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A card from Yvonne Pitrois, Deaf Writer (1880-1937)

H Dominic W Stiles25 July 2014

Yvonne Pitrois was a deaf writer whose name became known in the Anglophone Deaf community in Britain, the USA and Australia through her articles in newspapers such as the British Deaf Times.

Yvonne PitroisAlthough she was born hearing, on 18th of November 1880, at the age of six she became deaf after suffering from sunstroke we are told (Roe), and her sight was also severely affected for many years.*  She was however taught to read and write by her mother, who remained Yvonne’s companion until she died in 1927.  Her works began to appear in periodicals when she was seventeen, and we are told by Roe that she became a member of the Société des Gens de Lettres.  Roe says,

She considers that the deaf of England and the United States are better off than those of France, for in the latter country there are very few who interest themselves in the spiritual and temporal welfare of the deaf as a class.  This specially applies to the adult deaf, and she points to the fact that there is only one Protestant clergyman – M. Vigier, of Paris – a former teacher of the deaf, who is really doing satisfactory mission work among the Protestant deaf.

Her background was Huguenot.

During the Great war she worked hard for the Deaf of France and Belgium uprooted by the war, and was afterwards decorated by the King of Belgium (Hartig, p. 94).  From 1913 to her death in 1937, she published and edited La Petite Silencieuse.  We have a complete set in the library.  The last edition was a ‘special issue’ after her death, with photographs and biographical notes.  It says,

Son ardent patriotisme lui a inspiré des récits qui apportèrent  aux heures sombres de 1914-18 un regain de courage aux soldats dans la tranchées, un peu de baume aux meurtrissures des pauvres mamans, des fiancées deuillées, des veuves solitaires! (La Petite Silencieuse, Noel 1937, p.7)

From the postcard below, we can see that in 1919 Pitrois began to act as an ‘agent’ for Selwyn Oxley, obtaining books and journals for his growing ‘Ephphatha’ Library, which was a forerunner of our collection.

After discussing what she will do in obtaining and sending him, material, she writes,

Thank you very much to take in hands the cause of these poor deaf old people in Brussels. I should be very pleased to see you! but I fear that you will be quite disappointed with me, for I live as an hermit and never mix with anyone – either hearing or deaf, my work take up all my time and it is entirely done by correspondence. My heart was nearly broken when I heard of the passing away of Miss D.S. Wise! **  What a loss for our silent world!
With Kind Regards
Yvonne Pitrois

Click for a larger size.

Pitrois postcard

*Hartig says this happened when she was aged seven (p.78).

** Dorothy Stanton Wise, Deaf Sculptor (we hope to cover her in a future item).

Roe, W.R., Peeps into the Deaf World, London, 1917, p.347-8
Hartig, Rachel M.,  Crossing the divide : representations of deafness in biography, Washington, 2006

La Petite Silencieuse 1913-37

Sign alphabet exhibition – A Collection of the Most Remarkable Definitions and Answers of Massieu and Clerc

H Dominic W Stiles4 July 2013

A collection of the most remarkable definitions and answers of Massieu and Clerc, Deaf and Dumb, to the various questions put to them, at the public lectures of the Abbé Sicard, in London; to which are joined The manual alphabet of the Deaf and Dumb, the Abbé’s Introductory Discourse, and a letter explanatory of his system With notes and an English translation by J.H. Sievrac. London, printed four Massieu & Clerc by Cox & Baylis, 1815 by M. Laffon de Ladebat with notes and an English translation by J.H. Sievrac 1815

Jean Massieu (1772 –1846) was born Deaf and became a teacher of the Deaf.  Louis Laurent Marie Clerc (1785 –1869),”The Apostle of the Deaf in America” was taught by Massieu and l’Abbé Sicard (1742-1822)Moving to the U.S.A. with Thomas Gallaudet, Clerc co-founded the school in Conneticut which is now The American School for the Deaf.

massieu clercThe author, André-Daniel Laffon de Ladebat (1746 –1829), philanthropist & banker, was himself a remarkable man.  He was a protestant French noble who joined the revolution as a moderate, but fell out with both Napoleon and later the restored Bourbons.  An early slavery abolitionist, in 1788 he wrote Discourse on the Necessity and the Means of Abolishing Slavery in the Colonies.

After an introductory lecture by Sicard, A collection of the most remarkable definitions and answers of Massieu and Clerc, Deaf and Dumb takes the form of a series of questions posed by various members of polite society answered by Massieu and Clerc, which illustrate their eloquence & high level of education.

IMGP0815One of our copies of this book, not in this exhibition, has a letter from Sicard inside the front cover – see below.  This copy was owned by Charles Rhind (here written ‘Rhynd’ by Selwyn Oxley) who we covered in an earlier post.

Very kindly, a translation has been made for us by Lucas Rivet-Crothers (with some additions by Mike Gulliver):

Comme tout le monde sait, mon respectable collègue, que toute votre vie se passe en bonnes œuvres et que par conséquent je ne dois ni ne puis l’ignorer, je puis donc sans indiscrétion vous adresser un des membres d’une famille nombreuse, une des plus dignes d’estime et d’intérêt que je connaisse qui deviendront le sauveur de la sienne si vous daigner lui procurer une place quelconque, quelque médiocre qu’elle fut, il fut dans sa première jeunesse dans les hôpitaux militaires, l’appui, le soutien, la consolation des infortunés confiés à ses soins. Son père, son frère, ses sœurs, tous les siens se sont montrés toujours des modèles de toutes les vertus civiles et religieuses. Permettez lui de vous entretenir, quelques instants, de leur fâcheuse position et daigner descendre jusqu’à lui et vous ne ferez pas sans en etre touché et sans lui tendre une main bienfaisante en protectrice…
To my esteemed colleague: As everyone knows, your life has been spent in good works, and this is something that I must not, indeed cannot, ignore. And so, without any feeling of discomfort, may I recommend to you a member of a large family (one of the most worthy of esteem and interest that I know) who would be the saviour of that family if you could provide him with a position, however humble it might be. In his younger years, he worked in military hospitals where he was a support and a consolation to those unfortunate enough to find themselves in his care. His father, his brother, his sisters, all of his kin have shown themselves to be models of civil and religious virtue. Converse with him for only a few minutes and he will tell you of the difficult position in which they find themselves. Engage with him and you will assuredly be moved by his predicament, and find yourself extending to him your protection and goodwill.

Click for a larger image.

Sicard letter 001