Abbe de l’Epee and the rue des Moulins’s school : Birth of the national institution for young deaf of Paris.

The National Institute for Young Deaf of Paris is a place full of history. At the beginning, the Institution of the born deaf was created under the Constituante, under the law of July 21st and 29th 1791. The goal was to pursuit the philanthropic work of abbe Charles Michel de l’Epee (1712-1789). This law was honoring this benefactor by bringing his name at the scale of the citizens who merited the Fatherland.

Abbe de l’Epee, who was a lawyer at the Parliament of Paris, was devoted to the poor and paupers people. He was teaching time to time to hearing students. Then someday, a haphazard meeting changed his destiny, when in 1760 he met two deaf and mute twin sisters. Their teacher, Father Vanin had just died at the end of 1759. Jacob Rodrigues Pereire, oral teacher for deaf children, who was an important person at the King’s court, was only teaching to a few rich deaf boys and girls or who were supported by some rich people. Abbe de l’Epee had just discovered two new students, for who the traditional way of teaching wouldn’t success. His Augustinian philosophy was allowing him to see in the signs of his two students that it was representing direct ideas. He then imagined a natural gestural sign language ordered following the French syntax, this syntax was seen as the representation of universal human logic.

Abbe de l’Epee understood the stakes of the gestural language. He ignored the sign language that the Parisian deaf community was speaking. This language existed, as one person who became deaf, Pierre Desloges showed it in the book he edited in 1779. The abbe de l’Epee’s project was above the Class he opened in the family house, at 14 rue des Moulins, butte Saint-Roch, near the Louvre in Paris; he re-joined the deaf children of several pensions of his district and he thought about developing a universal gestural language that the hearing people of all the nations would be able to learn at the Colleges.

By the instruction, abbe de l’Epee gave citizenship to his deaf students of every age, but also he integrated them to a project of Peace: the signs permitted to go across obstacles that the oral languages hardly go through.  At his death, abbe de l’Epee was teaching to around one hundred students.

The recognition of the deaf people through their master is inseparable of their association’s history: by creating a public school open to all the social classes, and free, abbe de l’Epee was re-joining an abandoned population; this one could make its own models, with its own deaf teachers. The silent people could then defend their rights to citizenship, and their more legitimate interests: to be free to marry, to chat whatever their language is, to meet each other to work in different domains, of mutuality, to become adult, and to have interpreters at the court.

In the same time, the sign language, the deaf people’s one, was a language like another, with a syntax and a grammar independent from the oral languages, was perfectioned by a hearing pedagogue, Augustin Bebian (1789-1839) and the first deaf teachers. Bebian learned the natural deaf and mute language during his childhood: he was abbe Sicard’s godson, who will inherit from abbe de l’Epee. Bebian was the author of remarkable books about gesturality. He published in 1824 a Mimography, essay about the natural signs.


His co-workers.

The foundation of the national institution of born deaf : abbe Sicard and his silent repetitor, Jean Massieu.

After abbe de l’Epee’s death, his students were given to abbe Masse, one of his co-workers. One school was opened in the old Celestins’ convent, in the Arsenal district, rue du Petit-Musc, on the north bank, near Saint-Louis Island.

Abbe Sicard (1742-1822), one of the “Spiritual Father of the Deaf”‘s co-workers, organized a competition of the best instructor, to aim the national institution of born deaf, school that the Constituante was projecting to found to provide revolutionary equality. The best teachers of this period showed up, the abbes Salvan and Pernet de Foncines, whereas abbe Deschamps d’Orleans probably sick couldn’t show up.

Abbe Sicard was aiming since 1875, the Deaf school of Bordeaux, and this charge was given by Monsignor Champion de Cice, archbishop of this town.
This one had been promoted Interior Minister, and called the jury’s members, of which Condorcet belonged.
Sicard was sensualist, and his ideas were agreeing with the instruction programs and philosophy of Condorcet. Sicard was showing at this competition a particularly smart student Jean Massieu (1772-1846), who will become repetitor, and became the first deaf quiet, who could access to official pedagogic responsibilities. Massieu will teach at the Institution of Paris until 1823, to become, at the call of a philanthropic, executive director of Lille’s school.

Sicard then became executive director of the new institution of the Deaf situated at the Celestins. He was still a hierarchic responsible of the Blind workers school, whose director was Valentin Hauy. This collaboration couldn’t last. If the revolutionary spirit wanted to restore one human being with a deaf and a blind, the one helping the other with his missing ability, Valentin Hauy started to worry about Sicard’s prestige. The situation became between the two men crumbled. Hauy denounced Sicard as a disobedient priest, at the darkest time of the revolutionary wars. Sicard escaped with miracle from the September 1792’s slaughters.

It was decided to separate the deaf from the blind. The deaf were transferred in the convent’s mense of the Saint-Magloire’s old cloister, situated rue du Faubourg Saint-Jacques, the actual rue Saint-Jacques. They were established there on April 4, 1794 until now. Sicard had to struggle again with political problems, he was arrested as a spy of Louis XVIII, and then he was banished by Bonaparte, and condemned to “transportation”(exclusion) to Sinnamari, in Guyana, a few people survived to this trip, he knew how to escape nicely from this experience by hiding qt the faubourg Saint-Marceau, near the institution, where he could  write a big course book about born deaf instruction, which chilled the second generation of teachers for deaf children.

The prescription was cleared up at the beginning of 1800. Sicard went back to his position, installing Jean-Marc Gaspard Itard (1774-1838), 1st teacher in the institution to look after the admissions and the health state of the school. Itard took care of the little savage kid from Aveyron. He taught him the morale he learned through his master Pinel. Itard pursued his study and his experiments about physiological education to reconstruct or develop the auditives remains of the students of the institution, and to teach them in an analytic way, the artificial articulation.

With abbe Sicard, Jean Massieu could obtain the position of tutor. Others followed him. Their pedagogic vocation was doubled with artistic capabilities in engraving and in painting. A lot of oeuvres commemorating the souvenir of Abbe de l’Epee and other masters are from deaf authors. Those moving testimonies are part of the Universal Deaf and Dumb Museum collections which relayed the historic Gallery founded in 1875 at the institution of Paris.

One of the smartest deaf tutors of Abbe Sicard was Laurent Clerc (1785-1869). In 1816, Clerc followed to the United States of America Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet (1787-1851), American pastor who was sent by a doctor, Mason Fitch Cogswell (1761-1830), whose daughter Alice became deaf at 2 ½ years old. Laurent Clerc was one of the founders of the first big school of the new world, the American school for the Deaf, or American Asylum, in 1817, at Hartford in Connecticut. In 1864, Clerc got a silver bowl at the opening ceremony of the National College for the Deaf, the first silent university founded in the world.