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Lord Charnwood and the National Institute for the Deaf, 1924-35

Hugh Dominic WStiles10 February 2012

Lord Charnwood

Lord CHARNWOOD (1864-1945), was born Godfrey Rathbone Dawson in Hampshire in 1864.  He was the son of a Hampshire barrister of Quaker stock.  One of his brothers Sir Francis Benson became a noted Shakesperean actor, while the eldest brother was the great arts and Crafts designer, William Benson.

Although the National Bureau for Promoting the General Welfare of the Deaf was formed by Leo Bonn in 1911, it fell into a period of quiet and relative inactivity due partly to the First World War. The need for a national umbrella organisation for all the various deaf related charities and institutes still existed however.  The response came by giving the Bureau a new name and putting it on a more solid basis in finance and administration. In March 1924,  Lord Charnwood became the first President of the re-constituted body, the National Institute for the Deaf (N.I.D.). It was  a post he held until 1935 when it was taken up by the Duke of Montrose.  Charnwood had been introduced to charitable work involving the Deaf by A. J. Story, and became involved with the work of the National College of Teachers of the Deaf as President in 1923. In his address to the Kingsway Hall meeting setting up the N.I.D. on March 19th 1924, Charnwood said,

I have two things that ought to be said about the deaf. Their misfortune is not one that instantly appeals to sympathy. Everyone sympathises with the blind. You do not instantly discover that the deaf are deaf. I confess frankly myself, that my inclination is to be irritated with the person who is deaf. It is not sufficiently appreciated that a person who is deaf from birth or from a very early period of life is really shut out, at any rate from the earliest and most important years of life, from the improvements of mental development which are open to the rest of us, even to the blind.

Though admirable work is done in many parts of the country, there does not exist at this moment anything like a central national organisation charged with looking after the general interests and welfare of the deaf.

Charnwood was a Liberal MP for a few years, then was called to the bar. He was deeply interested in Church affairs. “His own personal views on religion were set out in a very candid study of St John’s gospel, According to St. John (1926), and, in revised form, in A Personal Conviction (1928)” (Oxford DNB). He also wrote a highly acclaimed biography of Abraham Lincoln.

Obituary. Teacher of the Deaf, 1945, 43, 22. (photo between p. 20 and p. 21)

NID Annual Reports

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (entries for all three brothers)