“Religious instruction counts first last and in-between” – a Deaf Anarchist
By H Dominic W Stiles, on 22 November 2013
- Leonard Motler, Deaf freethinker and anarchist (1888-1967)
Occasionally you come across someone who stands out from the crowd. Leonard Augustine Motler was one of those people. Born in Eccles in 1888, Motler was the son of Joseph & Bertha Motler, a pattern card maker and a tobacconist.* At the age of five he lost his hearing in an accident (see comment below). He was sent to the Roman Catholic St. John’s Institution for Deaf and Dumb at Boston Spa. In 1911 he was still in Lancashire working as a printer, but he must have gravitated to London shortly after.
He was an important, if forgotten, figure in the early labour then anarchist movements of the early 20th century, and it is possible that introduced Sylvia Pankhurst to her partner Silvo Corio.
A review of John Quail’s The Slow Burning Fuse (1978), […] identifies the long-forgotten Leonard Motler (a deaf mute who had abandoned the pro-war socialist movement for anarchism in 1914) as being among the first to condemn the Bolshevik coup in Russia. In December 1917 Motler wrote in his self-published journal, Satire, that ‘The Russian Revolution is running ugly. These little things happen when the people permit new rulers to pose as their saviours, instead of saving themselves by running the country on their own’ (p.205). (Hodgson 2009, quoting work of Nicolas Walter, p.126)
Perhaps the type of education he got at Boston Spa gave him a good grounding in written English, but it seems that the ‘Christian Doctrine’ that the school imposed on it pupils (for which see various school annual reports) must have caused him to ‘kick against the pricks’ (Acts 9:5-6).
The article below appeared in September 1920, though I am not sure where it was published. In it Leonard Motler points out what will be obvious to anyone who studies the history of Deaf people over the 19th century, how education was promoted and controlled by the religious institutions.
There is perhaps hardly a school for the deaf in the British Isles not controlled to some extent by the clergy. The only Roman Catholic school of the kind in England is controlled by nuns of St. Vincent de Paul. Having been educated there myself, I can vouch for the fact that religious instruction counts first and last and in-between. The pupils rise before 7 a.m., when there is a mass said practically every day of the year, at which, of course, they all attend. The first thing in the morning lessons is inevitably catechism, and on Sundays this is made a special subject for the elder pupils.
Motler seems to be a fascinating character. It is interesting to see that he ended up living in South Africain 1921, following his sister Bertha (see article by Heath below), as the Rev. Fred Gilby (see earlier posts) went out there in the late 1920s on mission work.
The French speaker he mentions at the end of this article should be identifiable with a little work.
If anyone has more information about Motler, please do comment. Perhaps there are people in South Africa who recall him?
Click onto the image for a readable size.
Royal Association in Aid of the Deaf and Dumb (scrapbook one)
*See census returns from www.ancestry.co.uk