Laurent Clerc

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Laurent Clerc
Laurent clerc 1869.jpg
Teacher, co-founder of the first permanent school for the deaf in North America.
Born Louis Laurent Marie Clerc
(1785-12-26)December 26, 1785
La Balme, France
Died July 18, 1869(1869-07-18) (aged 83)
Hartford, Connecticut, United States
Spouse(s) Eliza Crocker Boardman

Louis Laurent Marie Clerc (26 December 1785 – 18 July 1869) was a french doctor called "The Apostle of the Deaf in America" by generations of American deaf people. He was taught by Abbe Sicard, at the famous school for the Deaf in Paris, Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets. With Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, he co-founded the first school for the deaf in North America, the Hartford Asylum for the Education and Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb on April 15, 1817 in the old Bennet's City Hotel, Hartford, Connecticut. The school was subsequently renamed the American School for the Deaf and in 1821 moved to its present site. The school remains the oldest existing school for the deaf in North America.


Born December 26, 1785 in La Balme-les-Grottes, Isère, a village on the northeastern edge of Lyon to Joseph-François Clerc and Marie-Élisabeth Candy in the small village of La Balme where his father was the mayor, Laurent Clerc's home was a typical bourgeois household. When he was a year old, Clerc, while momentarily unattended, fell from a chair into the hearth, suffering a blow to the head and sustaining a permanent scar on the right side of his face below his ear. Clerc's family believed his deafness and inability to smell were caused by this accident, but Clerc later wrote that he was not certain and that he may have been born deaf and without the ability to smell or taste. The facial scar was later the basis for his name sign, the "U" hand shape stroked twice downward along the right cheek. Clerc's name sign would become the best known and most recognizable name sign in American deaf history and Clerc became the most renowned deaf person in American history.

Clerc attended the famous school for the Deaf in Paris and was taught by Abbe Sicard. Clerc eventually became a teacher there. In 1815 he traveled to England to give a lecture and there first met Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. Gallaudet was invited to visit the school in Paris, where, in 1816, he invited Clerc to accompany him to The United States to establish the first permanent school for the Deaf (American School for the Deaf) in Hartford, Connecticut.

During the trip, Clerc learned English from Sicard, and Sicard learned sign language from Clerc.[1]

According to his 1869 obituary in the New York Times, Clerc came to Hartford in 1816 and became a teacher there in 1817, then served more than 50 years "prominently identified in the cause of deaf-mute instruction." He died at age 83 at his home in Hartford, and "his abilities, zeal, and graces of character made him always respected and loved."[2]


"There is no dress which embellishes the body more than science does the mind." – Laurent Clerc, 1864

"Every decent man, and every real gentleman in particular, ought to apply himself, above all things, to the study of his native language, so as to express his ideas with ease and gracefulness." – Laurent Clerc, 1864

"Every creature, every work of God, is admirably well made; but if any one appears imperfect in our eyes, it does not belong to us to criticise it. Perhaps that which we do not find right in its kind, turns to our advantage, without our being able to perceive it. Let us look at the state of the heavens, one while the sun shines, another time it does not appear; now the weather is fine; again it is unpleasant; one day is hot, another is cold; another time it is rainy, snowy or cloudy; every thing is variable and inconstant. Let us look at the surface of the earth: here the ground is flat; there it is hilly and mountainous; in other places it is sandy; in others it is barren; and elsewhere it is productive. Let us, in thought, go into an orchard or forest. What do we see? Trees high or low, large or small, upright or crooked, fruitful or unfruitful. Let us look at the birds of the air, and at the fishes of the sea, nothing resembles another thing. Let us look at the beasts. We see among the same kinds some of different forms, of different dimensions, domestic or wild, harmless or ferocious, useful or useless, pleasing or hideous. Some are bred for men's sakes; some for their own pleasures and amusements; some are of no use to us. There are faults in their organization as well as in that of men. Those who are acquainted with the veterinary art, know this well; but as for us who have not made a study of this science, we seem not to discover or remark these faults. Let us now come to ourselves. Our intellectual faculties as well as our corporeal organization have their imperfections. There are faculties both of the mind and heart, which education improve; there are others which it does not correct. I class in this number, idiotism, imbecility, dulness. But nothing can correct the infirmities of the bodily organization, such as deafness, blindness, lameness, palsy, crookedness, ugliness. The sight of a beautiful person does not make another so likewise, a blind person does not render another blind. Why then should a deaf person make others so also? Why are we Deaf and Dumb? Is it from the difference of our ears? But our ears are like yours; is it that there may be some infirmity? But they are as well organized as yours. Why then are we Deaf and Dumb? I do not know, as you do not know why there are infirmities in your bodies, nor why there are among the human kind, white, black, red and yellow men. The Deaf and Dumb are everywhere, in Asia, in Africa, as well as in Europe and America. They existed before you spoke of them and before you saw them." – Laurent Clerc, 1818.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pioneers in Special Education -- Laurent Clerc" 17 (1). Journal of Special Education. Spring 1983. 
  2. ^ "OBITUARY.; Laurent Clerc, the Instructor of Deaf Mutes.". New York Times. July 19, 1869. 

External links[edit]

Writings by or about Laurent Clerc[edit]

  • "Autobiography of Laurent Clerc," Chapter III, in: "Tribute to Gallaudet – A Discourse in Commemoration of the Life, Character and Services, of the Rev. Thomas H. Gallaudet, LL.D. – Delivered Before the Citizens of Hartford, Jan. 7th, 1852. With an Appendix, Containing History of Deaf-Mute Instruction and Institutions, and other Documents." By Henry Barnard, 1852. (Online copy of book:, see page 102.)
  • Clerc, Laurent. “Visits to Some of the Schools for the Deaf and Dumb in France and England,” American Annals of the Deaf, Volume 1, Number 1, October 1847, pages 62–66. (Download article:
  • Clerc, Laurent. “Visits to Some of the Schools for the Deaf and Dumb in France and England,” American Annals of the Deaf, Volume 1, Number 2, January 1848, pages 113–120. (Download article:
  • Clerc, Laurent. “Visits to Some of the Schools for the Deaf and Dumb in France and England,” American Annals of the Deaf, Volume 1, Number 3, April 1848, pages 170–176. (Download article:
  • Denison, James. “The Memory of Laurent Clerc: Dedication Address for Clerc Memorial,” American Annals of the Deaf, Volume 19, Number 4, October 1874, pages 238–244. (Download article:
  • Irving, Washington (editor). "The Deaf and Dumb" in: Analectic magazine. May 1820 issue. Philadelphia, Pa.: Moses Thomas, pp. 419–431. Link to Google books.