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Illusions of Equality

Deaf Americans in School and Factory, 1850-1950

Robert M. Buchanan

Publication Year: 1999

The working lives of Deaf Americans from the mid-1850s to the post-World War II era depended upon strategies created by Deaf community leaders to win and keep jobs through periods of low national employment as well as high. Deaf people typically sought to de-emphasize their identity as sign language users to be better integrated into the workforce. But in his absorbing new book Illusions of Equality, Robert Buchanan shows that events during the next century would thwart these efforts. The residential schools for deaf students established in the 19th century favored a bilingual approach to education that stressed the use of American Sign Language while also recognizing the value of learning English. But the success of this system was disrupted by the rise of oralism, with its commitment to teaching deaf children speech and its ban of sign language. Buchanan depicts the subsequent ramifications in sobering terms: most deaf students left school with limited educations and abilities that qualified them for only marginal jobs. He also describes the insistence of the male hierarchy in the Deaf community on defending the tactics of individual responsibility through the end of World War II, a policy that continually failed to earn job security for Deaf workers. Illusions of Equality is an original, edifying work that will be appreciated by scholars and students for years to come.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press


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Title Page

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p. vii


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p. ix


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p. xi

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pp. xiii-xvii

This historical study considers the working lives of deaf men and women in the United States from the mid-nineteenth century to the establishment of an industrial-based working class during World War II. It examines the strategies deaf adults used to prepare for, enter, and advance...

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1. ‘‘For the Deaf of the Land’’: Building Independence

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pp. 1-19

The history of most deaf Americans prior to 1800 is undocumented.1 By 1900, however, forty thousand deaf citizens had constructed a unique national community with its own visual language, schools, organizations, and businesses. ...

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2. ‘‘Our Claims to Justice’’: Challenging Oralism

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pp. 20-36

In November 1883, Alexander Graham Bell appeared before the National Academy of Sciences to deliver the results of his research. Deaf graduates of residential schools, he claimed, socialized in associations, used sign language, intermarried, and had deaf children far...

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3. ‘‘Shoulder to Shoulder’’: Protesting Civil Service Discrimination

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pp. 37-51

In late October 1906, U.S. Civil Service commissioners General John Black of Illinois, Henry F. Greene of Minnesota, and James McIlhenney of Louisiana revised the guidelines for applicants to the Civil Service. They added total deafness and loss of speech to a list of more than ten...

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4. ‘‘For the Deaf by the Deaf ’’: Advocating Labor Bureaus

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pp. 52-68

The pivotal conflicts in education and the workplace of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were not merely contests of ideas but clashes over power and influence. In the varied struggles chronicled in chapters 1 through 3—struggles over vocational instruction, sign...

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5. ‘‘For One’s Daily Bread’’: Entering Industry

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pp. 69-84

In the spring of 1918, the nation’s attention was drawn to Europe and U.S. involvement in World War I. The gaze of the country’s forty thousand deaf citizens was directed, however, not to battlefields but to the factories of Akron, Ohio. ...

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6. ‘‘Conspiracy of Silence’’: Contesting Exclusion and Oral Hegemony

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pp. 85-101

The Great Depression brought widespread unemployment to forty thousand deaf adults and continued educational failure to fifteen thousand deaf students in the United States.1 Economic downturn illuminated the inadequacies of vocational programs. ...

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7. ‘‘To Stand on Their Own’’: Looking to the Future

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pp. 102-126

World War II ushered in an era of unparalleled industrial opportunity for the nation’s sixty thousand deaf workers, who were suddenly in demand.1 As one acerbic deaf commentator noted, ‘‘[t]he deaf come into their rights only when the world is in a midst of a...

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pp. 127-128

The material prosperity and optimistic expectations that characterized most of the national deaf community at the close of World War II did not last. In the half-century since the end of the war, deaf workers and leaders have continued to labor against formidable systemic obstacles in the...


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pp. 129-185


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pp. 187-204


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pp. 205-214

E-ISBN-13: 9781563682599
E-ISBN-10: 1563682591
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563680847
Print-ISBN-10: 156368084X

Page Count: 258
Illustrations: 5 tables
Publication Year: 1999

OCLC Number: 44958139
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Illusions of Equality

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Subject Headings

  • Deaf -- Employment -- United States -- History.
  • Deaf -- Education -- United States -- History.
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