A Tale of Two Missions

For most deaf people during this period religious instruction was an important aspect of life at residential schools. Many of these schools were formed during a period of "evangelical fervor".1 After they completed their education at a residential deaf school, graduates often sought spiritual and social fulfillment at religious institutions. These individuals relied upon a deaf social network for socialization and employment opportunities. After spending several years in a culturally and linguistically rich environment, the isolation of life among hearing people reinforced the importance of these networks. In the second half of the nineteenth century there was a groundswell of national, state and local deaf organizations. These associations provided members with socialization and the opportunity to communicate using signed language, they also served as information nerve centers where members traded news about the extended community, shared information about job postings and engaged in social and political discourse.2

Beginning mid-century, religious organizations for the deaf appeared and spread across the nation. The Episcopal faith, beginning with Rev. Thomas Gallaudet and St. Ann's Church in New York, was among the most popular and the influence of the Episcopal Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes can be seen throughout the region. In Baltimore, the All Angels' Mission to the Deaf was founded as a result of Gallaudet's visit to the city and Rev. Moylan was among the early layreaders of this orgnization at Grace Episcopal Church. Moylan converted to Methodism shortly before the founding of Christ United Methodist Church, joining a number of well-known deaf Methodist leaders, includng Philip Hasenstab in Chicago.3

In part, deaf religious establishments served an important cultural role in providing a central location and meeting space for members of these networks. While fundamental barriers between spoken and signed language "marginalized Deaf people from many spheres of society, Deaf churches and temples represented an invaluable place of cultural sanctuary."4

Although Christ United Methodist Church for the Deaf was founded in 1895, black deaf individuals in Baltimore were unable to participate in these social networks of this nature until 1905. This reflected a larger trend in which African American deaf individuals were denied access to deaf clubs and organizations. Carol Padden and Tom Humprhies indicate that “Deaf clubs were segregated; along with white Deaf clubs, where Deaf people associated in the evenings and weekends away from work, there were Black Deaf clubs sometimes only a few blocks away..”5 Such was the case in this intertwined church history, particularly in the 1940s when the racially divided congregation began to use the same building, but worshipped on separate floors.


Sources:

1. Edwards, R.A.R. Words Made Flesh; Nineteenth-Century Deaf Education and the Growth of Deaf Culture(New York: New York University Press, 2012) 107-109.

2. Baynton, Douglas C. Forbidden Signs: American Culture and the Campaign Against Sign Language (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996); Burch, Susan.Signs of Resistance: American Deaf Cultural History, 1900 to World War II (New York: NYU Press, 2004).; Buchanan, Robert M. Illusions of Equality: Deaf Americans in School and Factory, 1850-1950 (Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 1999).; Edwards, R. A. R. Words Made Flesh: Nineteenth-Century Deaf Education and the Growth of Deaf Culture (New York, NY: NYU Press, 2012).; Nomeland, Melvia M., Ronald E. Nomeland, and Trudy Suggs. The Deaf Community in America: History in the Making (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2011).; Van Cleve, John V., and Barry A. Crouch. A Place of Their Own: Creating the Deaf Community in America (Washington D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 1989).

3. Olney, Kent R. "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.

4. Burch, Signs of Resistance, 48.

5. Padden and Humphries, Inside Deaf Culture, 40.