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Pennsylvania School for the Deaf

In 1821 Laurent Clerc was asked to go to the Pennsylvania school to sort out the curriculum. This opportunity made Laurent the first Deaf superintendent of a Deaf school.

In February 2023, Laurent Clerc Holt retraced some of the steps of Laurent and his son, Francis Clerc in Philadelphia, PA. Stay tuned here for future content about this trip and their history with this great city.

Origin and Progress of the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb

While visiting the school there was an opportunity to visit the it's incredible museum. In the records was a book that recorded the origin and progress of the institution. In these pages there are references about the process of thinking of the school when evaluating there curriculum and making decisions that included Laurent Clerc. 

2023.02.23 Penn School for the Deaf Clerc Account.jpg

“At a stated meeting of the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, heat at the Asylum, Wednesday, February 6, 1822-


Present, the Rt. Rev. W. White in the Chair, 

Messrs. Patterson,          Messrs. Calwalader,         Messrs. Vaughan

 Gratz,                                Haines, Mayer, 

 Price, Williams, Morris, 

 Wood,                                Bacon, Biddle, 

 Vaux,                                  Beck,                                   Duane,

 M’ivaine,                           Bache, 


Mr. Vaux, from the committee of instruction, submitted the following report, which was on motion adopted, and ordered to be entered on the minutes. 


The committee of instruction, to whom the Directors of the Pennsylvania for the Deaf and Dumb referred, at their last special meeting, that part of the letter of the chairman of a committee of the House of Representatives, which request information respecting “the qualifications of the teacher now employed by the Board, his term of teaching, or the salary allowed him, compared with that allowed to Mr. Seixas, and the difference in the plan of teaching adopted by the present teacher, if any there be, from that introduced by Mr. Seixas” -


“Respectfully report, 

  1. That previously to the engagement by them of the services of Mr. Laurent Clerc as the Principal of the Pennsylvania Institution, they were perfectly satisfied that his qualification as a teacher of the Deaf and Dumb, were of the highest order. Ample testimony to his merit, was to be found in the facts well known to all who paid attention to the history of the Paris and Hartford school-that this gentleman was on of the most distinguished pupils of the Abbe Sicard - that, after eight years training under that eminent instructor, whose system has commanded the admiration of the best judges in the philosophical world, and has been generally adopted as a model in the other schools of Europe, he became himself a teacher, and in this capacity served with distinction during eight succeeding years, in the Paris Institution - that in the year 1816, when Mr. Gallaudet was introduced to the Institution, Mr. Clerc was occupied in the instruction of the first class, which had been under his charge for two years, and being recommended by the Abbe Sicard as competent to the task of imparting the knowledge of his system to the American Asylum, then about to be established in Connecticut, he was employed by Mr. Gallaudet, and brought to the United States for that purpose - that to the Hartford teachers he has accordingly given lectures upon his art, which as applied to the English language by Mr. Gallaudet, has been also successfully practised by Mr. Clerc himself, in the instruction of a class, for a period of four or five years. 


Some of your committee, in common with a large assembly of the citizens of Philadelphia, witnessed in the year 1816, at a public exhibition, as well as in private circles, the extraordinary attainments of Mr. Clerc in the English language, of which he had then been, but for a few months, a student, and remember with admiration the answers given by him to many abstruse and metaphysical questions, which few of the company present could have replied to with greater precision or philosophical accuracy. The idioms of French language, which were at the time perceptible in his composition, have now disappeared, and he is considered by your committee, to be fully entitled to the high commendations which the directors and principal of the Hartford Institution have bestowed upon him, that he is admirably qualified to evolve the intellectual faculties of the Deaf and Dumb, and to put them in possession of the English language, as an instruction of thought. 


In favour of the system which he pursues, no more convincing argument can be adduced, than his own illustrious example of its efficacy. That system is now in full operation in the Pennsylvania Institution, and in connexion with excellent moral discipline, is already presenting its fruits, in the rapidly improving minds, habits and manners of all its pupils. 


  1. The terms on which Mr. Clerc has been engaged, are to be found in the following Report, made to the Board by this Committee on the 27th day of October last. 

               “The Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Institution for Deaf and Dumb. 

“Your committee of Instruction respectfully report, that in order to fulfil the duty assigned to them at your last stated meeting, two of your committee repaired as soon as possible to Hartford, and made an informal application to the Directors of the Asylum there, for the services of Mr. Laurent Clerc. Startling as the request was, to part, even for a short time, with this distinguished teacher of the Abbe Sicard’s school, to whose instructions their Asylum is mainly indebted for its present per-eminence in this country; and particularly inconvenient as it appeared to be to comply with his request, after having recently dismissed from their service, on account of ill health, Mr. Woodbridge, another teacher of considerable experience in his art, the gentlemen of the Hartford Board, nevertheless, manifested a generous disposition to afford to your Institution every possible aid, and accordingly convened at an early hour for the purpose of considering the following communication.”


“To the President and Directors of the American Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb. -Hartford, Oct. 19th, 1821


Gentlemen, The Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb having directed their Committee of Instruction to procure without delay a Teacher, in every respect qualified to complete the instruction, as well religious as intellectual, of any of their present classes, the undersigned, members of that committee, on their behalf, beg leave to state, that the Pennsylvania Institution have naturally looked to  yours as to a parent establishment, from which alone, on the side of the Atlantic, they could expect assistance in the furtherance of the benevolent views which are common to both. 


They feel so deep an interest in the success of your Institution, and in the extension of the benefits which every part of the United States may expect to derive from it, that they would very reluctantly make any demand upon its good disposition, which might essentially impair its present or future usefulness, but pressed as their establishment is by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to employ at once the very liberal fund which the State has allowed them for the maintenance and education of the numerous indigent mutes applying for relief, they feel it incumbent on them to ask whatever temporary aid it may be a this moment in your power to afford them, even should that aid extend only to the attainment of a uniform system of instruction for the two institutions, and at the same time lead to an earnest cooperation for effecting those philanthropic objects which both must have at heart. 


Having explained fully to many of your Board, as well as to your principal, the general object of their visit to Hartford, the undersigned need not here enter upon details, but will gratefully accept any means which you may be disposed to put into their hands, leaving the term to be pointed out by yourselves. We are Gentlemen, most respectfully, your obedient servants.” (Signed) WILLIAM M’ILVAINE, 



“The result of the deliberations of the Hartford Board on the evening of the 19th inst. - was its consent to spare to your Institution for a limited period Mr. Clerc, provided the offers we could make to him should prove acceptable. Your committee at once agreed to assume all the engagements of the Hartford Board to Mr. Clerc, and accordingly subscribed, in the name of your Board the following contract. 


“Agreement entered into, this twenty-third day of October, A.D. 1821, at Hartford, in the state of Connecticut, between the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, by their committee of Instruction, by virtue of the powers given to them of the one part, and Laurent Clerc, on his part, engages to enter into the Pennsylvania Institution for the purpose of instructing a Class of Deaf and Dumb Pupils, for five hours each day, Sundays, and holiday excepted, and also excepting Saturdays, when he shall instruct but three hours, (and he shall also have three weeks vacation.) during the period of six months next ensuring the time of this departure from Harford, and it is understood that all these reservations are made without any diminution of the compensation to be hereafter stipulated, and on any excursion, from the city of Philadelphia, or in any business which the said Clerc may be called upon to undertake for the benefit of the Institution, in which expenses are incurred, he will expect those expenses to be paid by the said Institution at the expiration, and even at any time before the expiration of siad term, he shall be at liberty to withdraw from the Institution and return to the American Asylum, should the Directors of that Asylum consider that its interest require his services there, and should such a case arise, said Clerc shall receive from the Pennsylvania Institution, such compensation as is proportioned to the time he may remain in it - in consideration of which stipulations as above, the said Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, by their committee of Instruction, engage to pay the said Laurent Clerc seven hundred and fifty dollars,for his services a abovementioned for six months, and to pay his travellling expenses to and from Hartford, between that place and Philadelphia, and also such expenses as may be occasioned by said Clerc’s removal from Philadelphia, and athe amount he may be obliged to pay in consequence of not fulfilling his engagement to board until May next with the person he now leaves, and said Clerc is to have the privilege of giving private lessons for his own emolument during the hours when he is not employed according to his above engagements, and said Clerc agrees to instruct the pupils committed to his charge in the English Language, Grammar, &c - and in the Holy Scriptures, and in the course of his Scripture lessons, to give such general instruction in the principle of the Christian Religion, as may be required by the Board of Directors, and not incompatible with is own peculiar tenets. (Signed) 





George Rose, “

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