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Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf

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The Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf was an international conference of deaf educators held in Milan, Italy in 1880. It is commonly known as the "Milan Conference" or "Milan Congress". This Congress was preceded by the First International Congress in Paris in 1878. Joseph Marius Magnat, a Swiss former oralist, received a significant donation to organize the more well-known Second Congress two years hence.[1]

After deliberations from 6 to 11 September 1880, the Milan Conference declared that oral education (oralism) was superior to manual education (sign language) and passed a resolution banning the use of sign language in school. After its passage, various European and American schools largely switched to using speech therapy without sign language as a method of deaf education until the late 1960s and early 1970s, when sign language started to be recognised as the ideal method of deaf education.

In 2010, a formal apology was made by the board at the 21st International Congress on Education of the Deaf in Vancouver, BC, Canada, acknowledging the detrimental effects of such a ban as an act of discrimination and violation of both human and constitutional rights.[2]


In the 1870s, Alexander Graham Bell and Edward Miner Gallaudet, both prominent US figures in deaf education, had been debating the effectiveness of oral-only education versus an education that utilises sign language as a means of visual communication, culminating in the 1880 Milan Conference that passed eight resolutions on deaf education.

The Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf was an international meeting of deaf educators from at least seven countries. There were large delegations from Italy (87) and France (56), eight delegates from the UK, five Americans, three Swedes and 1 representative each of Belgium and Germany. The Congress was planned and organized by a committee created by the Pereire Society, an oralist organization. More than half of the people invited were known oralists; therefore, the Congress was heavily inclined to the oralist camp and most, if not all, of the resolutions that were voted on by the delegates gave results in favour of the oral method. Many of the resolutions were worded in ways that supported the oral method, such as "Considering the incontestable superiority of speech over signs in restoring the deaf-mute to society, and in giving him a more perfect knowledge of language,/Declares –/That the Oral method ought to be preferred that of signs for the education and instruction of the deaf and dumb".[3]

The Pereire Society was an organization formed by the French family of Jacob Rodrigues Pereira and financed by their railroad and bank holdings (including the Société Générale du Crédit Mobilier). The Society was a strong proponent of oralism and sought to have this ratified by an international conference. They secured this outcome by carefully selecting who was invited to the Milan Conference, inviting the delegates to see the self-declared oralist success in a local school, and by encouraging negative reactions to those giving speeches supporting sign language and cheering those supporting oralism.


The Milan Conference was attended by 164 delegates of various countries. Out of these 164 delegates only three were deaf, James Denison (USA), Claudius Forestier and T. Theobald (France). The conference president was Abbe Giulio Tarra.

Hearing representatives Deaf representatives
161 3
Nationality Number of delegates
Italian 87
French 56
British 8
American 5
Swedish / Norwegian 3
Belgian 1
German 1

The remaining delegates' nationalities are unknown. The five US delegates present were James Denison, Edward Miner Gallaudet, Reverend Thomas Gallaudet, Isaac Lewis Peet and Charles A Stoddard.


The Conference was held in the Regio Instituto Tenico di Santa Martha in Milan from 6 to 11 September 1880. The conference was essentially an attempt by the oralist camp to legitimize an official ban of sign language from deaf education. Furthering the goal of the oralists, during the conference twelve speakers spoke on the contemporary issues connected with deaf education. Nine of the twelve speakers gave an oralist perspective, and three (the Gallaudet brothers, and Richard Elliot, a teacher from England) supported the use of sign language.

Eight resolutions[edit]

1. The convention, considering the incontestable superiority of articulation over signs in restoring the deaf-mute to society and giving him a fuller knowledge of language, declares that the oral method should be preferred to that of signs in education and the instruction of deaf-mutes.

Passed 160 to 4

2. The convention, considering that the simultaneous use of articulation and signs has the disadvantage of injuring articulation and lip-reading and the precision of ideas, declares that the pure oral method should be preferred.

Passed 150 to 16

3. Considering that a great number of the deaf and dumb are not receiving the benefit of instruction, and that this condition is owing to the impotence of families and of institutions, recommends that governments should take the necessary steps that all the deaf and dumb may be educated.

Passed unanimously.

4. Considering that the teaching of the speaking deaf by the Pure Oral method should resemble as much as possible that of those who hear and speak, declares

a) That the most natural and effectual means by which the speaking deaf may acquire the knowledge of language is the "intuitive" method, viz., that which consists in setting forth, first by speech, and then by writing the objects and the facts which are placed before the eyes of the pupils.
b) That in the first, or maternal, period the deaf-mute ought to be led to the observation of grammatical forms by means of examples and of practical exercises, and that in the second period he ought to be assisted to deduce from these examples the grammatical rules, expressed with the utmost simplicity and clearness.
c) That books, written with words and in forms of language known to the pupil, can be put into his hands at any time.
Motion carried.

5. Considering the want of books sufficiently elementary to help the gradual and progressive development of language, recommends that the teachers of the Oral system should apply themselves to the publication of special works on the subject.

Motion carried.

6. Considering the results obtained by the numerous inquiries made concerning the deaf and dumb of every age and every condition long after they had quit school, who, when interrogated upon various subjects, have answered correctly, with sufficient clearness of articulation, and read the lips of their questioners with the greatest facility, declares:

a) That the deaf and dumb taught by the Pure Oral method do not forget after leaving school the knowledge which they have acquired there, but develop it still further by conversation and reading, when have been made so easy for them.
b) That in their conversation with speaking persons they make use exclusively of speech.
c) That speech and lip-reading so far from being lost, are developed by practice.
Motion carried.

7. Considering that the education of the deaf and dumb by speech has peculiar requirements; considering also that the experienced of teachers of deaf-mutes is almost unanimous, declares

a) That the most favourable age for admitting a deaf child into school is from eight to ten years.
b) That the school term ought to be seven years at least; but eight years would be preferable.
c) That no teacher can effectually teach a class of more than ten children on the Pure Oral method.
Motion carried.

8. Considering that the application of the Pure Oral method in institutions where it is not yet in active operation, should be to avoid the certainty of failure prudent, gradual, progressive, recommends

a) That the pupils newly received into the schools should form a class by themselves, where instruction could be given by speech.
b) That these pupils should be absolutely separated from others too far advanced to be instructed by speech, and whose education will be completed by signs.
c) That each year a new speaking class be established, until all the old pupils taught by signs have completed their education.
Motion carried.


The American and British delegations were the only ones who opposed the use of oralism as a sole method of instruction, but were unsuccessful in their efforts to overturn the Milan resolutions. Reverend Thomas Gallaudet and his son Edward Miner Gallaudet, were among the protesters who railed against the oralist method being used in deaf education. Despite failing to have their positions ratified at the Congress, the Gallaudets ensured that deaf education in the US would not be completely converted to oralist methods. Manualism in deaf education survived oralism in part by the Gallaudets and others permitting and encouraging high school students in deaf institutes to use sign language and maintaining Gallaudet College (now Gallaudet University) as an institution of higher education that permitted the full usage of sign language.

In August 1880, one month before the Milan Conference, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) was formed in the US and was dedicated from the outset to preserving American Sign Language and assisting the Deaf community in surviving an upswing of oralism that lasted several decades in the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries.

First repudiation (1980)[edit]

At the 15th International Congress on the Education of the Deaf (ICED) held in Hamburg, in then-West Germany in 1980, the first major step in repudiating the 1880 resolutions was set by a large group of attendees who, in an informal consensus, rejected the 1880 resolutions in practical and moral terms in deciding that the 1880 resolutions had no longer any appropriate standing. As explained by Richard G. Brill: "At the International Congress in Hamburg in 1980, [however,] the Milan resolutions were challenged head-on in major professional addresses at the opening of the congresses. It was recognized and accepted that resolutions concerning methodology were not appropriate at such international congresses because of the unlikelihood that the delegates fully represented the practices and philosophies of their home countries."[4][5][self-published source] Rather than seek to directly overturn the 1880 resolutions, the Congress put forward "recommendations" for informational purposes, including the following: "Recommended that this International Congress on Education of the Deaf, in convocation gathered at Hamburg, West Germany, in August 1980, affirms and declares that all deaf children have the right to flexible communication in the mode or combination of modes which best meets their individual needs."[6] Sharkey and Hikins deemed this Recommendation, along with the others, as essentially constituting a repudiation of the 1880 Milan Congress' resolutions.[7]

Final repudiation (2010)[edit]

Thirty years later, in July 2010 in Vancouver, Canada, the board of the 21st International Congress on the Education of the Deaf (ICED) formally voted to reject all of the 1880 Milan resolutions.[8]

See also[edit]

Other international congresses were held in the following cities:[9][10] Brussels, 1883; Chicago, Illinois, US, 1893; Paris, 1900; Liège, Belgium, 1905; Edinburgh, 1907; London, 1925; West Trenton, New Jersey, US, 1933; Groningen, 1950; Manchester, UK, 1958; Washington, DC, US, 1963; Stockholm, 1970; Tokyo, 1975.


  1. ^ Van Cleve, J. V., & Crouch, B. A. (1989). A place of their own: creating the deaf community in America. Gallaudet University Press.
  2. ^ Moores, Donald F (2010). "The 21st International Congress on Education of the Deaf and the Repudiation of the 1880 Congress of Milan". American Annals of the Deaf. 155 (3). Gallaudet University Press: 309–310. doi:10.1353/aad.2010.0016. Retrieved 10 October 2023.
  3. ^ Sturley, Nick (2010). "Eight Resolutions". Milan 1880. Retrieved 8 January 2012.
  4. ^ Brill, Richard G. 1984. International Congresses on Education of the Deaf--An Analytical History, 1878-1980, Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet College Press, p. 25.
  5. ^ Garretson, Merv. 2010. My Yesterdays, Xlibris, pp. 127-128.
  6. ^ Brill, Richard G. 1984. International Congresses on Education of the Deaf--An Analytical History, 1878-1980, Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet College Press, p. 385.
  7. ^ Sharkey, William F. and James W. Hikins. 1993. Edward Miner Gallaudet's "Remarks on the Combined System": An Analysis of the "Preservative" Function of Rhetoric of Education, Communication Education, Vol. 42, No. 1, p. 62.
  8. ^ Tucker, James. ICED 2010 Update Archived 2012-06-27 at the Wayback Machine, August 19, 2010. Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  9. ^ Brill, Richard G. International Congresses on Education of the Deaf, An Analytical History, 1878-1980. Washington, DC: Gallaudet College Press, 1984.
  10. ^ [1]
  • Cleve, J.V.V and Crouch, B.A (1989) "A Place of Their Own – Creating Deaf Community in America" Washington DC: Gallaudet University Press
  • Gallaudet, Edward Miner, 1881, The Milan Convention, American Annals of the Deaf, Vol. XXVI., No. 1., January 1881, pp. 1–16.
  • Kyle, James; Woll, Bencie (1985) "Sign Language: The Study of Deaf People and Their Language": Cambridge University Press
  • Oakling (2007) "Milan Conference" [2]
  • Sturley, N (2003). Milan 1880: The Historical Facts

External links[edit]