A Kind Word in Behalf of Deaf Mutes

Salt Lake City
June 22, 1884

Editor Deseret News:

If space is permitted me in your paper I would like to devote an article to some few ideas and suggestions in relation to deaf mutes, and to enlighten the public generally in regard to the condition of these unfortunates, their status and standing in the community, that the natural benevolence and consideration of the people may haply be enlisted in their favor.

Deaf mutes are a …… and charge not only to parents but in a measure to the community in which they may be found, and any means that may be used to benefit or elevate them will be a step gained in fitting them to be useful citizens, and as the mind is brought little by little to comprehend higher things, so will his faculty for being self-supporting, be increased in proportion, and as his education advances so will his ideas of self-reliance and independence manifest themselves.

It may be interesting to here given an extract showing the condition of a deaf mute—one who has not had the benefit of education, taken from a paper read before the Convention of American Instructors of the deaf and dumb, by Professor M.I. Brock, a teacher of the Illinois Institute, which will give some idea of the difficulties to be surmounted.

“The whole world of sound is a sealed book. The boom of the cannon and the roar of the thunder arouses him only through the sense of feeling. He is dependent on a few crude signs for fewer and cruder ideas. He wanders about a hermit in his own family. Speech, that mysterious power that unites minds and stirs souls, is to him unknown. In imitation of those around him he moves his lips and blows his breath. The inarticulate mutterings thus produced are a fair exponent of his mental status. Like the ape he is skillful in reproducing motions, and people call him bright. Abstract ideas in science and morals reach him, if at all only as perversions. Conceptions of God, eternity and heaven never penetrate the abysmal night that shrouds his soul. He is never intellectually born till, at the age of eight or ten, he is allowed to enter school.

“He is a Nihillist and know nothing combined. His mind is a cross between a blank and a jungle. His animal instincts of selfishness and cruelty are, in many cases, strengthened by the indulgence of misguided parents and relatives. A foreigner in language and a heathen in religion, he presents no foundation, either moral or intellectual, upon which to build an education. His teacher has before him all the difficulties of effecting a lodgment somewhere in the abyss of a bottomless pit.”

This in the abstract is a correct conception of the pitiable condition of those who have been born deaf and mute.

Now while the Legislature of this Territory was kind enough to make provision for the education of all classes of these unfortunate beings, it would naturally be expected that those parents or guardians whose children were thus afflicted would accept the opportunity thus offered to provide for their moral and intellectual instruction in the common branches of education, that they might be fitted for the duties and responsibilities of life, and that the burden of their support might rest upon themselves.

Not only should their minds be brought to comprehend the usefulness of education but it should be borne in mind that their moral and physical capabilities should also be trained to keep pace with their mental attainments, and when sufficiently advanced to know right from wrong, then religious training should not in the least be neglected. For to give them a conception of God and heaven would partially initiate them into the mysteries of life, and a knowledge of justice, of reward, and of punishment, and their definitions, so that in time they would comprehend the why and wherefore of their existence.

Their physical condition should be looked after, and ways and means provided for them to learn the different branches of mechanism, art, printing, etc., that they may be able to work out an independence and build themselves up; and if means can be found for this purpose, those contributing thereto will in a few years see the benefits derived therefrom, in making this class a self-supporting citizen.

I am rather sorry, that so far I have heard, little or no interest has been taken thus far in relation to sending to the Deseret University. There have been several published statements concerning the facilities of this institution for their instruction. It is a matter of regret that more interest is not taken in this matter if not by the parents, at least the authorities in places wherever they may be found who should take initiative steps to send all such to this institution.

There is one feature in the case of those who are able to talk but are deaf, which I will give a passing notice. Naturally a stranger seeing of this class talking on the street or in a crowded thoroughfare, will be attracted by the facial expressions and peculiar signs and contortions made by them. This is their mode of expression and they cannot very well help it. It subjects them to the stare of the passerby and the yare very sensitive to ridicule.

But ridicule in this connection is apt to turn on the other party, as illustrated in an incident that came under my notice. A gentleman at a dinner who was sitting opposite a deaf person, wished to communicate with him. He did so by the medium of signs and facial expression, while forming words on the mouth. His appearance was so ridiculous that an old lady who observed him, not knowing the situation, turning to her next neighbor, said: “Look at that person. He must be very sick, by his actions, or he has the stomach ache!”

Mothers, fathers and guardians, let not a false love on your part make you choose to cling to your children in ignorance, rather than give them up, even temporarily into the care of the University to be educated; deprive them not of the few pleasures to which they may attain so they will be able to appreciate and enjoy the blessings of life.

Let means be devised in every county of the Territory to send them to this place of instruction, and let the people be awakened to the necessity of doing something to lift them out of ignorance and degradation and they will not regret such action.

Laron Pratt

[Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jun. 22, 1884, 2]
[Deseret News, Jun. 23, 1884]

[transcribed and proofread by David Grow, Apr. 2006]


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