HOPKINTON – While we continue to come up with modern technologies to help those unable to hear, deafness was once a permanent disability with little hope of living normally with. In the very early days, the deaf were often put into asylums with the blind, the epileptic, stroke victims, and others who were not as high functioning as society expected them to be.  

In days past, while a child could be born deaf or an older person could lose their hearing, there were numerous illnesses could render one permanently incapable of hearing. Measles, Influenza, Mumps and Scarlet Fever are among the epidemics that could bring about such an affliction. Because the illnesses themselves were not fully understood, little was known about preventive care or early treatment. 

Back in 1885, the deaf of Hopkinton included 48-year-old former teacher Abbie Phillips, 35-year-old Harriet (Champlin) Kenyon, 43-year-old Rebecca (Young) Hopkins, 40-year-old Mary (Champlin) Greene, 16-year-old Mary Clark, 18-year-old Mary Boss and 33-year-old Mary Burdick. The only male resident void of hearing in the town at that time was 39-year-old John Babcock.

The State of Rhode Island began to feel concern for the deaf in 1836 when the General Assembly instructed each town to compile a report on the number of deaf residents. Within the state that year, twenty-one males and thirty females were reported to be unable to hear. Of those, five of them had been educated out of the state at the American Asylum in Hartford, Connecticut.

Eleven had been partially educated and the rest had no education at all due to their disability. It was recognized that Rhode Island needed to establish a facility for the education of its deaf residents.

It was due to the inspiration and determination of a handful of individuals that hope for progress was eventually afforded those who had spent their lives trapped inside a world of silence and unable to communicate.

When a school for the deaf was finally established in Rhode Island, it was the direct influence of Mary Ann Lippitt, the mother of a girl who had been deaf since a bout with Scarlet Fever in 1856 when she was four-years old. Despite her daughter’s disability, Lippitt was determined that she could still be taught to speak through reading lips. With no existing facility having programs that taught lip-reading or speech, Lippitt created her own program and founded the Providence Day School for the Deaf in 1876. Her husband Henry Lippitt, who had become governor in 1875, used his own influence to inspire the State to take over the administration of the school the following year. 

The school opened with five students. Today, known as the Rhode Island School for the Deaf, the facility still provides an education for those without the ability to hear. Due to vast changes in society’s view on disabilities, modern medical inventions and discoveries such as implants and surgeries, and educational programs in lipreading and sign-language, the deaf continue to prosper as well as their hearing counterparts

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