History & Archives – Part 1
RAD began with a group of young Deaf activists who used to meet socially in Aldersgate Street in the City of London. They were ex-pupils of the ‘London Asylum for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb Children of the Poor’, which we now know as the Royal School for Deaf Children, Margate.
The initial group was reinforced by a number of London businessmen led by George Crouch, a bookseller and bookbinder and father of five profoundly deaf children. On 29th January 1841 the first recorded committee meeting was held at Mr Crouch’s premises at 5 Tudor Street near Blackfriars Bridge. At this meeting it was decided that a ‘society’ would be set up entitled ‘The Refuge for the Deaf and Dumb’, whose purpose would be to tackle the lack of employment for Deaf men.
The society set up workshops where Deaf men were taught printing and shoe-making. There were also daily education classes for young people and special classes for those with no previous schooling. In1845 the society began to offer places for women apprentices to learn dressmaking and needlework.
At the same time the society’s welfare work was expanding, with gifts of clothing and small amounts of money being distributed to London’s needy Deaf people. While illness was widespread among poor people generally during the 19th century, seriously ill Deaf people were more likely to suffer through lack of care. The missionaries reported that “hospitals won’t take the sick due to communication difficulties.” The challenging task of arranging hospital admission for Deaf people in need of treatment would continue to be one of the duties of RAD’s workers in future years.
In December 1859 a committee of seven Deaf men presented a demand for ‘a church of their own’ where services would be conducted in sign language. Their cause was supported by Samuel Smith who became RAD’s first chaplain and the first ordained minister to Deaf people. Against much opposition he fought long and hard for the acceptance of sign language and travelled throughout England seeking support for the establishment of local societies in aid of Deaf people. Many of the organisations which were developed as a result of this work are still in existence today.
After much hard work and tireless fundraising, the foundation stone of St. Saviour’s Church, Oxford Street, was laid by the Prince of Wales on 5th July 1870 and the first service was held there in
The year that Queen Victoria graciously granted her patronage to ‘The Royal Association in aid of the Deaf and Dumb’ (RADD). The building of St Saviour’s became a great symbol for Deaf people, for the right to worship stood for many other rights – to be educated, to have work, to participate and to socialise. St. Saviour’s provided access to all these things – a theme which was to continue in all the RAD centres for Deaf people which were to be opened across London, Kent, Surrey and Essex.
In 1880 an international event was held in Milan which established oralism as the preferred method for teaching Deaf children. More than 150 delegates took part in the ‘International Congress for Teachers of the Deaf’ at which papers on sign, oral and combined systems of education were presented. By majority vote it was resolved that: “The Congress, considering the incontestable superiority of speech over signs in restoring the deaf mute to society and in giving him a more perfect knowledge of language, declares that the oral method ought to be preferred to that of signs for the education and instruction of the deaf and dumb.”
RADD expressed strong reservations about this resolution, pointing out that no Deaf or dumb people had been consulted and that, although the oral method may be suitable for some deaf children, it was not a suitable medium for the instruction of large classes, especially where sign language was discouraged.
Ten years on in 1890, the effects of the oralist approach were becoming evident as many school-leavers found themselves in the sorry position of lacking fluency in any method of communication.
RAD has always recognised sign language as a Deaf child’s natural first language. In a short booklet produced in 1864, the Rev. Samuel Smith argued that Sign was a language entitled to respect and dignity in its own right and likened its grammatical construction to that of Latin.