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Writing Della: A Peek inside Deaf Education in the Gilded Age


deaf education in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Writing is always a risk. People say to “write what you know,” which is safe advice to be sure, but fiction will inevitably push these boundaries. For me, the history is what I know, so the history is where I start. But sometimes plot bunnies lead me down dangerous plot burrows.

A few years ago, I was trying to find an American source to describe the entrance into Manila Bay via steamer ship. One of the best I found was written by a traveler named Annabelle Kent:

…we were hardly outside the harbor before it became very rough, the flying spray beat against the saloon windows, and it was necessary for our chairs to be lashed to the rail. I am never sea-sick, but once ensconced in my steamer chair, it seemed best to stay there, and it really was a delight to sit there snugly wrapped up from the flying spray and watch the huge waves thundering around our little boat, which rode them like a bird….Before [landing] I had gone down to the cabin to do the repacking for my sick roommate and myself. This was no joke; with the trunks sliding around with every movement of the ship, I had to dodge the one while I held on to the other and crammed things into it.…

— Round the World in Silence

Wow, now that’s evocative writing. Why was Ms. Kent so impervious to seasickness, I wondered? I went back to the beginning of the book to read this: “I would like to show others, as well as my deaf brethren and sisters, how much pleasure and profit one can get through travel not only in Europe, but the Orient. I am not merely hard of hearing, but entirely deaf.”

What is the connection between deafness and intrepid water travel? Apparently, those with a damaged vestibular system are far less likely to be seasick:

The US Navy ran an experiment in the 1960′s where they put a few Deaf men…in a window-less galley of a ship in the middle of a horrendous storm off of Newfoundland. As the ship tossed, the Deaf men sat at a table and played cards. Meanwhile, every Naval scientist became seasick.

There is a nice sort of justice there. As I read more of Ms. Kent’s book, I learned how she circumnavigated the globe—part of the time with friends, but mostly with complete strangers, all without a sign language interpreter. One of the most adventurous women of her era, Ms. Kent was perfect material for a romance heroine!

Gibson girls gone wild for Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Heroines, heroines, everywhere! Gibson girls gone wild from the Gilded Age. From left to right: the cover of Mary H. Fee’s memoir (from the New York Society Library); a portrait of Annabelle Kent in China (from her book Round the World in Silence); the legacy of Rebecca Parish as seen through a nurses’ basketball team for the Mary Johnston Hospital in 1909 (print for sale on eBay); and the classic Gibson girl image on a music score (courtesy of the Library of Congress).

But, wait. Hold on. What do I know about deafness and Deaf Culture? Watching movies doesn’t count because they are so often written by the hearing. As blogger Charlie Swinbourne wrote about deafness in the movies:

On one hand, it’s exciting to see characters like yourself represented on screen. On the other hand, you get the FEAR.

Fear of what? Well, of the deaf character being hard to understand (especially if they’re being played by an inexperienced signer), or of their presence in the story being insubstantial and throwaway.

Worst of all, you get the fear of their appearance on screen being unrealistic, making it hard to believe in, and enjoy the story.

Swinbourne proceeds to list the top ten errors from real films. Some of the errors are obvious: a person cannot lipread when he or she is turned away from the speaker, or while sitting in the dark, or at night, and so on. And, yet, these things happen in movies all the time. If I have managed to avoid any of these pitfalls (eh…I did okay, but not perfectly), it was because of Mr. Swinbourne’s blog, The Limping Chicken, and other sources. (Also, see his own films here.)

deaf education in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Could a deaf writer have written my character, Della Berget, better than me? Yes, no doubt. Are there better books out there about Deaf Culture? Uh, like every one written by someone hard of hearing. But the story of Hotel Oriente, the opening novella of the Sugar Sun series, was grounded in history, and that is my comparative advantage. I decided to take a risk and write Della as best I could. Of course, this meant research.

I found out some interesting aspects of deaf education at the beginning of the 20th century:

  • The federally-chartered university for the hard of hearing, Gallaudet, known today for proudly teaching in two languages (American Sign Language and spoken English) was forced by Congress to teach only the “Oral Method” of communication throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. “Oralism” meant lipreading/speechreading paired with speaking. So, if you were wondering why my heroine Della does not use ASL, it is because the “experts” of her age felt it was the duty of those hard of hearing to assimilate to the hearing world, rather than acknowledging the value of their own vibrant culture. An 1880 conference of these “experts” in Milan even tried to ban “manualism,” or sign language! Though that law was not binding, it guided Congress. Even prominent hearing folks like Alexander Graham Bell got involved. (He wanted Gallaudet to stop hiring deaf teachers, whom he felt would emphasize sign language.)
deaf education in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
An early photo of what would become Gallaudet University, featuring College Hall, Chapel Hall, and Fowler Hall.
  • The emphasis on lipreading began with an incredibly patronizing idea: that all Deaf secretly wish to hear. This is not true. Limping Chicken blogger Toby Burton puts it best: “If you were to offer me a pill that would grant me [hearing], I’d be offended. Would you say to a woman,‘Take a pill and become a man, you might have more opportunities’? Of course not.” A story from Annabelle Kent’s 1911 book shows the time-tested nature of this truth: “…there happened to be a young man in the party who was totally blind. I was full of sympathy for him, but he, instead of feeling regret, thought the sympathy should be bestowed on me since I was deaf instead of blind.” You know the adage about making assumptions.
  • Gallaudet began accepting women in 1887, but they were not treated equally. In fact, the school newspaper describes a harrowing welcome for some of them: “all the [male] students would line up in rows and thus compel them to run a daily gauntlet of masculine curiosity.” Gee, that’s fun. And because women could not attend clubs and society meetings without a chaperone, they could never assume the highest positions of leadership. For example, even though women were influential in starting the school newspaper, the Buff and Blue, a young man would always be chosen for editor-in-chief because he could make the meetings without fail. This inequity is one of the reasons why my heroine, Della, an aspiring journalist, will leave college early to accompany her congressman grandfather to the Philippines: she is hoping to find fresh opportunities on the new American frontier.
deaf education in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
The masthead of one of the last issues of the Buff and Blue that Della Berget might have contributed to. Notice the women bolstering up the editorial board.
  • And yet Gallaudet may have been more expensive back then. The 1900 tuition was $250, which in terms of 2016 commodity value is $19500—not so far off the current tuition of $19,852 for an undergraduate student, including a health insurance fee. But, when you consider the value of $250 as a proportion of someone’s income in 2016, it is the equivalent of $52,800—more than twice the current fee. (All inflation calculations are courtesy of Measuring Worth.)
deaf education in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
When the women of Gallaudet could not join the men’s literary society, they made their own. It still exists as Phi Kappa Zeta.

Since there are no other deaf people that Della knows in her corner of Manila, there is no real treatment of Deaf Culture and its rewards, nor would I be the best person to translate these ideas to the page. Still, I would consider Hotel Oriente a form of cross-cultural romance, like my other books. ‘Cause that’s my jam.

deaf education in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

If you want to read more about how I wrote Della, you will find an expanded version of this post on my author website, Thank you for reading!

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American Colonial Missionaries in the Philippines


Once upon a time, Catholic-Protestant strife scorched Europe. In the seventeenth century, for example, about eight million people died in the Thirty Years War, almost a tenth of the estimated total population. Germany’s male population was cut by nearly half. There were also civil wars in France, England, Scotland, and Ireland, killing millions more. The Troubles in Northern Ireland in the late twentieth century were less deadly, but still deadly.

So intra-Christian conflict is not that unusual. Yet, far away in the Pacific, Spanish rule kept the competition away from Philippine shores. From northern Mindanao on up, there was no choice but Catholicism. When a hundred or so Yankee missionaries arrived on Philippine shores around 1900, though, things changed. There was no armed conflict, but the competition was still fierce. At least, the Protestants thought it was fierce. But over a hundred years later, only a small proportion of the Philippine population identify as Protestant—between two and ten percent, depending on whether you include independent nationalist movements with the American imports. Yet, despite this relatively small number, early American missionaries still had a significant impact on the face of Filipino society.

Presbyterian missionaries at Silliman University in Dumaguete.
Presbyterian missionaries at Silliman University in Dumaguete, as pictured in The Assembly Herald.

American Protestants did not want to see the return of the Spanish friars who had fled the country in the 1896 Philippine Revolution, and so they spread themselves out as widely as possible throughout the islands, taking up positions in vacated towns. They divided the large islands among themselves: the Presbyterians got Negros and Samar; Panay went to the Baptists; Mindanao went mostly to the Congregationalists; and Luzon was split between the Presbyterians, Methodists, and United Brethren. Only the Seventh Day Adventists and Episcopalians did not ratify this agreement.

A picture of Silliman University dating from 1909 at the earliest.
A picture of Silliman University dating from 1909 at the earliest.

Silliman University in Dumaguete was begun by the Presbyterian missionary couple David and Laura Hibbard. In my Sugar Sun series, I’ve renamed the school Brinsmade and taken a lot of liberties with the characters, but it’s not all fiction. A lot of the general priggishness that comes out of the mouth of my character Daniel Stinnett, president of Brinsmade, is stuff American missionaries really said or wrote down. In my new novella, Tempting Hymn, you get a very intimate look at what these communities might have been like. My hero, Jonas, is a good man whose ecumenical faith will be challenged by some of the more small-minded missionaries with whom he works. It was important to me that Rosa and Jonas find common ground in a world complicated by church politics and colonial attitudes. I sometimes get to write what I wished had happened in history.

Character board for Tempting Hymn.
Character board for Tempting Hymn.

And, it is true, the missionaries did do some good work. First, they could be more inclusive than normal colonial officials. They offered opportunities for Filipinos to join their ranks as members, ministers, and missionaries. At Silliman, a Filipino had to pass an examination and earn the members’ vote, but if he or she (most likely he) did so, he could be tasked to spread the word throughout the rest of Negros and Cebu islands. By 1907, only six years after the founding of Silliman, there were five ordained Filipino ministers. They could preach in their vernacular languages—in fact, it was encouraged in order to reach a wider audience.

An assembly of students at Silliman Hall.
An assembly of students at Silliman Hall, reprinted from the Sillimanian.

The other key advantage of the missionaries’ presence were the services they provided, particularly in education and health. Silliman was a school, after all. The American missionaries understood that the Thomasites, the American public school teachers, were doing good work, but they still thought that a secular curriculum was incomplete. David Hibbard integrated religion into the regular coursework and included several prayer sessions a week, including three commitments on Sunday. But Silliman’s reading, writing, and arithmetic education did not suffer because of it. In fact, his students had good success in finding employment in the new colonial government:

One boy, Andres Pada, who came to us a raw unlikely specimen three years ago has been appointed an Inspector of the Secondary Public School building and is giving good satisfaction. Another boy named Apolonario Bagay has been appointed as overseer of the roads for a portion of the province and is doing good work there. Four or five of the boys have gone out this year as teachers in the public schools of the province, and though they have not had enough training to do very good work yet, I have heard no complaints.

Okay, that seems like being damned with faint praise, but it was quite complimentary by American missionary standards. And Silliman was so popular in the region that they had more applicants than they could handle. They had to turn away boarders and take only “externos,” or day students. The local elites embraced the Hibbards and Silliman in general. In 1907, Demetrio Larena, the former governor of Negros Oriental province (and brother to the mayor of Dumaguete), converted to Presbyterianism. Silliman is now one of the best private universities in the Philippines, and it might have grown strong partly because of the very favorable town-gown relations, right from the start.

Reverend Ricardo Alonzo, the first Presbyterian minister, and ex-Governor Demetrio Larena, Presbyterian convert.
Reverend Ricardo Alonzo, the first Presbyterian minister, and ex-Governor Demetrio Larena, Presbyterian convert, from The Assembly Herald.

American missionaries did more than educate, though. They also brought medical personnel to Asia. Interestingly, several of these doctors were women. In the Presbyterians’ list of new missionaries in June 1907, there were three single female doctors—two were sent to China and one to the Philippines. Another woman physician, Dr. Mary Hannah Fulton, started a medical college for women in China. One female doctor, Rebecca Parrish, will be the model for a future character of mine, Liddy Sheppard, heroine of Sugar Communion. Parrish founded the Mary Johnston Hospital and School of Nursing in an impoverished area north of Manila, and she would give 27 years of service there before retiring. In 1950 Philippine president Elpidio Quirino bestowed upon her a medal of honor for her work. I’ve taken some liberties (as I do), but her passion for providing a safe place for women to give birth will translate to my heroine, Liddy.

Pictures of Dr. Rebecca Parrish.
Pictures of Dr. Rebecca Parrish, third from the left in the first photo. Images courtesy of She Has Done a Beautiful Thing for Me by Anne Kwantes.

Of course, you might wonder why Christians would want to spread their faith to other Christians—until you realize that, at the turn of the century, many American Protestants did not think Catholics were Christians. They put “papists,” as they called them, right along side infidels, idolators, and heretics. Reverend Roy H. Brown said:

Three hundred years have passed since this people first heard the Gospel from the Catholic Priests, and yet their condition morally is appalling….Saints and Mary are revered and worshiped while Christ is forgotten, and His place usurped….They know nothing about Christ or the Bible; their religion is a mixture of paganism with Christianity with the religious nomenclature.

This bias included a proscription against marriage to Catholics. In the Presbyterian version of the Westminster Confession of Faith at the end of the nineteenth century, it said that those who “profess the true reformed religion should not marry with infidels, Papists, or other idolaters, neither should such as are godly be unequally yoked by marrying with such as are notoriously wicked in their life or maintain damnable heresies.” Since they did not consider marriage a sacrament, you did not have to marry in a church—but the church was still going to tell you whom to marry. I fudged the rules a bit in Tempting Hymn when I allowed Jonas to marry Rosa, a Catholic, though his Presbyterian friends are none too happy about it. (And, you may remember that in Under the Sugar Sun, Georgina and Ben’s parents’ Catholic-Protestant marriage had been a scandal back in Boston.)

Some more pictures of Silliman University that inspired my Brinsmade Institute, including the chapel and bell tower that Jonas plans to build (left) and the houses like the one in which Jonas and Rosa lived (right).
Some more pictures of Silliman University that inspired my Brinsmade Institute, including the chapel and bell tower that Jonas plans to build (left) and the houses like the one in which Jonas and Rosa lived (right). Photos courtesy of The Assembly Herald in 1907 (left) and 1906 (right).

There were some more progressive missionaries, of course. In fact, the first Presbyterian missionary to arrive in the Philippines, Rev. Dr. James D. Rodgers, said that the purpose of the mission was “to help Christians of all classes to become better Christians.”

Still, in the end, the Protestants had more in common with each other than with the Catholics. And since the enemy of my enemy is my friend, the American denominations—the Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ, Evangelical United Brethren, Philippine Methodists, and the Congregational Church—would decide to merge into the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). It was their hope that this would provide more unity to fight the Catholic front.

It was not very successful. These more traditional churches would end up losing the war to the nationalized independent churches (like Iglesia ni Cristo), along with the Seventh Day Adventists and more recent missionaries like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But, in the end, numbers may not matter. The real impact these missionaries would have would be social and academic, not spiritual.

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Getting into Public School, or Scary Entrance Examinations from the 1880s!


Eton school boys


Eton There are seventy scholars always on the Foundation; and the average number of yearly vacancies is about twelve. Election to these takes place annually on the last Monday in July. Candidates must be between the ages of twelve and fifteen, and for permission to compete application must be made to “The Clerk of the Governing Body, Eton College, Windsor.” The subjects of examination are Latin Composition (Prose and Verse); Translation from Latin and Greek; Mathematics (including Arithmetic, Algebra, and Euclid); and ” General Papers ” (whatever these may mean), not limited to Latin and Greek Grammar and Parsing. The examination varies according to the age of the candidate, who is permitted the use of Dictionary, Gradus, Greek Lexicon, and Grammars on the Composition and Translation papers. Once elected to the Foundation, or “into College,” as it is termed, a boy’s expenses are purely personal, as he will receive free board and education within the College walls. But even this would probably mean, at an aristocratic school like Eton, an expenditure of hardly less than £60 a year on the parent’s part.

Winchester College has also seventy Foundation Scholarships, with eleven yearly vacancies, open to competition of boys of twelve to fourteen years of age, whether already in the school or not. Every candidate must give notice of his desire to compete on or before the last day of June in each year, by letter addressed to ” The Rev. G. Richardson, M.A., The College, Winchester;” and the examination is held in July. The subjects of examination are Elementary Religious Knowledge; Dictation; Arithmetic, Algebra, and Geometry; Latin Composition (Prose and Verse); Construing and Parsing in Greek and Latin; French Grammar (Parsing and Easy Translation); Outlines of Geography and English History. Each scholar pays yearly £21 in advance: i.e., £7 at beginning of each term. This done, he is maintained during his whole stay at “Winchester out of the College revenues.

Rugby the Scholarships are two Classical of £80 a year each; two Classical, one Mathematical of £50 a year each; and one Classical, one Mathematical, one French, one Natural Science of £20 a year each. Candidates must be under fifteen on July 1st. Allowance for age is made in election to all Scholarships; no special books are suggested; “the papers are set (so say the authorities) with a view to well-taught boys between thirteen and fourteen.” We may estimate the exact value of these Scholarships as follows:—The annual expenses of a boy’s board and education at Rugby School amount to £119 7s. Deduct from this sum the value of a Scholarship as above, and the result shows the annual cost with such help allowed. It will thus be seen that, under the most favourable circumstances, a Rugby “Scholar’s” education costs not less than from £40 to £50 a year, exclusive of travelling and pocket-money.

Harrow of the six Scholarships annually offered, some are of not less than £60 a year, the rest of not less than £30 a year. Candidates must be under fourteen on January 1st previous to election. The subjects of examination on the Classical side are Translation from Latin and Greek, and Latin Composition (Prose and Verse), with permission to use Dictionary, Gradus, Lexicon (but not Grammar) in the preparation of the exercises. On the Modern side the subjects are Mathematics (including Arithmetic and easy Algebra, and Euclid), French, and any one subject either of History or Science. The ordinary annual expenses of a boy’s board and education at Harrow School never fall short of £113. So that here again, under the most favourable circumstances—that is to say, with a Scholarship of £60 a year to help him- along, the cost to his parents will never fall below £53 a year, exclusive of personal expenses.

The Examinations


I. Find the G.C.M. of 5325 and 8307; the L.C.M. of 34, 68, 17, 2.

II. Find the value of–
1. 3.4 and 4/3 of 3
2. 1/2+3/4+5/8+7/9
3. 5-25/7
4. 16 2/3 divided by 12 1/2
5. 9 7/9 divided by 2 1/27

III. Find the value of–
1. .0003 x .01 x 500000
2. 9.065 divided by .049
3. .001953125 of £40

IV. Work out by Practice the rent of 2A. 3R. 25P. a £5 7s. 5 1/2d. per acre

V. A man owes £360 16s. 3d., and can only pay £240 15s. 6d.; how much is this in the pound?

VI. A rectangular piece of ground of 780 square feet area was sold for £25,050; the cost was said to be £1,565 10s. for each foot facing the street: how many feet frontage were there? At the same rate how much would the land cost per acre?

Show that a square plot one acre in extent measures nearly 69 1/2 yards each way.

VII. A man has an income of £558 2s. 6d. after paying 5d. in the £ for tax: what was the original income? If the income arises from 3 per cents, at £95, what is the value of his estate?

VIII. Find the difference between simple and compound interest on £2,784 15s. for three years at 4 per cent.

IX. A mixture contains 1 pound of A, 24 1/2 pounds of B, 2 pounds of C, 12 1/2 pounds of D: find how much per cent, there is of each.

X. A man in discounting a bill due three years hence, at the rate of 5 per cent., found the true discount on one year, and multiplied it by 3: by what fraction of the whole bill was he wrong?


I. Find the G.C.M. and L.C.M. of 6x3-11x2+5x-3, and 9x3-9x2+5x-2; leave the latter in factors

Multiply x2/3+3x1/3-1 by x2/3-3x1/3+1

II. Solve the equations:–

1. x2+ 1/x2+x+1/x=4

2. square root of 1+x/ 1+ square rood of 1+x = square root of 1-x/ 1- square root of 1-x

3. xyz=231

III. Show how to sum a geometrical series to n terms

Prove that .637=631/990

IV. If a:b::c:d, show a3+b3: a3-b3::c3+d3: c3-d3

Write down the 11th term of (a-b/2)17

V. The pth term of an arithmetic series is u, the qth term of the same is v; find the 7th term.

VI. If two angles of a triangle are equal to one another, the sides also which subtend, or are opposite to, the equal angles, shall be equal to one another.

VII. If two sides of a quadrilateral figure in a circle are parallel, prove that the other two must be equal.

VIII. Inscribe a circle in a given triangle, and a circle in a quadrant of a circle.

IX. Show how to divide a given line into seven equal parts.

X. Find the area of a triangle which is equilateral and has the three sides together equal to the four sides of a square whose area is a2.


They talk with one another in manifold conversation.
But of himself the old dog. Argus, knew his lord (herum)
Then, for neither the form of his master escapes him, nor his words,
He pricks his ear, and stretches out his grey head. He, once swift to pass the fleeting stags,
Now lies covered with dust on the foul ground.
With ears, and eyes, and tail lie salutes the king;
As he desires to rise his feet had no power.
“What dog, thus nohle to the view, lies here?” began the hero;
And though he willed it not, his cheeks grew moist.
But, when he had seen his lord after twenty years,
Did the fates of black death lay hold on Argus.

So great was the consternation of the inhabitants of Londinium, when the news came that Jumbonius must leave the shores of England, that not even the judges and senators could refrain from openly expressing their grief. Added to these the voices of women and children were heard, exclaiming that now they were being shamefully deprived of their chief pleasure. “How long,” said they, “must we endure such wrongs? Do not imagine, O Prefect of the gardens, that thy deceit is unknown. Thou hast sold for money to foreigners the joy of our children, the pride of our native land, the consumer of sweetmeats. What can be more disgraceful than for a noble animal, whom we all love, to be enticed against his will into a cage, exposed to the waves of the Atlantic, and delivered to the unknown tortures of his enemies?” To these complaints the Prefect replied that the money had been paid, and that the purchaser asked if it was just that so many thousands of the citizens of the great republic should be defrauded of the spectacle, which had now long since been promised to them.

I. What is a glacier, an iceberg, a spring, a springtide, dew?
II. Draw a map of Italy, marking the chief ranges of mountains, rivers, and twelve important towns.
III. In what countries, and on what rivers, are the following towns:—Dresden, Oporto, New Orleans, Alexandria, Nijni Novgorod, Rustchuk, Montreal, Cordova, Rangoon, Liverpool?
IV. A Russian gentleman, averse to railways, wished to go from St. Petersburg to Odessa; name, in order, the seas and straits through which he would have to pass.

I. The chief events of the reign of Edward I. giving the dates as nearly as you can.
II. In what English reigns do we hear the most of Ireland? Give a short account of the leading events connected with it.
III. With what events do you connect the following places:—Worcester, Runnymede, Torbay, Glencoe, Evesham, the Nore?
IV. Who were Jack Cade, Judge Jeffreys, Sir W. Wallace, Clive, Titus Oates, Sir Walter Raleigh, Lord Raglan, Anselm?

Where Shall I Educate my Son? (1884) by Charles Eyre Pascoe

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