THE LAURENT CLERC LITERARY SOCIETY
Laurent Clerc taught at the American School for the Deaf (ASD) from its opening in 1817 to his retirement in 1858, for 41 years. As a model of an enlightened Deaf gentleman who advocated self improvement and learning it would be natural for future students to aspire to be more like him and the other teachers at this prominent institution.
We believe that a “Laurent Clerc Literary Society” was organized at the American School for the Deaf as early as 1869, the year that Laurent Clerc passed away. Our History & Cogswell Heritage House curator, Jean Linderman's most recent thoughts are that ASD organized a Literary Society, probably after the school created classes for the more advanced students, who were separated into the “High Class”. There were was something like the "ASD Literary Society" and it is believed that most schools had them.
At some point it is believed that the society at ASD evolved,
possibly in 1914, into a society that honored another ASD
teacher Job Williams, who demonstrated his knowledge of ASD
history in a item we located in the Gallaudet University Library
Deaf Collections and Archives...
Job Williams was an ASD instructor from 1866-1878 when he became the Principal of the school to from 1879-1913. He died in 1914 and this may be when the name change took place.
Taking nothing from Job Williams and his academic achievements we are glad that Laurent Clerc regained his position in the annual of literary societies. At some point the students or educators of ASD changed the name back, possibly in 1941. We see in 1951 society meeting notes that we are back to the Laurent Clerc Literary Society. And in what we believe are 1968 yearbook photos, many young adults took to their school stages to celebrate their society memberships.
Why a society at all? I believe that I read somewhere that the teachers at ASD had concerns that their Deaf students were not reading enough and needed to further develop their public presentation skills. Curator Jean comments that such societies met about once a month and involved readings, skits and debates (a topic would be decided and judged by a teacher). This gave the students good practice speaking/signing in front of an audience, become well-versed in both sides of an issue, and organize their thoughts "for" or "against."
Jean found a record book for the Job Williams Literary Society record dated 1915-1937. But the fact that so far alludes her is when the society was originally organized. She believes that many of American School for the Deaf’s records from the mid-late 1800s are missing, possibly tossed when the school moved to from downtown Hartford in 1921 to its present location in West Hartford.
The records of the Laurent Clerc Literary Society seem to taper out around 1972 when it appears the tastes of ASD students and teachers seems to have changed.
We will need to do some more research about this fascinating chapter in Deaf education. One of the questions that we have is whether other schools evolved similar literary societies. If you participated in such a society at ASD or another school, please drop us line and tell us about it!