The Work of the Protestant Churches for the Deaf in North America 1815-1949, II,” 390; Otto Benjamin Berg and Henry L. Buzzard, A Missionary Chronicle: Being a History of the Ministry to the Deaf in the Episcopal Church, 1850-1980 (Hollywood, Maryland: St. Mary’s Press, 1984), xxiii.

[19] Stevens, “A Sermon Preached in St. Stephen’s Church, Philadelphia, Sunday, October, 8, 1876. On Occassion of the Ordination of Henry Winter Syle, M.A., (A Deaf Mute,) as Deacon in the Protestant Episcopal Church by the Rt. Rev. WM. Bacon Stevens, D.D., LL.D., Bishop of Pennsylvania,” 19.

[20] Steve L. Mathis, “The Church Ministry to the Deaf in the United States” (Lecture presented at the National Council of Missioners and Welfare Officers to the Deaf, Cambridge, England, 1954), 3.

[21] Syle (diaconate, 1876, priesthood, 1883), Mann (diaconate, 1877, priesthood, 1883), Job Turner (diaconate 1880, priesthood, 1891), Jacob M. Koehler (diaconate, 1886, priesthood, 1887).Berg and Buzzard, A Missionary Chronicle, 261.

[22] Susan Burch, Signs of Resistance: American Deaf Cultural History, 1900 to World War II (New York: NYU Press, 2004), 51.

[23] Robert P. McGregor, Jacob Koeher, James Cloud, and Franklin C. Smielau. Lawrence R. Newman, Sands of Time: NAD Presidents 1880-2003 (Silver Spring, Maryland: National Association of the Deaf, 2006).

[24] The Seventh Annual Report of the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes.


Part Three: Education and Religion

“Christian ministry often began in the schools that were established to teach. The priests, clergymen, and laymen who were first motivated toward this ministry saw no serious separation between the spiritual and secular education of deaf students. This concern arose later. However, the church’s ministry to deaf people began in the context of the school.” – Dr. Harold Noe, History of Religion Among the Deaf[1]

 

The Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes came into existence in the second half of the nineteenth century. In reviewing the historiography of deaf religious history in the previous post, I suggested that deaf educational practices had an important impact on the lives of deaf people throughout this period (the first post in this series is also available). How do we characterize the relationship between religion and education and why is it particularly important in the second half of the nineteenth century for members of the Mission? Dr. Harold Noe’s History of Religion Among the Deaf provides some insight.

Noe - History of Religion

 

In this brief text, Noe describes key features in the development of a deaf ministry.[2] Included in this work is an image entitled “History of Religion Among the Deaf”. The image expresses the deaf religious of history as a winding road and the destinations that Noe has included are quite telling. Unsurprisingly, religious scripture lay at the start of the journey. These passages mark each mention of deaf people in the bible and are commonly understood to have shaped the perception and treatment of deaf men and women.  At the end of the road Noe notes the creation of different forms of religious service for deaf people. From scripture to practice, Noe suggests that deaf religious history has travelled a chronological path. Included in this history are the great ‘firsts’ of deaf education; Pedro Ponce de Leon, a Benedictine monk that taught deaf children housed at his monastery in Spain; Abbe Charles-Michel de l’Epee, founder of the National School for the Deaf in France; and Thomas H. Gallaudet, founder of the American School for the Deaf founded at Hartford, Connecticut.

 

The assertion made in Noe’s picture, and the prevailing narrative of deaf religious history, is that education and religion are deeply intertwined. In many ways, these subjects are impossible to separate. The Second Great Awakening is frequently understood to be the impetus behind the growth of deaf education in the United States.[3] From the founding of the American School for the Deaf in 1817, the character and direction of residential deaf schools in the United States reflected the cultural and philosophical concerns of Americans.[4] In the first half of the nineteenth century, these concerns centered on the spiritual and moral lives of uneducated deaf people.  Collins Stone, Superintendent of the Ohio Institution for the Deaf summarized these attitudes toward education clearly in 1848.

“We regard congenital deafness as one of the sorest calamities that can befall a human being… He knows nothing of the existence of God, of his own spirit, or of a future life… If he dies unblessed by education, he dies in this utter moral darkness, though he has lived in a Christian land; though from his youth he has frequented the temple of the true God, or daily bowed around the altar of family worship. To open the doors of his prison, and let in upon him the light of truth and the consolations of religion, is a work in which every benevolent mind must feel a deep interest.”[5]

Stone was not alone in expressing these concerns. Douglas Baynton has clearly and concisely described the prevalence of these attitudes in his text Forbidden Signs. “At mid-century, the calamity of deafness still was ‘not that his ear is closed to the cheerful tones of the human voice’ but that the deaf person might be denied the ‘light of divine truth.’”[6] It was these beliefs that enabled the spread of deaf education and it is unsurprising that religious leaders featured prominently in the establishment of new institutions. Between 1817 and 1850, eighteen deaf residential schools were founded, eight of these under the direction of ministers.[7] At least three schools were established at the urging of members of the Mission.[8]

Religion also shaped instruction at deaf residential schools. In 1873, Rev. Thomas Gallaudet, rector of St. Ann’s and General Manager of the Mission recalled that religious instruction figured prominently at his father’s school. “The pupils were brought together in the chapel, twice every Sunday, for divine worship and religious instruction, conducted in the sign language. They also had morning and evening prayers, daily, during the week.”[9] The American School for the Deaf was the first to incorporate these practices, but the feature was soon pattered in the institutions that followed.[10] The overlap between residential deaf schools and religious organizations was so complete that Alexander Manson’s research on Protestant Churches for the Deaf suggested “all of the Episcopalian clergy for the deaf had some teaching experience in the schools for the deaf.”[11]

Though deaf education was thoroughly linked to religious organizations in the nineteenth century, the adoption of worship services in sign language, outside of the school was not widespread. In fact, St. Ann’s Church, founded in 1852, is believed to have been the first attempt to form a separate church mission for deaf men and women. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the members of the Mission promoted the belief that the unique features of the Episcopal Church best prepared them to bridge the gap between residential religious services and community worship.

They believed that the use of the Book of Common Prayer and a common church calendar enabled missionaries and deaf community members to maintain their worship practices even as members of the Mission traveled between communities.[12] The written liturgy would enable the growing population of literate deaf adherents to practice privately or to take part in services with hearing people. Gallaudet stated, “A common sign language and a common manual alphabet are used throughout the whole country. These are instrumental in conveying and receiving ideas with great rapidity. Deaf-mutes enjoy signs as those who hear enjoy sounds. But, as deaf-mutes are led by their education to understand the English language, they can also derive great profit by using Prayer Books and Bibles at the services of any Episcopal Church in the land.”[13] Missionaries sought to ensure that deaf adherents would be able to understand the lessons contained in the Book of Common Prayer and discussed at great length the importance of conveying religious concepts appropriately so that congregants would be able to understand the ideas in written English.[14]

The importance of deaf education in the lives of deaf people cannot be overstated. Attending deaf residential schools introduced deaf people to community, language and culture. These institutions prepared deaf people for employment, provided literacy skills, and introduced many deaf people to signed languages. However, deaf historical study has yet to examine the way in which these spaces also provided an introduction to religion.  In many ways deaf residential schools prepared deaf people to be congregants of the Mission. It also prepared students to become missionaries. In the next blog post I will examine the emergence of the Mission and the ordination of deaf men to the ministry. To what degree did education and the Mission influence each other? In what communities were mission services provided? What relationships were developed between deaf residential schools and missionaries traveling through these spaces? What answers can be located in the annual reports of the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes?



[1] Harold Noe, The History of Religion Among the Deaf (Book Two), First (Council Bluffs, Iowa: Deaf Missions, 1985), 24.

[2] Noe, The History of Religion Among the Deaf (Book Two).

[3] Douglas C. Baynton, Forbidden Signs: American Culture and the Campaign Against Sign Language (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 15.

[4] Baynton, Forbidden Signs.

[5] Collins Stone, “On the Religious State, and Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb,” American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb, April 1848, 133.

[6] Baynton, Forbidden Signs, 33.

[7] Elaine Costello Ph.D, Religious Signing: A Comprehensive Guide for All Faiths, Rev Upd edition (New York: Bantam, 2009), xiv.

[8] Gallaudet was directly involved in the founding of deaf schools in Rome (1875), Rochester (1876) and Malone (1884) New York. Otto Benjamin Berg and Henry L. Buzzard, Thomas Gallaudet, Apostle to the Deaf (New York: St. Ann’s Church For the Deaf, 1989), 62.

[9] The First Annual Report of the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes (New York, NY: Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes, 1873), 11, Gallaudet University Deaf Collections and Archives.

[10] It warrants mentioning that students spent years at residential deaf schools, living in dorms and separated from families. Whatever the religious affiliation of their families, they participated in the services offered at school. Douglas C Baynton, Jack R Gannon, and Jean Lindquist Bergey, Through Deaf Eyes: A Photographic History of an American Community (Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 2007), 32; Susan Burch, Signs of Resistance: American Deaf Cultural History, 1900 to World War II (New York: NYU Press, 2004), 46–52.

[11] Alexander M. Manson, “The Work of the Protestant Churches for the Deaf in North America 1815-1949, II,” American Annals of the Deaf 95, no. 4 (September 1950): 389.

[12] The Fifth Annual Report of the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes (New York, NY: Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes, 1877), 6, Gallaudet University Deaf Collections and Archives.

[13] Proceedings of the First Conference on Church Work Among the Deaf, Held at New York, October 4-5, 1881, Conference Proceedings (Philadelphia, PA, n.d.), 7.

[14] Ibid., 12–14.


Part Two: Historiography

In his dissertation, Religion and the American Deaf Community, Kent Olney asserted, “…there is actually an abundance of available materials describing the relationship of religion to the early deaf community. Silence can no longer be attributed to a lack of reliable resources.”[1]

A critical assessment of the historiography suggests that deaf religious histories can be found both everywhere and nowhere in deaf historical study. As I described in the previous blog post, the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes has yet to be critically examined. Nor has the complex relationship between religion and the American deaf community received sufficient attention. However, as this project indicates, rich deaf religious histories can be found in abundance across this field of study. In fact, secondary sources that describe deaf religious histories may be divided into three groups. The first group includes works regarding the contemporary deaf ministry. These texts offer brief summaries of early religious efforts, however they are frequently fraught with errors, poorly sourced, and include uncritical narratives that were shaped by contemporary aims.[2]

Alternatively, the second group, into which the majority of Deaf History texts fall, relegates the subject of religion to the periphery. Upon examination, however, religion can be found in the majority of the books examined. Several of the works highlight the way in which religious beliefs regarding deafness and disability were rooted in Judeo-Christian theology and link these beliefs to broader systems of benevolence.[3] Others, Douglas Baynton’s work for instance, emphasize the role of religion in the development of deaf education in the United States and examine the religious arguments used in defense of sign language.[4] Though frequently profound in his assessment of religious rhetoric, Baynton’s book is not a text about deaf religion. Rather, the text focuses on hearing evangelical protestant reformers and the ideologies that drove their efforts.

In another example, Signs of Resistance by Susan Burch argues for the importance of signed church services in preserving the use of signed languages in deaf schools.[5] However the importance of religion in the lives of deaf people does not receive consideration, nor are religious institutions assessed outside of the social services they provided. Further still, while works like Jack Gannon’s Deaf Heritage and the more recent, Baltimore’s Deaf Heritage by Kathleen Brockway, include key figures in deaf religious history, they do not meaningfully investigate the role of religion in deaf lives.[6] Though religious figures, spaces, and ideologies are featured across this grouping of texts, these are not made central to the argument. Religion in these cases is largely viewed as a precursor to social organization, rather than a catalyst.

The works that directly describe the emergence of religious services for deaf people are found in the final group of texts. These pieces sketch the shape of deaf religious worship by examining key figures, exploring worship practices, studying spaces of worship, and questioning the role of religion in the deaf community. Below, I will highlight key works relating to the Episcopal ministry to the deaf, though there are a number of texts that deal with other forms of worship.[7]

Between 1950-1951, Rev. Alexander Manson produced a series of articles penned for the American Annals of the Deaf.[8] The work attempted to craft a coherent narrative of The Work of the Protestant Churches for the Deaf in North America, 1815-1949. In just over 100 pages, Manson described the development of seven Protestant deaf religious organizations over a period spanning 134 years. His work is significant as it provided one of the most comprehensive examinations of Protestant efforts in the deaf community, however due to the scale of his effort, his analysis is thin. Despite this, critique, the second installment of his work, which describes the Episcopal Church ministry, is nuanced and important. In very little space, Manson unpacks a number of the key themes in the history of the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes, examines issues relating to the ordination of deaf men, and identifies the importance of understanding the role of religion in the lives of deaf people into the twentieth century.

The next major work, A Missionary Chronicle, remains the fullest account of this church organization despite its limitations. In this work, Otto Berg traces the history of the deaf Episcopal ministry from its roots in European deaf education to the centennial celebration of the Episcopal Conference of the Deaf in 1981. Covering such a broad time period, the author relies heavily on reprinted primary source materials. Berg uses summary passages to position the historical evidence and to provide an overall narrative to the work. This provides an invaluable opportunity to locate historical documentation about the organization and aids in compiling biographical information on the members of the ministry, particularly the deaf men and women who served as layreaders.

However, Berg does not offer a nuanced or critical reading of the ministry to the deaf in the Episcopal Church. The work focuses on church leaders and offers very little insight into the lives of congregants. Furthermore, he does not adequately investigate episodes of tension or strife in this history.[9] Finally, the text draws, in large part, from church reports and from articles in the deaf press but offers very little insight into the relationship this organization had with the Episcopal Church. Religious debates and shifts in theory or practice between 1850-1980 did not appear in the text.

In a companion text, Thomas Gallaudet, Apostle to the Deaf, by Berg and Henry Buzzard reproduced these oversights and are subject to the same critique.[10] Though an important step toward recognizing and uncovering deaf religious histories, the authors are uncritical of Gallaudet and throughout the text citations are sparse and unvaried. The work contains important information about the role of the church in providing services to members of the deaf community and highlights the influence of the clergy, but is unable to adequately place this history in a larger context.

Conclusion:

While religion is featured across deaf historical texts, there are few examples of historians critically engaging with religion in deaf history. How do we account for this gap despite an abundance of material? Olney suggests that researchers have not prioritized the study of religion.[11] While I agree with his assessment, we must also consider the way in which deaf lives from this period are mediated through the lens of a written record.

This project utilizes church reports, church materials, newspapers and journal articles to reconstruct the activities of the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes. Not only should these sources be critically assessed as institutional documents produced for public consumption and unlikely to contain unvarnished opinions of authors, they must also be considered in terms of their representation of the lives of deaf people themselves. Accessing the experiences, particularly deeply held religious beliefs, is difficult undertaking for any scholar. The process is further complicated by the study of a cultural and linguistic community for whom signed languages (without a written form) were the primary languages. Given barriers to literacy and the slow growth of educational opportunities for deaf people throughout the nineteenth century, we must remember that the lives of the majority of deaf people are not recorded in written English As a result of these factors, deaf historical research must be viewed as mediated through a lens and a language that was not wholly their own.[12] In the next blog post this discussion will continue, as the complex relationship between religion and education will be further explored.



[1] Kent Robert Olney, “Religion and the American Deaf Community: A Sociological Analysis of the Chicago Mission for the Deaf, 1890-1941” (Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, 1999), 56.

[2] Harold Noe, The History of Religion Among the Deaf (Book Two), First (Council Bluffs, Iowa: Deaf Missions, 1985); Bob Ayres, Deaf Diaspora: The Third Wave of Deaf Ministry (New York: iUniverse, Inc., 2004); Peggy A Johnson and Robert L Walker, Deaf Ministry: Make a Joyful Silence (Charleston, S.C.: BookSurge, LLC, 2007); Elaine Costello Ph.D, Religious Signing: A Comprehensive Guide for All Faiths, Rev Upd edition (New York: Bantam, 2009).

[3] John V. Van Cleve and Barry A. Crouch, A Place of Their Own: Creating the Deaf Community in America (Washington D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 1989), 1–6; Robert M. Buchanan, Illusions of Equality: Deaf Americans in School and Factory, 1850-1950 (Washington D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 1999), 2–3; Jan Branson and Don Miller, Damned for Their Difference: The Cultural Construction of Deaf People as Disabled (Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 2002), 13–16, 130–132; Melvia M. Nomeland, Ronald E. Nomeland, and Trudy Suggs, The Deaf Community in America: History in the Making (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2011), 67–68, 78–79.

[4] Douglas C. Baynton, Forbidden Signs: American Culture and the Campaign Against Sign Language (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996); R. A. R. Edwards, Words Made Flesh: Nineteenth-Century Deaf Education and the Growth of Deaf Culture (New York, NY: NYU Press, 2012).

[5] Susan Burch, Signs of Resistance: American Deaf Cultural History, 1900 to World War II (New York: NYU Press, 2004), 46–52. R.A.R. Edwards takes a similar position in, Edwards, Words Made Flesh.

[6] Jack R. Gannon, Deaf Heritage: A Narrative History of Deaf America, ed. Jane Butler and Laura-Jean Gilbert (Silver Spring, Maryland: National Association of the Deaf, 1981); Kathleen Brockway, Baltimore’s Deaf Heritage (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2014).

[7] For example, Anthony Russo’s work provides a study of Catholic religious activities among the deaf, see: Anthony Russo, In Silent Prayer: A History of Ministry With the Deaf Community in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (Garden City Park, NY: Square One, 2008). For close examination of Methodist religious efforts, see; Olney, “Religion and the American Deaf Community”; Kent R. Olney, “The Chicago Mission for the Deaf,” in The Deaf History Reader, ed. John Vickrey Van Cleve (Washington D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 2007), 174–208. For information about Jewish deaf people, see: Jerome Daniel Schein, The Deaf Jew in the Modern World (New York: Ktav Pub. House for New York Society for the Deaf, 1986).

[8] Alexander M. Manson, “The Work of the Protestant Churches for the Deaf in North America 1815-1949, I,” American Annals of the Deaf 95, no. 3 (May 1950): 265–79; Alexander M. Manson, “The Work of the Protestant Churches for the Deaf in North America 1815-1949, II,” American Annals of the Deaf 95, no. 4 (September 1950): 387–433; Alexander M. Manson, “The Work of the Protestant Churches for the Deaf in North America 1815-1949, III,” American Annals of the Deaf 95, no. 5 (November 1950): 461–85; Alexander M. Manson, “The Work of the Protestant Churches for the Deaf in North America 1815-1949, IV,” American Annals of the Deaf 96, no. 3 (May 1951): 363–81.

[9] Recently, my work has been critical of the Church’s handling of the merger between St. Ann’s Church and St. Matthew’s Church in New York City in 1897. These matters received minimal consideration in this text. Jannelle Legg, “‘Not Consolidation but Absorption’; A Historical Examination of the Controversy at St. Ann’s Church for the Deaf” (Masters Thesis, Gallaudet University, 2011); Jannelle Legg, “Writing Resistance: Edwin A. Hodgson and the Controversy at St. Ann’s Church,” in Telling Deaf Lives, ed. Kristin Snoddon (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2014).

[10] Otto Benjamin Berg and Henry L. Buzzard, Thomas Gallaudet, Apostle to the Deaf (New York: St. Ann’s Church For the Deaf, 1989).

[11] Olney, “Religion and the American Deaf Community,” 56–57.

[12] For greater discussion of these features, Christopher Krentz’s work explores these features at length.  On the camera as printing press, see: Christopher Krentz, “Camera as Printing Press,” in Signing the Body Poetic; Essays on American Sign Language Literature, ed. H-Dirksen L Bauman, Jennifer L. Nelson, and Heidi Rose (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2006). For information on deaf writers, see: Christopher Krentz, Writing Deafness: The Hearing Line in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2007).


Part One: An Introduction to the Mission

CMDM LogoThe Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes was founded in 1872 at St. Ann’s Church for Deaf-Mutes in New York City. The organization sought to combine the religious efforts of deaf and hearing clergymen and to expand the “ministry to the deaf of other cities.”[1] These aims were not revolutionary, particularly to the men present at that meeting. Rev. Thomas Gallaudet, for instance, had provided religious services to deaf men and women in neighboring cities since he was ordained in 1852.[2]  Nor should the Mission be remembered solely for the unique form of worship it promoted. Though news articles from this period frequently marveled at the novelty of ‘silent sermons’, the use of sign language in church services was not an innovation of this group.[3] Rather, the importance of the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes (and the Conference for Church-Work Among the Deaf it would later become) was the way in which missionary efforts connected disparate deaf communities and created leadership opportunities for deaf clergymen.

These missionaries worked with a stated ambition: “… to increase the number of religious services for the deaf and dumb throughout the country; to relieve deaf-mutes who are in sickness or trouble; to find work for those who are out of employment, and especially to provide a home for the aged and infirm.”[4] Toward these aims, in the first decade of the organization the Mission grew in size significantly. In 1873, the activities of the centered in New York and the neighboring states. [5] By 1879 the Mission field expanded to include thirty-two states and portions of Canada.[6] As the Mission spread into adjacent cities and fell under new dioceses, the work of missionaries had influence on the physical and religious lives of deaf people “scattered in the wilds”.[7]

Despite the importance of the Mission there has been no comprehensive effort to examine this rich history. Further still, efforts to catalog and recognize the role of deaf clergymen have been limited.[8] In a series of linked blog posts, I’ve undertaken a project that moves toward addressing this historical oversight. In this examination, I’ve incorporated digital methodologies (as part of the course Clio 3: Programming in History/New Media as well as American Religious History after 1865) to examine these sources. Which cities and communities were visited by missionaries? How often were services offered, and to what degree can we estimate the impact missionaries had on the lives of deaf people in these contexts? What relationship did the Mission have to deaf residential schools? What information can it share about other locations with a high population of deaf people? Because this project is intended to be a part of a much larger investigation of the religious work of the Episcopal Church, the questions it considers are broad and the conclusions I will draw will be preliminary.

Terminology:

This project will address the subject of deafness and disability from a cultural perspective rather than applying a medical model. A medical model emphasizes pathology, identifies deafness as a problem, and marks deaf bodies as different. In this project deaf people are defined as members of a unique cultural and linguistic community. [9]

In the second half of the nineteenth century, a number of phrases were utilized to describe members of the Mission and other members of the American deaf community. Terms such as “deaf-mute”, “deaf and dumb”, “semi-mute”, and “silent people” were applied to individuals with varying hearing and/or speaking abilities as well as varying linguistic skill in sign language and/or English.[10] As a result they occupied ambiguous and shifting identity categories throughout this period.

In an effort to capture the fluidity of these experiences and given the lack of materials that indicate their self-identification, “deaf” as an inclusive term is used throughout this project to refer to members of the nineteenth-century American deaf community across a spectrum of hearing and language abilities. In proper names and direct quotes I will utilize the language provided by primary source documents.



[1] Unknown, “The Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes,” undated, c 1910, Box #45, Archives of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.

[2] While employed as an instructor at the New York Institution for Deaf-Mutes Gallaudet also provided religious instruction to students. Thomas Gallaudet, “A Sketch of My Life,” Unpublished Autobiographical Manuscript (Washington, D.C., n.d.), Thomas Gallaudet Papers, unprocessed manuscript, Gallaudet University Archives; “Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes,” Deaf Mutes’ Journal, August 12, 1875.

[3] “A Deaf and Dumb Service,” Fraser’s Magazine, 1869; “Prof Job Turner in Canada,” Staunton Spectator, December 3, 1878, Library of Congress, Chronicling America; “Deaf Mutes at Church; Interesting Services at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church,” New York Times, September 16, 1878, New York Times Archive 1851-1980, http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?srchst=p; “A Sermon in Sign Language,” Edgefield Advertiser, November 8, 1883, Library of Congress, Chronicling America; “An Unspoken Sermon,” Evening Gazette, February 23, 1896, Deaf Biographical Files, Gallaudet University.

[4] “Miscellaneous; Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes,” American Annals of the Deaf 18, no. 2 (April 1873): 129.

[5] Mission services were offered in nine states. The First Annual Report of the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes (New York, NY: Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes, 1873), 7, Gallaudet University Deaf Collections and Archives.

[6] The Seventh Annual Report of the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes (New York, NY: Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes, 1879), Gallaudet University Deaf Collections and Archives.

[7] Deaf missionary, Jacob Koehler used this phrase to describe the deaf people living in small, diverse communities. The phrase highlighted concern for both the spiritual and social lives of deaf people that frequently lived without access to church and community. Jacob Mitchell Koehler, “Untitled History,” n.d., 2, Papers, Henry L. Buzzard, MSS 59, Gallaudet University Archives.

[8] A Missionary Chronicle remains the only major work that characterizes the efforts of the Episcopal ministry in this era. Produced by members of the Conference on Church Work Among the Deaf, the work is an introductory effort, uncritical of the Mission or its members and provides a chronological collection of primary materials. Otto Benjamin Berg and Henry L. Buzzard, A Missionary Chronicle: Being a History of the Ministry to the Deaf in the Episcopal Church, 1850-1980 (Hollywood, Maryland: St. Mary’s Press, 1984).

[9] Beginning with James Woodward, scholars in the field of Deaf Studies adopted a naming convention that makes this distinction clear; “deaf” (with a lowercase “d” was used to denote the auditory condition of deafness, while “Deaf” (with a capital “D”) was used to refer to individuals who share a cultural and linguistic affiliation. Throughout this work, this convention is not utilized. This decision was made as part of a effort to recognize and unpack the” D/d” model as a twentieth century convention that refers to a particular configuration of identity categories and experiences. For more information on the “D/d” model, see: Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, “Learning to Be Deaf,” in Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988) 2.

[10] In fact, the audiometer, a device used to qualify and quantify hearing abilities was not commonly used to investigate the relationship between hearing and language until the 1920s. For more information, see Susan Burch, Signs of Resistance: American Deaf Cultural History, 1900 to World War II (New York: NYU Press, 2004), 33.For an example of how the deaf community characterized differences in hearing and speaking abilities, see: Edward Allen Fay, “Deaf-Mutes–II,” American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb, October 1888, 242.