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People - Alexander Graham Bell and Deafness

Beyond The Telephone


Updated April 17, 2014

Everyone knows about Alexander Graham Bell and his invention of the telephone. What is not as well known, is his ties to the deaf community.


The telephone, and other Bell innovations like the microphone, reportedly was developed in part to assist people with hearing loss.


Bell taught deaf students at schools for the deaf (a school in London, Boston School for Deaf Mutes, the Clarke School for the Deaf, and at the American Asylum for the Deaf). He also opened a school for deaf and hearing students together, but the school had to be closed after just two years.

Marriage and Family

Although he married a deaf woman, a former speech pupil, Mabel Hubbard, Bell strongly opposed intermarriage among deaf people. Bell feared "contamination" of the human race by the propagation of deaf people even though most deaf people statistically are born to hearing parents. In addition, Bell's mother was hard of hearing/deaf.


In 1880, Bell won the Volta Prize from France for his invention of the telephone, and utilized the winnings to set up the Volta Bureau, a library holding information on deafness. Ten years later, in 1890, Bell set up the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf, with the objective of promoting oral communication (which later morphed into the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing).


Bell befriended Helen Keller, the deaf-blind woman famous in that era. Another major accomplishment was to conduct the first national census of the deaf, in 1890.

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