Bell Opposed Marriage of the Deaf Less Than Most Educators in the 19th Century, Including the Faculty at What Is Now Gallaudet University

Katie Booth claims that Bell wanted “their marriages to each other forbidden, their procreation ceased.” This is not true. Like nearly every other teacher of the deaf at the time, Bell did worry that if the deaf married only among themselves they would be more likely to have deaf children, as was the case at the famous Martha’s Vineyard population. But Bell’s writings, in which he raised these concerns as something to be looked into, have been misinterpreted.

“I know that an idea has gone forth, and is very generally believed in by the deaf in this country, that I want to prevent you from marrying as you choose,” Bell told the students at Gallaudet in 1891, “and that I have tried to pass a law to interfere with your marriages. But, my friends, it is not true.”

“I have never done such a thing, nor do I intend to . . . I want you distinctly to understand that I have no intention of interfering with your liberty of marriage. You can marry whom you choose, and I hope you will be happy. It is not for me to blame you for marrying to suit yourselves, for you all know that I myself, the son of a deaf mother, have married a deaf wife.”

Prof. William Ennis of Gallaudet did a meticulous study of 50 years of faculty writings and student newspapers of the National College for the Deaf (later Gallaudet) for his PhD dissertation, and found the faculty almost universally recommended that the deaf not marry among themselves.

“The idea that deaf people should not marry one another was embraced by faculty in Gallaudet’s early ​decades, diffused from administration to faculty, from faculty to students (deaf undergraduates as well as hearing students studying deaf education), and ultimately carried to other deaf educational institutions via the alumni,” Prof. Ennis writes. [8]
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In other words, the Gallaudet faculty were more opposed to deaf marriage than Bell, who spoke to the students at Gallaudet in person to specifically allay their concerns.

8.   Ennis, William Thomas. “Hereditarian ideas and eugenic ideals at the National Deaf-Mute College.” PhD thesis, University of Iowa, 2015. https://doi.org/10.17077/etd.aevdzd4n