Recent false claims about the life of Alexander Graham Bell and his wife, Mabel, serve no purpose other than to distort history. No record exists of Bell’s personal endorsement of any policy restricting the individual rights of people who are deaf or hard of hearing; or limiting their choice of communication; or restricting their freedom to marry.
Claiming anything to the contrary is categorically false.
As countless historians have noted, the legacy of Alexander Graham Bell goes far beyond his fame as inventor of the telephone. Both a scientist and forward-thinking social visionary, supportive of universal suffrage and human rights, Bell dedicated his entire life to improving the world around him, including his steadfast passion for advocating on behalf of people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Throughout his lifetime until his death in 1922, Bell worked to help people who are deaf and hard of hearing integrate into society. To achieve this, Bell encouraged speech therapy and lip reading over finger spelling of the alphabet, which was employed in his day. This manual alphabet, using one letter at a time, was a challenging way to develop language.
In an 1898 paper titled The Question of Sign-Language and The Utility of Signs in the Instruction of the Deaf, Bell further clarified his thinking in reference to an early form of sign language developed in France:
“I prefer the pure oral method to any other, but I would rather have a deaf child taught through De l’Epee signs than not educated at all.”
In the 1960s and 1970s, during which time particularly large numbers of children became deaf as a result of the Rubella epidemic, an uptick in research, teaching methods, and a better understanding of deafness occurred. Use of visual language has evolved significantly in the United States since Bell’s time and a modern version of what had started as De l’Epee’s signs underwent the first linguistic studies.
Now recognized as a language, “American Sign Language (ASL)” is used widely in the United States and Canada. Considering his history, Bell could not have opposed modern-day ASL because it did not exist 130 years ago as it does today. Comments attributed to Bell posthumously about ASL or any signed language should not be taken out of context of the times in which he lived.
Further, in an 1891 speech Bell gave to a group of students who were deaf at what is now Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, titled, titled, Marriage, An Address To The Deaf, Bell goes on to say:
“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, 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; and, before I speak upon this subject, 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.”
In addition, Gallaudet College awarded Bell an Honorary Ph.D. ‘in recognition of his work for the Deaf’ (1880).
It should be noted that on his deathbed, Bell signed his last words to his beloved wife Mabel.
Any suggestion that Bell was in some way an adversary of people who are deaf or hard of hearing is nothing more than fiction.
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CONTACT: Marie-Louise Murville [email protected]