Laurent Clerc

Laurent Clerc
LaurentClerc reduit2.jpg
Teacher, co-founder of the first permanent school for the Deaf in North America.
Louis Laurent Marie Clerc

(1785-12-26)December 26, 1785
Died July 18, 1869(1869-07-18) (aged 83)
Spouse(s) Eliza Crocker Boardman

Louis Laurent Marie Clerc (French: [lɔʁɑ̃ klɛʁ]; 26 December 1785 – 18 July 1869) was a French teacher called "The Apostle of the Deaf in America" and was regarded as the most renowned deaf person in American Deaf History. He was taught by Abbe Sicard and deaf educator Jean Massieu, at the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets in Paris. With Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, he co-founded the first school for the deaf in North America, the 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 139 Main Street, West Hartford. 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 one year old, Clerc fell from a chair into a fire, suffering a severe burn and obtained a permanent scar on the right side of his cheek. 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 might be born deaf and without the ability to smell. The facial scar provided later the basis for his name sign, performed with the manual alphabet for "U", stroked twice downward on the right cheek. Clerc's name sign has become the best personal identifier in the American Deaf History.

Clerc attended the Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris and was taught by Abbe Sicard and deaf Jean Massieu. Clerc eventually became a teacher there. In 1815 he traveled with Sicard and Massieu to England to give a lecture and coincidentally met Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet who was traveling in search of means for instructing deaf children. Gallaudet was invited to visit the school in Paris. Then in 1816, after a few months of hospitation, he invited Clerc to accompany him to the United States to establish the first permanent school for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut, which now is known as American School for the Deaf.

During the trip across the ocean, Clerc learned English from Gallaudet, and Gallaudet sign language from Clerc.[1]

He died at the age of 83 at his home in Hartford. The 1869 obituary in the New York Times says, Clerc came to Hartford in 1816 and became a teacher in 1817, then served more than 50 years "in the cause of deaf-mute instruction" and "his abilities, zeal, and graces of character made him always respected and loved."[2] Clerc married one of the first pupils Eliza Crocker Boardman.


Generally prior to the onset of organized education of the deaf, deaf people were regarded as uneducable and equalized them to idiots. Laurent Clerc became the most recognizable figure that shaped the education of the deaf in the United States as the exemplary personification of educability and high intellect of a person who could not hear since birth or during the early toddlerhood, nor speak and, despite these, acquired excellent command of spoken languages at the ages way beyond the prime age of natural language acquisition.

Due to Clerc's watershed contribution to the American Education of the Deaf, several awards, buildings, funds, etc. were named after him, as seen most notably at Gallaudet University [3][4]


Laurent Clerc is portrayed in the fictional film Sign Gene, the superhero film about deaf mutants who have superhuman powers through the use of sign language, as the fourth great-grandfather of the leading character Tom Clerc (played by Emilio Insolera). The film was released in September 2017.[5][6][7][8]


See also


  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.
  3. ^[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ "Alice Cogswell Award - Gallaudet University". Archived from the original on 2015-11-10. Retrieved 2015-10-24.
  5. ^ "A Settembre nelle sale "Sign Gene" un film diretto e ideato da Emilio Insolera" (in Italian). 21 July 2017.
  6. ^ TJ (24 October 2015). "Father of Sign Gene". Tokyo Journal. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  7. ^ "制作進むろう者の国際共同制作映画 「Sign Gene」|ろうを生きる難聴を生きる". Archived from the original on 2015-11-17. Retrieved 2017-08-27.
  8. ^ The Games Machine (27 March 2017). "Sign Gene è il nuovo film di supereroi sordi" (in Italian). The Games Machine. Retrieved 20 August 2017.

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