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),; 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.

2 thoughts on “Part Four: Exploring the Mission”

  1. Hello Janelle,
    I have discovered your work by googling the name of the minister who came to Glover VT (northern VT) in Oct 1892 to officiate at the home marriage of a Glover girl, Anna Marnock and Marcus Brown of MA. Anna had become deaf at age 2 after having the measles, and after first starting in her local one room school house, by age 7 she attended the Hartford school, where she probably met Marcus, who had been born deaf and also attended the school.
    I found a local newspaper item about their marriage that reported that Rev. Chamberlain of NYC officiated, and that made me think he must have either been deaf himself or at least known sign language to have come so far to perform the ceremony.
    I am a volunteer at the Glover Historical Society and this is our 6th year of researching a Glover person with the 4th grade class at Glover Community School so that the students learn research skills that they then can apply to work on researching someone in their own family history.
    This year, Anna Marnock, born in 1870 in Glover, is our research person. A local newspaper item was the inspiration, one that reported that Mrs. Marnock was traveling to the Hartford School for the Deaf and Dumb to attend her daughter’s graduation. That was enough to grab my interest; I am a retired special education teacher and wondered what it would be like to be a girl who was deaf 150 years ago. I have been researching her life and trying to stay one step ahead of the students.
    I am struck by how close Rev. Chamberlain must have been to Thomas Gallaudet, and it seems such an honor that he would have come all the way from NYC to tiny Glover, VT to perform their marriage.
    I will continue to research Rev. Chamberlain, and maybe I will find the answers to my questions, but wondered if you know if he was deaf or hearing, or any other info about him. Do you think it was just considered part of his mission work to come that far to perform a wedding?
    Both Anna and Marcus lived the end of their lives at the New England Home for the Deaf & Dumb in Danvers, MA. I see in your research that it was part of the Mission’s goal to establish homes for deaf people who were aged or sick. Do you know if the Danvers home was established by the Mission?
    I would be happy for anything you can help us with!
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Joan,
      I’m happy to assist anyone who is helping young people get interested in history! I’m I’m afraid I don’t have any information on Anna Marnock or Marcus Brown.
      But I am happy to share and point you in the direction of additional resources relating to the Deaf Ministry and Rev. Chamberlain. I am curious about Marcus as the Brown family of Henniker, New Hampshire is featured prominently in People of the Eye by Lane, Pillard, and Hedberg. I’m not sure if he would be part of this family, but that is another interesting thread if you would like to chase it down.

      Chamberlain was hearing. I’ve seen several references to a deaf relative and some credit this experience with his language skill. It was not unusual for a church worker to have traveled to perform the ceremony. The Episcopal Mission to the Deaf was largely made up of ministers and lay readers that offered religious services in many cities and states. From St. Ann’s Church in NY, Rev. Thomas Gallaudet, and his assistants frequently traveled to cities like Washington D.C., Baltimore, Boston, and Albany. As assistant minister to Gallaudet at St. Ann’s, Chamberlain often served in this capacity. After Gallaudet’s death in 1902, Chamberlain was named Rector of St. Ann’s Chapel and continued his ministry.

      Homes for Aged and Infirm Deaf people were established in several states during the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century. In some cases, as in New York, they are closely aligned with religious work – but in others, it seems that local and state deaf organizations undertook to create these Homes. I have not come across any reference to religious work at the New England Home, but I haven’t focused intensively on that region yet.

      There is a bit of information about Rev. Chamberlain in A Missionary Chronicle. If you can find it at a local library, the beginning of the book has a section on Rev. Thomas Gallaudet (founder of the ministry to the Deaf in the US) and his “early helpers.” That should offer an overview of the Deaf Ministry. I’ve also found some brief biographical articles in The Silent Worker a publication from the New Jersey School for the Deaf- a biography (June 1929) and an obituary (February 1920).

      Additionally, you might find it instructive to look at Cornelia: or the Deaf Mute, a book written after the death of a young deaf woman. The book was used to reinforce the need for the creation of deaf religious spaces and educational opportunities and offers some insight on how people thought about and described deaf people in the nineteenth century.

      Finally, A Place of Their Own by John Van Cleve and Barry Crouch is a great primer on Deaf American History- it is also a quick read and the section on the American School for the Deaf and deaf residential schools is something that students may be able to read directly.

      I hope this is helpful!

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