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Leo Bonn, founder of the National Bureau for Promoting the General Welfare of the Deaf

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 13 April 2012

Leo Bonn was the founder of the National Bureau for Promoting the General Welfare of the Deaf, now called Action on Hearing Loss. Bonn had what we might assume to be age related deafness. The following account is from his unpublished memoirs (p. 19). The quotation is as found in our library records, however I am unable to say where Bonn’s unpublished memoirs are now, but they are perhaps in the possession of his family. Note his mention of A.J. Story (for whom see both a previous and the next entry)

Before we bought Newbold we stayed for a season at Brighton and as I found my hearing getting worse I asked Miss Hare, a teacher of lip reading, to give me some lessons, she interested me in the cause of the deaf and after examining the question with the help of Mr. Story, head of a big school for the deaf at Stoke-on-Trent, who moved me by his enthusiasm, I promised to devote a certain sum of money to starting a clearing house to look after the interests of the deaf. This was to be called “The National Bureau for the Deaf”.

The first meeting took place at 22 Upper Brook Street, in our dining room, where I took the chair, about 100 people were present, all more or less interested in the deaf.

It would take too long to go into the different vicissitudes of the bureau. For the yearly meetings I was nearly always able to secure good speakers like Lord Fletcher Molton, Lord George Hamilton, Sir Frederick Milner, Lady O’Hagan, some of the Guinnesses (whose name I forget) and who helped to attract the public. Until the war it did very well, I felt I had to be the rallying point, for there were many different interests to be reconciled. I was founder, and remained for sometime President, Chairman all in one, too much for my time, I felt younger men ought to take on the direction, so I resigned. The Bureau is still alive, doing fairly well, the name has been changed to “The National Institute for the Deaf”.

Bonn was the son of B. Bonn of Frankfort-on-Main, born 3rd August 1850. He married Ida Amalie Eltzbacher in 1889 and they had one son and two daughters. A director of the Union of London and Smith’s Banks Ltd, 1900-13 and director of the London and Liverpool Bank of Commerce Ltd, 1886-1913, Bonn died on 28th November 1929.  You can read a short biography of him in the Dictionary of National Biography.