Mapping Deaf Missions

This site visualizes the Protestant Episcopal Ministry to the Deaf in both space and time. This is a digital component to a dissertation titled “With Eloquent Fingers He Preached”: The Protestant Episcopal Mission to the Deaf. This visualization combines missionary reports, parish records, diocesan reports, newspaper articles and other sources with spatial data to trace the growth of signed services in borrowed church rooms and deaf church spaces. These details are described with greater detail in the third chapter of the dissertation.

Jannelle Legg (George Mason University)

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, deaf and hearing members of the Protestant Episcopal Church organized a ministry for and by deaf people, one that enacted new forms of Protestant worship in built and borrowed church spaces. The shape of that effort, however, is obscured. Deaf people lived in cities and towns across the country, “scattered” geographically across large regions. The signing clergy that served this vast field was largely itinerant, moving between mission sites with varying frequency. My dissertation traces the development of a signing ministry from the classroom to the church-house, exploring the emergence of the Church Mission to Deaf Mutes and Conference on Church Work Among the Deaf between 1850 and World War I. During this period, members of this ministry created and defended deaf spaces of sacred and practical significance.

There has yet to be an effort to explore the geographic development of deaf religious space in the nineteenth century. Similarly overlooked has been the traditionally recognized sites of deaf gathering, deaf residential schools and conferences. Placing these features in conversation reveals the relationship between local and national efforts to form and sustain spaces which nurtured and validated deaf experience and expression.

Mapping Sites of Signed Protestant Episcopal Services

Signed Protestant Episcopal worship services for adult deaf people were first offered in New York City. Building on the religious instruction many deaf people received in residential deaf schools, a growing group of signing clergy and lay people formed missions in cities between 1850 and 1880.

Though the Protestant Episcopal Ministry to the deaf is acknowledged for its widespread influence, the scale of this work is best understood spatially. Geographical data, as well as information about services and clergy, was gathered from diocesan reports, parish records, missionary reports, and newspaper articles in an effort to locate the spaces in which deaf people gathered together.