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Louis Laurent Marie Clerc

From a small boy in rural France to the US Congress, the story of Laurent Clerc is an incredible journey. Join us in exploring this amazing story.

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His Story


1770-1814 Joseph Clerc, father of Laurent, was mayor and notary of the Royal Commissary in La Balme, part of a 400 year unbroken chain of Clerc family members as mayor. From the 15th century, the males in the Clerc family had served the king through the office of Tubelion or the Royal Commissary.

1785.12.26 The birth of Louis Laurent Marie Clerc in La Balme, a small village in the Canton of Cremieu, Department of Isere, toward the south of France. It is noted for its grotto, called, "Lagrottee de Notre Dame de la Balme"."His mother, Marie-Elisabeth Candy, was born into the bourgeoisie of Crémieux. At the request of his godfather, also named Laurent, only the child’s second name would be used.

1786 Clerc fell into the fire andlost his sense of smell and hearing. However, there is evidence that he might have been deaf from birth.

1785.12.29 Laurent was baptized at the L’église Saint-Pierre in La Balme-les-Grottes, France

1786 He may have been born deaf, but his parents supposed that his deafness was caused by his fall. Laurent later wrote "When I was about a year old, I was left alone for a few moments on a chair by the fireside, and it happened, I know not how, that I fell into the fire, and so badly burned my right cheek, that the scar of it is still visible; and my parents were under the impression that this accident deprived me of my senses of hearing and smelling."

1788 A disastrous year in France. In August, France declared financial bankruptcy. The Estates General, the legislative assembly representing the three French orders (clergy, nobility, and third-state) were convened in 1789. The winter of 1788-89 is particularly cold. The harvests were very bad and the people were hungry. 

1789 The Revolution breaks out in France, symbolized by the storming of the Bastille on July 14. It is the end of the Old Regime. The king is deposed. Joseph Clerc is ruined.  His son Laurent stayed in the village and received no education at all.


1789.12.23 The death of the Abbé de l’Épée. His funeral took place the next day in the Saint-Roch church where he officiated. The Abbé Roch-Ambroise Sicard became his successor as head of the school for deaf-mutes, the “Institution Nationale des Jeunes Sourds de Paris”

1790 A former pupil of the Abbé de l’Épée, named Cyrille Michel, passes through La Balme. Hoping to be a tutor, he stopped at the Clerc’s. Their fortune gone, the family can’t afford to pay him, and he leaves for Moûtiers, a small city in the Alps in the hope of creating a school for deaf children. A doctor from the city of Lyon tried to “cure” Clerc of his deafness by injecting liquids into his ears.  Clerc would later write that he suffered mightily from the “treatment” and that the attempt was abandoned.

1792 Laurent recalled "When I was seven years, my mother hearing that a certain physician in Lyons could cure deafness, took me thither. The doctor, after examining my ears, said he thought he could make me hear, provided I would call at his office twice a day for a fortnight. My mother agreed to take me, so we called regularly every day and the doctor injected into my ears I do not know what liquids, but I did not derive any benefit whatever from the operation. And at the expiration of the fortnight I returned home with my mother still as deaf as I was before."

1792.08.22 Eliza Crocker Boardman, Clerc's future wife, was born in Bennington, Vermont.

1792.08.26 Abbé Sicard was arrested by the revolutionaries. The students of his school mobilized on his behalf and succeeded in getting him released, enabling him to escape the tragic and bloody September massacres.


1793.01.21 King Louis XVI was guillotined. On October 16th Queen Marie Antoinette was guillotined. The city of Lyon was bombed. Beginning of the French revolutionary calendar, with the year beginning on September 22 and no longer on January 1. This calendar would eventually be abandoned in 1806. Laurent Clerc expressed himself through family-created “home signs.”


1794 The “Institution Nationale des Jeunes Sourds de Paris” was installed in the old seminary building called Saint-Magloire on the rue Saint-Jacques in Paris. Prospective students had to be at least nine years old, rules stipulated.


1797.03 Laurent Clerc (age 12) arrived at the Institution for the Deaf in Paris. His uncle and godfather, also named Laurent, brought him and left little Laurent at the school, believing that admission was free. He eventually paid his tuition. The Abbé Sicard was the superintendent and he took Laurent under his supervision, taught his Sign Language Française, to draw, to compose and work in the printing office. He later trained him as a tutor. Laurent remember that his " father being unable to absent himself from home on account of the duties of his office, at his earnest request, my uncle, Laurent Clerc, took me to Paris, and the next day I was placed in the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb. I did not see the Abbé Sicard, but I learned afterward that he was in prison for a political offense. Mr. Massieu, deaf and dumb like myself, was my first teacher, and when the Abbé Sicard was set at liberty and had resumed the superintendence of the Institution, he took me into his class, and I was with him ever after."

1799.08.1 After many letters sent by his godfather to the authorities, a scholarship was finally awarded to Laurent, in view of documents justifying the poverty of his parents. Clerc met Jean Massieu at the school and the two boys became friends.  Clerc met René Dunan, born in 1793, from Nantes, a large city not far from the sea in the southwest of France. René Dunan created a deaf school in his parent’s home in 1824. 

1799.11.09 There was a coup d’état de 18th Brumaire year VIII (Revolution Calendar) at the instigation of Napoléon Bonaparte. It was the end of the Directory. The Consulate was installed.

1799 The Abbé Sicard was finally allowed to return to the institution of the deaf in Paris.Over the next few years, Laurent began to study Catechism and attended the school’s printing workshop.

1805 Laurent (age 20) learned to draw and to compose in the printing office of the Institution till 1805.


1805 Laurent (age 20) was promoted "When I was employed as a tutor on trial" just eight years after entering the school Laurent.

1805.08.18 Laurent Clerc’s (age 20) communion occurred and his confirmation two days later. Both ceremonies took place in the church of Saint-Eustache in Paris,_Paris. They mark the end of Clerc’s schooling, and he leaves for vacation with his family in La Balme. At the end of summer, when the new school year began, he started work as a “repeater” (teacher assistant) in his friend Massieu’s classroom, with a salary of 500 francs (Massieu’s salary was 1,200 francs).

1805.08.31 Alice Cogswell is born in Hartford, CT.

1806 Laurent (age 21) was hired as a teacher. His salary was about $200.00 a year. Laurent wrote that "in 1806 appointed a teacher with a salary of about two hundred dollars. In process of time, Mr. Sicard thought me capable of teaching the highest class, and I occupied that place when Mr. Gallaudet came to Paris. But before speaking of him more at length, let me say how I happened to make Mr. G's acquaintance. was chosen to become a "tutor on trial."

1806 At the age of 21, Laurent was made a teacher of the highest class for a salary of $200 a year. 

1807.06.24 Abbé Sicard sent a letter to the Ministry of the Interior requesting that Laurent (age 22) be officially named a repeater (teacher assistant). In his letter he specified “that it would be impossible to find a repeater of equal merit to Laurent Clerc”. Clerc’s promotion happened at the same time as that of Laurine Duler, a young hearing woman, who became, three years later, principal of the school for deaf-mutes in Auray (department of Morbihan in little Brittany) and then, in 1817, of the deaf school in Arras (department of Pas-de-Calais, north of France).

1808 "Clerc had the opportunity to go to St. Petersburg, Russia, to help run a new school for deaf students. The proposed director of the school, Jean-Baptiste Jauffret, knew little of deaf people or sign language, so Clerc urged Sicard to let him accompany Jauffret to Russia. To Clerc’s elation, Sicard agreed. However, the Russians provided funds for only one person, and Clerc reluctantly gave up the idea."

A Mighty Change: An Anthology of Deaf American Writing, 1816-1864, Christopher Krentz


1809.07.24 The first public meeting in Toulouse, France, where the Abbé Sicard introduced his pupil Laurent (age 24) in public lectures.

1814 Allied Powers entered Paris.

1815.03 Napoleon returned from the island of Elba.

1815.05.28 During the spring political upheavel in France, the Abbe Sicard, accompanied by his two teachers, Massieu and Laurent (age 30), journeyed to London and gave several public lectures in that city, explaining his method of teaching the deaf, which he illustrated by the attainments of the two deaf teachers who had been his pupils. It so chanced that Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet had been in London at that time and had attended one of these public exhibitions. At the conclusion of the lecture he was introduced to the Abbe Sicard and his assistants and was cordially invited to visit the Institution at Paris. Dr. Gallaudet was quick to accept the invitation and in the spring of 1816 journeyed to Paris. Laurent reported "Mr. Sicard was so afraid that Napoleon would deprive him of his honors, that he accepted an invitation to visit England in order not to be in Paris while Napoleon was there. He took Mr. Massieu and myself along with him."

1815 Laurent "arrived at London during the last days of May" in the company of Sicard and Massieu.


1815.06.02 They had "our first exhibition on the 2d of June. [Footnote: The questions and answers of Massieu and myself at these public exhibitions were published.] We gave two a week, and they were generally attended by princes, members of both houses of parliament, and other distinguished individuals of both sexes, among whom were the Duke of Kent, the Duke of Orleans, (since Louis Philippe,) and her grace, the Duchess of Wellington. Little did I anticipate, at that time, the total defeat which Napoleon was to experience by the combined armies of Europe, under the command of her illustrious husband, the Duke of Wellington. I had the mortification of being present at the house of lords when the prince regent came in person, to announce to both houses the Battle of Waterloo and the flight of Napoleon. I also witnessed the illumination of the city in the evening, and the joy that this event caused to the English!"

1815.07.03 Laurent asked "What is gratitude?" in front of an audience composed of individuals of the highest standing in the social and political circles of England in London, England.

1815.07.10 Laurent Clerc, Jean Massieu and Abbe Sicard met Dr. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet of Hartford, CT. Sicard offered to teach Gallaudet his method of instruction.

1815.07.20 Gallaudet attended another presentation. Sicard again offered to teach Gallaudet his method for free in France.

1815.07.25 and 29 Sicard's group made presentations in the port of Brighton, England.

1815.07.29 Clerc returned to France from Brighton, England with his companions aboard the sailing vessel "Eliza".

1816.03.18 In the spring, Thomas Gallaudet "according to his promise, he came to Paris, and glad were we to see him again. He visited our Institution almost every day. He began by attending the lowest class, and from class to class, he came to mine which, as mentioned above, was the highest. (Laurent)

1816.04 Laurent's father, Joseph Francis Clerc died several months before Laurent (age 31) sailed to America.

1816 Gallaudet frequented Laurent's school-room and private lessons for an hour every day. Laurent told Thomas it would "require at least six months to get a tolerably good knowledge of signs, and a year for the method of instruction so as to be well qualified to teach thoroughly."


1816.05.20 By the middle of May, Gallaudet "wished very much he could obtain a well educated deaf and dumb young man to accompany him to America." Laurent recommended several but apparently Gallaudet "had already made his choice, and that I (Laurent) was the person he preferred." Laurent was astonished but said he "would not hesitate to go if I could do it properly." Laurent suggested that he write Sicard but there was silence. Laurent approached Sicard but he was hesitant but finally agreed. See the story when Laurent writes about it during a tribute to Thomas Gallaudet and recorded by Henry Barnes.

1816.06.01 Laurent reports that he "started for Lyons on the 1st of June, after having promised Mr. Gallaudet to return a few days before the appointed time for our voyage."

1816.06.12 Laurent had to return from La Balme to Paris and he "bade herself, my brother and sisters and friends, adieu."

1816.06.12 Laurent was en route for Havre to catch a ship to America, with Mr. Gallaudet and their much honored friend, S. V. S. Wilder, Esq.

1816.06.13 While awaiting the departure of the "Mary Augusta" Laurent signed a contract with Thomas Gallaudet to teach at the Hartford Asylum. The contract was signed by a  S. V. S. Wilder, who was a significant person in Laurent's life as the had apparently guaranteed Laurent's first year salary if something went wrong with the founders of the school in Hartford.

1816.06.18 With Mr. Gallaudet, Mr. Clerc left France on the 18th of June, , in the ship "Mary Augusta". Owing to adverse winds and frequent calms, the voyage lasted fifty-two days. During that time, Clerc taught Gallaudet method of signs for abstract ideas and Dr. Gallaudet taught Clerc the English language. The voyage is chronicled by Laurent himself in a diary, "Diary Of Laurent Clerc's Voyage From France To America In 1816". The diary was handed down to Francis Clerc Ogden great great grandson who donated it to the American School for the Deaf and then given to the Yale University Manuscripts and Archives by Guy Bryan Holt.

1816.06.24 A "founding meeting" for the new school for the Deaf took place at the Bennet City Hotel in Hartford, CT.


1816.08.09 After 52 days at sea, Laurent arrived in the morning at New York City.


1816.08.21 Laurent and Thomas left for New Haven, CT where they visited Yale University, met with some professors, visited the library and chapel before meeting with President Dwight 


1816.08.22  Laurent and Thomas the took the stage to Hartford, CT where we arrived in the afternoon and alighted at Dr. Cogswell's house on Prospect street.

1816.08.23  They attended a meeting of the directors of the Asylum at the State House.

1816.09.03 to 1816.09.18 As part of a 7 month tour to raise awareness and money, Dr. Cogswell, Mr. Gallaudet and Laurent "set out for Boston, with many letters of introduction, among which was one from Gov. John C. Smith to Gov. Phillips. The object of our coming hither was soon generally known. I was at the Atheneum upon two days of the week and answered a great variety of questions proposed to me by a large company of gentlemen. On the second day, that is, on the 9th of September, an address was delivered to the gentlemen, which I had written in the morning. It is proper to remark that I had only studied the English language about three months; no apology, therefore, is necessary for the idiomatic expressions discoverable in my style. Here is my address, the first I ever made in this country."

1816.09.09 Laurent Clerc made an address at the Boston Athenaeum

1816.09.27 Laurent presented in Salem, MA.


1816.10.22 Laurent presented in New Haven, CT.


1816.11.07 Laurent presented in Albany, N.Y.


1816.12.11 Laurent presented in Philadelphia, PA.


1816.12.16 Laurent presented in Burlington (N.J.?)

1817.01.14 Laurent Clerc wrote a letter Mason Cogswell discussing a vote that is about to take place on whether to establish another Deaf school in New York. The hope was that the students would be sent to Hartford instead.

1817  In April Laurent prepared an address which was delivered by Dr. Gallaudet at the Center Church in Hartford before an assembly of the Governor and both houses of the Legislature of Connecticut and a crowd of citizens. In this paper which dealt with a public examination of the pupils, Clerc showed complete familiarity with the theory and practice of the Abbe de l'Epee and that of his successor, Sicard. He urged that public support for the impartation of education to deaf children be broadcast. Thus began a series of travels over the New England and Middle Atlantic states in which Clerc's assistance was invaluable in raising funds to establish the first free school for the deaf in America.

1817.04.15 Laurent helped open the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction for the Deaf  in the Old City Hall, 54 Prospect Street and now called The American School for the Deaf, the first permanent school for the Deaf in Hartford CT, with Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet as its first principal and Laurent Clerc as its first teacher. The first class had 7 students that included Alice Cogswell, George Loring and Wilson Whiton. In addition to his duties as teacher, Clerc assumed the added duties of instructing Gallaudet and new teachers in methods of instructing the deaf and also in the sign language.

1817 Laurent stated "...other institutions may, therefore, be established until at last, not a deaf and dumb adult in the United States may remain uneducated...".

1818.01.07 Laurent Clerc and Henry Hudson, President of the Board of the Connecticut Asylum for the Educationand Instruction for the Deaf visited the United States Congress and conferred with Senators and House Representatives, including Spearker of the House, Henry Clay.

1818.01.08 Clerc appeared before the US Congress. "Clerc visited Congress with board member Henry Hudson to seek additional financial assistance for the school. Henry Clay, the speaker of the House, seated Clerc beside him, and during a recess Clerc conversed in writing with congressmen, in both French and English. The next day, Clerc visited President Monroe in the White House."

A Mighty Change: An Anthology of Deaf American Writing, 1816-1864, Christopher Krentz

Laurent Clerc and Henry Hudson were also introduced by the French Ambassador to the United States and President James Monroe at the new renovated White House. The original White House was burned down by the British during the Ward of 1812. They discussed the education of the deaf children and adults.

1818.05.28 An address to the Governor and both houses of the Connecticut General Assembly, asking for financial aid for the school. Written by Laurent but read by Thomas Gallaudet at Clerc's request at a public examination of the pupils in the Connecticut Asylum.

1818 Laurent Clerc was the first Deaf person to address the United States Congress.

1818.05.29 Laurent's mother, Elizabeth Candy Clerc died.  

1819.05.03 Laurent Clerc married Miss Elizabeth Crocker Boardman, a former pupil at her uncle's home in Cohoes Falls, New York. Six (6) children were born to them, two dying in infancy. "The marriage was by all accounts happy, and it provided a new incentive for Clerc to stay in America." A Mighty Change: An Anthology of Deaf American Writing, 1816-1864, Christopher Krentz

1819-1820 Session of the United States Congress allocated 23,000 acres in Alabama to help fund the Hartford school, the first time since the establishment of the country. Laurent's earlier visits with Congress and President Monroe "made an impression; in its 1819–20 session, Congress passed a bill granting land in Alabama to the school, and Monroe signed the bill into law. The land was subsequently sold for $300,000, enough to ensure the school’s long-term financial stability."

A Mighty Change: An Anthology of Deaf American Writing, 1816-1864, Christopher Krentz

1820.03.25 Clerc and Eliza's first child, Elizabeth Victoria Clerc is born in Hartford, CT.

1820 Clerc returns to France for a visit to his family.

1821.08.01 In October, Clerc was invited to go, for 8 months, to the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf to act as principal until a permanent one could be found. During his stay there he introduced fully the teaching methods practiced at the Hartford school and gave valuable aid to the teachers.

1822 Laurent and Eliza Clerc had the final sitting with William Peale in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

1830 Thomas Gallaudet left the Connecticut school to pursue his ministry and writing.

1831 Laurent encouraged his student Harvey P. Peet to go to the New York Institute of the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb.

1835 Clerc returns to France for a visit to his family.

1846 In the spring, Laurent Clerc obtained leave of the Directors of the American Asylum to visit France on private business. He left on August 8th from New York on board the packet-ship Argo, with a Capt. Anthony, bound to Havre, accompanied by his younger son, Charles Michael Clerc whom he intended to leave with his relations in Lyons, for two or three years, for the purpose, to make further improvement in his knowledge of the French language, but also of placing him in a school where the theory of manufacturing silk is taught. Charles Michael Clerc would die at the age of 26 years old and is buried at the grave site as Eliza and

Laurent. While there he made visits of Deaf schools that he chronicled on his return in a paper called "VISITS TO SOME OF THE SCHOOLS FOR THE DEAF AND DUMB IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND". (American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb, Vol. 1, No. 1 (OCTOBER, 1847, pp. 62-66). Laurent traveled to Lyon and La Balme, France to see family. He visited deaf schools in Lyon, Paris and St. Etienne, France.

1820 Clerc returns to France for a visit to his family.

1848 Clerc visits the Fanwood School in White Plains, NY.

1850.09.26 Former students of the Connecticut school held a convocation to honor Clerc and Gallaudet at "Old Hartford" presenting them with silver pitcher and  tray.

1851.9.10 Thomas Gallaudet passes away.

1851 "After Gallaudet’s death, Clerc served as the president of an association to erect a monument in Gallaudet’s memory. This group led to the formation, in 1854, of the New England Gallaudet Association of the Deaf, the first of many such deaf organizations. At the association’s first meeting, a member introduced a resolution stating that “the memory of Professor Clerc is cherished with profound gratitude and affection by all American deaf-mutes.” It was adopted unanimously."

A Mighty Change: An Anthology of Deaf American Writing, 1816-1864, Christopher Krentz

1851.08.14 Trinity College gaveClerc the honorary degree of Master of Arts.

1852.03 Laurent Clerc's autobiographical "sketch" is published in the Connecticut Common School Journal (1838-1853)

Vol. 6, No. 3/4 (March and April, 1852), pp. 102-112 (11 pages)

1854 Laurent and Eliza Clerc came into possession of the Peale's portraits when they were being dispersed by auction in 1854, at which time they were spotted by deaf artist, Albert Newsam, who purchased them for for $20 (approx $708 today).

1858 Clerc retired from active teaching at the age of 73. From this time till a few months prior to his death he enjoyed life as well as most men of his age. "Happy in his domestic and social relations, he might be seen in the streets and in the post office and reading rooms of Hartford almost everyday, meeting his friends with a pleasant smile and a graceful salutation; and expressing a deep interest in public events relating to the welfare of the country and especially to the prosperity of his beloved asylum."

1864 Laurent Clerc wrote a letter to the board of the Connecticut school..."Thank to God, I still enjoy good heath and wish I had not retired so early as I could have continued to do more good to my unfortunate fellow beings & to teach new teachers how to teach well".


1864.06.28 Laurent Clerc spoke at the inauguration of the National College of Deaf-Mutes (Gallaudet University) in Washington, DC.

He received an honorary degree from Trinity College in Hartford, as well as citations from Dartmouth College and the University of Lyons.

1869.07.18 Laurent Clerc died on the 18th of July, in the eighty-fourth year (84) of his age, respected and honored by all and shortly after celebrating his golden wedding anniversary with his wife. He was interned in the Spring Grove Cemetery in Hartford, CT. At his grave site Laurent is buried with Eliza, his son Charles Michael Clerc (26) and several grandchildren. A story of the installation of the Laurent and Eliza Garden is available here.

1870.01 W.W. Turner publishes an article on Laurent  Clerc in the American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb

Vol. 15, No. 1 (JANUARY, 1870), pp. 16-28 (13 pages)

1874.09.16 Dedication of the Clerc Memorial, Hartford CT. James Denison gave his address "THE MEMORY OF LAURENT CLERC".

1874.10 James Denison publishes his "THE MEMORY OF LAURENT CLERC" in the American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb

Vol. 19, No. 4 (OCTOBER, 1874), pp. 238-244 (7 pages)

1880 Eliza Clerc passed away and was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Hartford CT.

1893.05.01 to 1893.10.30 Laurent Clerc featured in an exhibit at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. An exhibit on Schools for the deaf included "25 photographs, artistically framed" that included a photo of the Laurent Clerc Memorial.

1953.04.15 A memorial was dedicated by the New England Gallaudet Association for the Deaf. This was captured in an article titled "Memorial to Founders of the American School for the Deaf", American Annals of the Deaf, Vol. 98, No. 4 (September, 1953), pp. 394-396 (4 pages), Published by: Gallaudet University Press

1962 The Clerc Papers donated by Francis Ogden Clerc of Wilton, CT were donated to Yale University Archives and Manuscripts by Guy Bryan Holt, great great grandson of Laurent Clerc.

1971 Francis Clerc Ogden, great grandson of Laurent and Eliza Clerc passed away.

1972 The Peale portraits were received by the American School for the Deaf.

1980 A group of French Association of the Deaf, Association Laurent Clerc and American visitors dedicated the wrong building as the birthplace of Laurent Clerc.

1984.10.24 The Peale portraits were unveiled at a reception at the Wadsworth Atheneum on and remain there today under a
renewable, long-term loan.


1984 French Association of the Deaf, Association Laurent Clerc and American visitors dedicated the proper birthplace of Laurent Clerc.They installed a bronze plaque to commemorative this home.

1995.12 In a issue of Deaf Life there was an article titled "Rediscovering Laurent Clerc: 210 Year and Still Going Strong"

1998.04.17 The unveiing and dedication of the restored headstones of Laurent and Eliza Clerc.


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