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A Mighty Change

An Anthology of Deaf American Writing, 1816-1864

Christopher Jon Heuer

Publication Year: 2000

“I need not tell you that a mighty change has taken place within the last half century, a change for the better,” Alphonso Johnson, the president of the Empire State Association of Deaf-Mutes, signed to hundreds of assembled deaf people in 1869. Johnson pointed to an important truth: the first half of the 19th century was a period of transformation for deaf Americans, a time that saw the rise of deaf education and the coalescence of the nation’s deaf community. This volume contains original writing by deaf people that both directed and reflected this remarkable period of change. It begins with works by Laurent Clerc, the deaf Frenchman who came to the United Sates in 1816 to help found the first permanent school for deaf students in the nation. Partially through is writing, Clerc impressed hearing Americans–most of whom had never met an educated deaf person before–with his intelligence and humanity. Other deaf writers shared their views with society through the democratic power of print. Included here are selections by James Nack, a deaf poet who surprised readers with his mellifluous verse; John Burnet, who published a book of original essays, fiction, and poetry; Edmund Booth, a frontiersman and journalist; John Carlin, who galvanized the drive for a national college for deaf people; Laura Redden, a high-achieving student who would go on to become an accomplished reporter; and Adele Jewel, a homeless deaf woman living in Michigan. The final sections contain documents related to deaf events and issues at mid-century: the grand reunion of alumni of the American Asylum for the Deaf in 1850; the dedication of the Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet monument in Hartford; the debate over the viability of a deaf state; and the triumphant inauguration of the National Deaf-Mute College (now Gallaudet University) in 1864, which in many ways culminated this period of change. Taken together, the individual texts in this remarkable collection provide a valuable historical record and a direct glimpse of the experiences, attitudes, and rhetoric of deaf Americans during this time of change.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press

Series: Gallaudet Classics in Deaf Studies Series


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

A Mighty Change celebrates writing by deaf people in the United States between 1816 and 1864. While histories of the American deaf community often quote deaf people, I believe this anthology is the first to foreground deaf Americans’ words during this transformative period, to let them share ...

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pp. xi-xxxiii

‘‘I need not tell you that a mighty change has taken place within the last half century, a change for the better,’’ Alphonso Johnson, the president of the Empire State Association of Deaf-Mutes, signed to hundreds of assembled deaf people in 1869.1 Johnson pointed to an important truth: the first half of the nineteenth ...

PART ONE - Individual Authors

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p. xxxvii

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1. Laurent Clerc

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pp. 1-31

The most influential deaf person in America during the first half of the nineteenth century was Laurent Clerc. With his intelligence, gentlemanly demeanor, sign language skills, and ability to read and write, Clerc gave living proof to the public that deaf individuals could be educated, and educated well. He came from France in ...

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2. James Nack

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pp. 32-37

James Nack was one of the first deaf people to publish a book in the United States. Born hearing in New York City on January 4, 1809, he grew up in an impoverished family. His older sister taught him at home, and he could read by age four. When he was ...

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3. John Burnet

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pp. 38-88

When Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet was sailing to America with Laurent Clerc in 1816, he told Clerc that he wanted to write ‘‘some few directions for parents who have deaf and dumb children.’’ Gallaudet apparently never got around to publishing such ...

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4. John Carlin

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pp. 89-106

John Carlin was not only one of the most accomplished deaf Americans in the nineteenth century, but also one of the most contradictory. A successful artist, writer, and lecturer, he was ambivalent about his deaf identity. He lost his hearing in infancy, used ...

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5. Edmund Booth

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pp. 107-117

Unlike the other authors in this volume, Edmund Booth spent most of his adult life on the American frontier. A tall, imposing man, he moved out west to Iowa when he was twenty-nine. Like many settlers, he did a variety of jobs. He helped construct ...

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6. Adele M. Jewel

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pp. 118-128

Adele M. Jewel’s work provides a rare glimpse into the life of a lower-class deaf woman before the CivilWar. Jewel (née George), a homeless woman in Michigan, wrote primarily to earn money to support herself and her mother. Her pamphlet, A Brief Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Adele M. Jewel (Being Deaf and Dumb), was printed ...

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7. Laura Redden Searing

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pp. 129-135

Laura Searing was born as Laura Catherine Redden, in Somerset County, Maryland on February 9, 1840. She became deaf at age eleven due to meningitis. By that time, her family was living in St. Louis, so she enrolled in the Missouri School for the Deaf in Fulton. She wrote the essay included here when she ...

PART TWO - Events and Issues

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p. 137

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8. 1850 Grand Reunion

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pp. 139-152

On September 26, 1850, over two hundred alumni of the American Asylum for the Deaf assembled in Hartford, Connecticut. Together with the two hundred current students, it was the largest gathering of deaf people ever. They came from all over the country to pay tribute to Laurent Clerc and Thomas Hopkins ...

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9. Dedication of the Gallaudet Monument

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pp. 192-199

In September 1851, just one year after the grand reunion in Hartford, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet died from a form of dysentery. His passing prompted an outpouring of tributes. The directors at the American Asylum called him ‘‘a central power in a movement destined to effect great good in the world.’’1 Harvey Peek, ...

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10. Debate Over a Deaf Commonwealth

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pp. 161-211

In the late 1850s, deaf people had a remarkable discussion in the pages of the American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb about a proposal to create a separate deaf state in the West. The idea was not altogether new. Years before, when Congress gave land in Alabama to the American Asylum, Laurent Clerc had suggested selling part of ...

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11. Inauguration of the National Deaf-Mute College

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pp. 212-224

In 1864, during the CivilWar, Laurent Clerc traveled toWashington, D.C., to take part in the official opening of the National Deaf-Mute College. For the seventy-eight-year-old Clerc, it must have been a gratifying event to witness. When he had arrived in the United States almost a half-century before, the nation had no ...


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pp. 225-227


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pp. 229-238

E-ISBN-13: 9781563681530
E-ISBN-10: 1563681536
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563681011
Print-ISBN-10: 1563681013

Page Count: 278
Illustrations: 10 photographs
Publication Year: 2000

Series Title: Gallaudet Classics in Deaf Studies Series
See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 57347280
MUSE Marc Record: Download for A Mighty Change

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Subject Headings

  • Deaf -- United States -- History -- 19th century -- Sources.
  • American literature -- 19th century.
  • Deaf -- Literary collections.
  • Deaf, Writings of the, American.
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