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Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris

Laurent's home from 1797 (age 12) to 1816 (age 31) was on the vanguard of Deaf education in the world. Here we explore this incredible institution that is still teaching Deaf French citizens today!

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It's Story

How about we start with some French DeafHistory?

Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris or National Institute for Deaf Children of Paris is the current name of the school for the Deaf founded by Charles-Michel de l'Épée, in stages, between 1750 and 1760 in Paris, France.


After the death of Père Vanin in 1759, the Abbé de l'Épée was introduced to two deaf girls who were in need of a new instructor. The school began in 1760 and shortly thereafter was opened to the public and became the world's first free school for the deaf. It was originally located in a house at 14 rue des Moulins, butte Saint-Roch, near the Louvre in Paris. On July 29, 1791, the French legislature approved government funding for the school and it was renamed: "Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets à Paris. (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)


The national institute for the Deaf is established on a historic site, situated in the Latin quarter. The remnants of a Gallo-Roman oven were uncovered in the 80’s during the construction of the vocational workshop building. In 1286, a hostel welcomes the pilgrims who are going to St Jacques de Compostelle. In 1572, Catherine de Médicis houses the Benedictines of Saint Magloire's abbey in its buildings. In 1618, the Oratorians organize a seminar which Jean de la Fontaine attends. In 1760, Abbot de l’Epée ( 1712-1789 ) opens a free school for deaf children in his house, on 14 Moulins street (now called Thérèse street). His teaching is based on his methodical sign method. In 1791, the French Revolution founds the Institution for the Deaf at birth and gives the Abbot’s foundation the national dimension which it deserved. His school is transferred to the convent of Célestins, near the Arsenal and supervised by abbot Sicard . In April, 1794, the institution is transferred to Saint Jacques street. It is the first public school in the world for deaf children. Abbot Sicard is the first director. It is conceived from the beginning as a charity institution, a school, a vocational training center, a place to live in and a research laboratory. Several XIXth century  personalities live there and carry out research. Doctor Itard who took in Victor de l' Aveyron,  the wild child, or Bébian, the first school principal, the author of a sign language dictionary and the inventor of  bilingual education.

Remarkable deaf pupils, who became teachers, have left their mark on INJS and in the world history of the Deaf : Laurent Clerc, a brilliant pupil of Abbot Sicard, leaves for the USA in 1816, with Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. They found the first school for the Deaf in the New World, in Hartford (Connecticut). Ferdinand Berthier, a famous activist for the cause of the Deaf, a teacher in the institute, author of the Napoleon code concerning the Deaf, the founder in 1838 of the Central Society for help and assistance of the Deaf-mutes, and a passionate advocate of  sign language.

These deaf personalities illustrate the considerable outcomes of the work of Abbot de l’Epée : access for the Deaf to education, to citizenship, to clubs and intellectual or artistic societies, and development of  sign language. (Courtesy of INJS)

Laurent's Diet

His food was mainly vegetables and fruits from the garden. Students had soup at 3 meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner/supper). The soup was made from carrots, turnips, potatoes, cabbages and lot of onions, all of that garden grown and organic. They eat nearly no meat, or very few (55 gr per person 3 or 4 times a week) sometimes an egg or a cup of cottage cheese or a small piece of dried fish. No sugar or sweets, except for Sunday dinner  (a bit of jam or applesauce with a piece of simple cake). Milk was consumed once a week . There was no butter or cream. Fruits were available when trees of the back garden produced some (pears, apples, nuts and dried figs). There was more easily bread. Bread at every meal, but again had to be rationed. Abbé Sicard was always struggling for money to feed pupils and teachers. They would be consider healthy and fit at that time, as this diet of poor people was actually quite healthy. The ration of wine was very light (8 or 9° alcohol, diluted in water with a mixture 1 p of wine for 9 p of water). It was used to " mask" the odd taste of water, which was not very fresh at that time. Sometimes the students would be given a small portion of beer, for health reasons, prescribed by the doctor, supposed to heal anemia. (Courtesy of Anne Picaud)

CLINDOEIL22 Musée d'Histoire et de Culture des Sourds

Discussion about Laurent Clerc

Laurent's Clothes

The Museum of History and Culture of the Deaf of Louhans has a small collection of uniforms buttons from Deaf

schools. Among them there is a button from the school on rue Saint Jacques in Paris. (René Legal).

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Courtesy of the Musee-Sourds in Louhans, France

by Yves Delaporte (CNRS), translated by Rachel Hartig


This communication is dedicated to a considerable event in the history of the deaf, which, however, left no trace in the memory of the deaf. The abbé de l’Épée, Jean Massieu, Laurent Clerc, Ferdinand Berthier are honored as they deserve; the same is not true for the deaf students who dared, in 1830, oppose the first attack against sign language.


1. The Events which Preceded the Rebellion of 1830


From its creation in 1794 until 1822, Saint-Jacques was led by the abbé Sicard. Not knowing sign language, he is unable to communicate with his students. Saint-Jacques owes its reputation to Massieu and Clerc. But these two heroes in deaf history never succeeded in abandoning an attitude of submission concerning Sicard. A good illustration of this attitude is Clerc’s refusal to teach his students in sign language, and his preference for “methodical signs”, a form of signed French.


The death of the abbé Sicard in 1822 brought a period of uncertainty to Saint-Jacques. The leadership was given, successively, to three incompetent abbots, Goudelin, Périer and Borel. The attitude towards sign language is less favorable. In 1829, an administrative communication, which recognized the usefulness of sign language at the beginning of instruction, planned to eliminate it a little bit at a time as the student became more advanced, in order not to block his/her training in speech. It is the beginning of oralism.


In the first decades of the 19th Century, two personalities emerged at Saint-Jacques. First, the hearing Auguste Bébian. Godson of the abbé Sicard, Bébian associates very early with the students at Saint-Jacques and learns their language. He leaves the imprint of his strong personality on the institution. Although he is hearing, he is the first professor to use sign language rather than signed French in the education of deaf students. The uncompromising character of Bébian, who supports the deaf students and professors against all kinds of vexations and bad treatment, will bring about his dismissal from Saint-Jacques. Secondly, Ferdinand Berthier, student then professor at Saint-Jacques, and the friend of Bébian.


In 1830, Saint-Jacques consisted of 6 teachers for the boys two of whom were deaf, Berthier and Lenoir and 4 hearing teachers for the girls. A third deaf man, Forestier, is a tutor.

2. The Days of December 1830


With the dismissal of Bébian, the deaf lost their main supporter. When the Revolution of July 1830 occurs, bringing to power King Louis-Philippe, Berthier seizes the opportunity. On November 1, a delegation of the deaf, led by him, appears before the new king with a text that demands Bébian’s return. Louis-Philippe receives the petition favorably.


The newspapers speak of this approach. On November 14, Berthier and Lenoir published an article in The People’s Sentinel, “The Deaf Demand Their Teacher Bébian of King Louis Philippe”. In the administrative bodies of Saint-Jacques, there is amazement. The deaf dared to brave the hierarchy and address the king directly! That had never before been done. Baron Degérando, president of the administrative counsel, sends a letter of protest to the Minister of the Interior. In a spirit of prudence, all is indicated in the conditional: some deaf people may have introduced themselves as delegates of the deaf. If this is true, the king should be informed that his goodness was deceived.


The response is immediate and stinging: the minister not only confirms that the king spoke to some former students from the institution, but he profits from this opportunity to criticize the administration of the institution, speaking of serious complaints that had reached him from the fathers of students.


The meeting of the deaf with the king had been a bad dream for the institution. But now it is a true nightmare that is going to begin: it is no longer only the deaf teachers who will attack the hierarchy, it is the students themselves.


On the 12th of December, a petition was sent to the Minister of the Interior. It is signed by 61 students. The director is attacked. He has “almost no merit nor talents”. He doesn’t know how to teach the students, is incompetent in sign language, and is too timid to be obeyed by the monitors and lazy teachers. One of the latter has not been giving classes for two years. Theft has become a habit and nepotism reigns on all levels. For all of these evils, there is only one remedy: the return of Bébian. He alone, by his merits, by his perfect knowledge of sign language, can help the institution regain its love of study. There is a postscript that reveals the fright of the institution since the meeting with the king and its fear that Bébian always inspired :


“The Director and the hearing teachers tormented us. They asked us if we like M. Bébian. We said yes. — Why? — Because he is very well educated, and he knows better than the director the art of teaching us. Now we hate the director and all the hearing teachers.”


The walls of Saint-Jacques are covered with inscriptions favorable to Bébian. Texts circulate, with satirical drawings against hearing professors. Three students, Contremoulin, Bézu and Imbert are sent away (the exclusion of Imbert is symbolic because his schooling is complete). On December 20th, a second petition signed by 53 students defending  them. 


Finally, the reaction is not too severe, given the gravity of the situation. The ministry seems to limit itself to the charge of incompetence against Borel (in November 1831, he will be sent away for “ inadequacy”). We are still in a period that gives importance to the deaf. The memory of the abbé de L’Épée remains alive ; that of Sicard, who succeeded in being named his worthy successor, is very recent. Perhaps there is a fear of having the deaf teachers intervene again directly with the king who gave them a favorable reception only a month before.


3. The Effect of the Days of December 1830 on the History of the Deaf:


 1. A century and a half before the events at Gallaudet in 1988, we see the beginning of the construction of a deaf identity. For the first time, the deaf organize collectively. During the days of 1830, the solidarity between teachers and deaf students overpowered any other principle.


 2. Among the students who participated in the rebellion by signing the two petitions, one discovers the names of several future personalities who left an imprint on the history of the deaf in the 19th century. Five of them were even be praised by the Minister of the Interior in 1879 (among them Bézu, sent away in 1830 !). Ackerman and Ryan will be teachers in Nancy. Allibert will be a teacher at Saint-Jacques. Jules Imbert, the other one sent away in 1830, will be proposed for membership in the Legion of Honor and will play an important role in the history of deaf associations. It is in the days of December 1830 that they forged their first weapons. 


3. Berthier will learn many lessons from the events of 1830: within their institutions, the deaf are in an inferior position. They seem always to lose in their struggles. The deaf must, then, organize outside their institutions and garner support from the larger society. This will lead to the establishment of the Banquets of the Deaf in 1834 and the Central Society for the Deaf in 1838. These initiatives also allow for the development of a deep relationship with the press which always favorably views the demands of the deaf. It is a roundabout strategy that still operates well today in France. We see it in Emmanuelle Laborit’s mediation for she did more to promote the recognition of sign language than confrontations within institutions.


4. An important consequence of this series of events, in the course of which appears the notion of “deaf pride”, is the first marriage between deaf people in Paris in 1844. In a few years, these marriages will become the norm. They will allow the appearance of deaf lineage which is at the heart of the constitution and transmission of deaf culture and identity.

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