Laurent Clerc

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

(1785-12-26)December 26, 1785
DiedJuly 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.

Deaf culture Culture of deaf persons

Deaf culture is the set of social beliefs, behaviors, art, literary traditions, history, values, and shared institutions of communities that are influenced by deafness and which use sign languages as the main means of communication. When used as a cultural label especially within the culture, the word deaf is often written with a capital D and referred to as "big D Deaf" in speech and sign. When used as a label for the audiological condition, it is written with a lower case d. Carl G. Croneberg coined the term of "Deaf Culture" and he was the first to discuss analogies between Deaf and hearing cultures in his appendices C/D of the 1965 Dictionary of American Sign Language.

Jean Massieu French deaf educator

Jean Massieu was a pioneering deaf educator. One of six deaf siblings, he was denied schooling until age thirteen when he met Abbé Sicard, who enrolled him in the Bordeaux School for Deaf Children. There he learned to read and write French, and later helped develop the first formalized French Sign Language. He taught at the famous school for the deaf in Paris where Laurent Clerc was one of his students. He began work after a scandal in Paris in Rodez and dedicated his life to educating deaf children. Later he founded a deaf school in Lille, France.

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet American educator for the deaf

The Reverend Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, LL.D.,(December 10, 1787 – September 10, 1851) was an American educator. Along with Laurent Clerc and Mason Cogswell, he co-founded the first institution for the education of the deaf in North America, and he became its first principal. When opened on April 15, 1817, it was called the "Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons," but it is now known as the American School for the Deaf.



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.

La Balme-les-Grottes Commune in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France

La Balme-les-Grottes is a commune in the Isère department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of south-eastern France.

Isère Department of France

Isère is a department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in eastern France named after the river Isère.

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.

Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris

Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris is the current name of the school for the Deaf founded by Charles-Michel de l'Épée, in stages, between 1750 and 1760 in Paris, France.

Roch-Ambroise Cucurron Sicard French abbé and instructor of the deaf

Roch-Ambroise Cucurron Sicard was a French abbé and instructor of the deaf.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

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]

Gallaudet University university providing education for deaf and hard of hearing students

Gallaudet University is a federally chartered private university for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing. It is located in Washington, D.C. on a 99-acre (0.40 km2) campus.


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]


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Tom Clerc is a fictional deaf superhero appearing in Sign Gene, the world’s first film about deaf superheroes. Tom is Italian American and comes from a long lineage of deaf families ranging back to the 1800 and is descendant from Laurent Clerc, French deaf teacher that established the first deaf school in the US along with Thomas Gallaudet. For the first time deaf people were able to get together and therefore gave birth to American Sign Language, thus, Laurent Clerc is also known as the “Father of American Sign Language”.


  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.
  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".
  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.

Further reading