Contact: Dr. Karen Dilka
Eastern Kentucky University
n Date submitted to deafed.net – May 29,
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Alexander Graham Bell
Advocate for the Deaf
By: Stacy Raff & Cindy Patterson
Many forces helped shape the genius of
Alexander Graham Bell. As the son and
grandson of speech experts, he had a
unique knowledge of the possibilities
of sound. As the son of a deaf mother,
he had a true appreciation of the
effort required to live in a hearing
world. In turn, these factors led to
mr. Bell’s humanitarian acts in regard
to the deaf and hard of hearing.
Bell’s Family Background
n His father, Alexander Melville Bell, had spent many years
teaching elocution (showing people how to speak correctly),
and had studied the mechanics of speech: how we use our
larynx, mouth, tongue and lips to form sounds. He was the
inventor of "Visible Speech," a code of symbols which
indicated the position and action of the throat, tongue and
lips in uttering various sounds.
n His mother, Eliza Grace Symonds was hard of hearing, but
could use a speaking tube to hear some sounds. Eliza was a
powerful example for Bell. Despite her hearing loss, Eliza
was her son's principal teacher.
n 1847 March 3 Alexander Bell is born to
Alexander Melville and Eliza Symonds Bell in
n 1864 April Alexander Melville Bell develops
Visible Speech, a kind of universal alphabet that
reduces all sounds made by the human voice into
a series of symbols.
n 1868 May 21 Bell begins teaching speech to the
deaf at Susanna Hull's school for deaf children in
London. Bell attends University College in
n 1871 April Moving to Boston, Bell begins
teaching at the Boston School for Deaf Mutes.
n 1872 March Bell teaches at the Clarke
School for the Deaf in Boston and at the
American Asylum for the Deaf in Hartford,
n 1872 April 8 Bell meets Boston attorney
Gardiner Greene Hubbard, who will become
one of his financial backers and his father-in-
n 1872 Fall Bell opens his School of Vocal
Physiology in Boston and starts experimenting
with the multiple telegraph.
n 1873 Boston University appoints Bell
Professor of Vocal Physiology and Elocution at
its School of Oratory. Mabel Hubbard, his
future wife, becomes one of his private pupils.
n 1874 Spring Bell conducts acoustics
experiments at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology. He and Clarence Blake, a Boston
ear specialist, begin experimenting with the
mechanics of the human ear and the
phonautograph, a device that could translate
sound vibrations into visible tracings.
Summer In Brantford, Ontario, Bell first
conceives of the idea for the telephone.
n 1876 July 11 Mabel Hubbard and Bell are
n 1883 At Scott Circle in Washington,
D.C., Bell starts a day school for deaf
n 1886 Bell establishes the Volta
Bureau as a center for studies on the deaf.
n 1887 February Bell meets six-year-old blind
and deaf Helen Keller in Washington, D.C.
He helps her family find a private teacher by
recommending that her father seek help from
Michael Anagnos, director of the Perkins
Institution for the Blind.
n 1890 August Bell and his supporters form
the American Association to Promote the
Teaching of Speech to the Deaf.
n 1922 August 2 Bell dies and is buried at
Beinn Bhreagh, Nova Scotia.
Bell was interested in teaching the deaf his
entire life. He was the leading supporter of
the oral philosophy, strongly believing that
the deaf should be taught to speak. His
contributions greatly influenced the way
deaf children are taught both in his time and
today. The oral system is still promoted by
the Alexander Graham Bell Association for
the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. This
organization, founded in 1890 by Bell, serves
as an information provider and support
network while continuing to spread the
ideas of its founder.