Laurent Clerc

Laurent Clerc

Teacher, co-founder of the first permanent school for the deaf in North America.
Born Louis Laurent Marie Clerc
(1785-12-26)December 26, 1785
La Balme, France
Died July 18, 1869(1869-07-18) (aged 83)
Hartford, Connecticut, United States
Spouse(s) Eliza Crocker Boardman

Louis Laurent Marie Clerc (26 December 1785 – 18 July 1869) was a French teacher called "The Apostle of the Deaf in America" by generations of American deaf people. He was taught by Abbe Sicard, at the famous school for the Deaf in Paris, Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets. With Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, he co-founded the first school for the deaf in North America, the Hartford 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 its present site. 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 a year old, Clerc, while momentarily unattended, fell from a chair into the hearth, suffering a blow to the head and sustaining a permanent scar on the right side of his face below his ear. 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 that he may have been born deaf and without the ability to smell or taste. The facial scar was later the basis for his name sign, the "U" hand shape stroked twice downward along the right cheek. Clerc's name sign would become the best known and most recognizable name sign in American deaf history and Clerc became the most renowned deaf person in American history.

Clerc attended the famous school for the Deaf in Paris and was taught by Abbe Sicard. Clerc eventually became a teacher there. In 1815 he traveled to England to give a lecture and there first met Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. Gallaudet was invited to visit the school in Paris, where, in 1816, he invited Clerc to accompany him to The United States to establish the first permanent school for the Deaf (American School for the Deaf) in Hartford, Connecticut.

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

According to his 1869 obituary in the New York Times, Clerc came to Hartford in 1816 and became a teacher there in 1817, then served more than 50 years "prominently identified in the cause of deaf-mute instruction." He died at age 83 at his home in Hartford, and "his abilities, zeal, and graces of character made him always respected and loved."[2] Clerc and his wife, Eliza Crocker Boardman, were the first recorded deaf people to marry.


The Gallaudet University Alumni Association gives the Laurent Clerc Cultural Fund Alice Cogswell Award to people for valuable service on behalf of deaf citizens.[3][4]

The Laurent Clerc Award is an annual honor bestowed by Gallaudet University to recognize a deaf person for "his or her outstanding contributions to society," and specifically to honor their achievements in the interest of deaf people.

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.
  4. "Alice Cogswell Award - Gallaudet University". Retrieved 2015-10-24.
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