Oral Training in "Signing Schools"

By 1900, most schools for deaf children provided speech training. Many placed students in either "oral" or "manual" tracks, and some eliminated signing from the classroom entirely. Young children entering school were often first placed in oral classes where signing was prohibited.

Many deaf teachers were fired or moved from academic classrooms to shop classes because they could not teach children how to clearly articulate words. In signing schools, the total number of deaf teachers was reduced from 40% of the profession in the 1860s to less than 15% by 1920, though the numbers varied widely from school to school.


Class portraits at the Maryland School for the Deaf were labeled "oral" or "manual."


Maryland School for the Deaf


To keep students from signing, this Kentucky School for the Deaf teacher had them fold their hands on top of their desks. In some schools students had to wear mittens or sit on their hands as a punishment for signing. Other schools used more severe reprimands. Students often signed on the sly anyway.


Kentucky School for the Deaf


Speech instruction included sensing vocal vibrations through touch.


North Carolina School for the Deaf



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