The World’s First Public Deaf School

A brief history of the world’s oldest deaf school in Paris, France, otherwise known as Institute National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris.

Today, on July 29th, we commemorate the anniversary of the Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris (National Institute for Deaf Children of Paris), a government-recognized and funded school for the Deaf in France. This esteemed institution was founded by Charles-Michel de l’Épée between 1750 and 1760 in the beautiful city of Paris.

Charles-Michel de l’Épée was an educator in 18th-century France that later became known as the “Father of the Deaf”. He was born to a wealthy family and later in life studied to become a Catholic priest. He spent most of his time and attention on charitable services for the poor in the slums of Paris.

On one of his trips to the slums, he came across two Deaf sisters who communicated using sign language. After that experience, he decided to educate himself on the salvation of Deaf people. He believed that since Deaf people were capable of language, they needed to receive sacraments to avoid going to hell.

The school’s start came from Abbé de l’Épée’s interest in educating Deaf people on religion. It was in 1760 that the school officially began its journey and soon opened its doors to the public, making it the world’s first free public school for the deaf. Initially, it found its home at 14 rue des Moulins, butte Saint-Roch, near the Louvre in Paris.

However, on July 29, 1791, a momentous event occurred when the French legislature granted government funding to the school, leading to its renaming as the “Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets à Paris.”

A more recent image of the Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris.

A remarkable alumnus of the school was Laurent Clerc, who graduated and later served as a teacher for several years. Eventually, Clerc emigrated and, in collaboration with Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, established the first Deaf school in America in 1817. This pivotal moment laid the foundation for the formal American Sign Language, blending elements of French Signs and Martha’s Vineyard Signs. Today, we honor the rich history and contributions of these institutions and individuals, which have profoundly influenced the lives of the Deaf community worldwide.

To learn more about Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris watch this video.

Happy anniversary, INJS!

‘Til next time, ta ta! 😄🤟🏻

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