Samuel Heinicke, Father of Oral Education for the Deaf

Samuel Heinicke was born April 14, 1727, in the part of Europe that is now the eastern part of Germany. In 1754, he began tutoring students—and one of them was deaf. This deaf student reportedly was a young boy. He used the manual alphabet to teach that deaf pupil.

However, Heinicke's teaching philosophy was influenced strongly by a book, "Surdus loquens," or "The Speaking Deaf," about how a European doctor taught the deaf to speak. The book reportedly was by someone named Amman. By 1768, he was teaching a deaf student in Eppendorf, Germany. Word spread quickly about how successful Heinicke was in teaching the deaf, and he soon found himself with more and more deaf students.

Postal stamp featuring Samuel Heinicke
Eigener Scan / Wikimedia Commons

Beginning to Use Oral Method

At first, Heinicke used only writing, sign, and gesture to teach but soon he felt that was not enough and he began using speech and lipreading to teach. He taught speech by having students feel the throat. Heinicke felt strongly that having access to spoken language was critical to the development of the thought process. Ironically, though, he had to use sign language and gesturing until his students succeeded in learning to talk. According to at least one resource, Heinicke had developed a Language Machine to represent the mechanisms of speech. He also used food to teach speech.

During this period—from 1773 to 1775—he wrote newspaper articles on deaf education. Heinicke wrote about his use of speech to teach deaf students and dubbed it "Oralism." Teaching the deaf became Heinicke's full-time job—he soon no longer had any hearing students—and he even wrote a textbook for teaching the deaf.

An interesting thing about Heinicke is that while his career as a deaf educator was progressing, he was in actual contact with another deaf educator—the Abbe de l'Epee, who was the "father of sign language," while Heinicke became the "father of the German method." It is actually possible to read these letters today. The Library of Congress has the following resource:

The exchange of letters between Samuel Heinicke and Abbe Charles Michel de l'Epee; a monograph on the oralist and manualist methods of instructing the deaf in the eighteenth century, including the reproduction in English of salient portions of each letter [annotated by] Christopher B. Garnett, Jr. [1st ed.]
New York, Vantage Press [1968]
Library of Congress Call Number: HV2471 .H4 1968

Establishing a Deaf School

In 1777, his reputation as a deaf educator was so well established that he was asked to open the first (oral) public school for the deaf. This school opened in Leipzig, Germany and it was the first school for the deaf officially recognized by a government. The school's original name was the "Electoral Saxon Institute for Mutes and Other Persons Afflicted with Speech Defects," and today it is known as the "Samuel Heinicke School for the Deaf." The school, which is at Karl Siegismund road 2, 04317 Leipzig, is on the web. The website has a picture of the school, which marked 225 years of existence in spring 2003 (the school is also home to an extensive library on hearing loss that is over a hundred years old).

Twelve years after opening the school, he died and his wife took over running the school. Long after his death, Heinicke was honored by East Germany in 1978 on a postage stamp.

Additional Resources 

The International Bibliography of Sign Language has a bibliography of Heinicke. Many of the cited works are in German.

The Library of Congress has a book that is solely about Heinicke: Osman, Nabil.
Samuel Heinicke/Nabil Osman.
München : Nashorn-Verlag, 1977.
29 p. ; 21 cm.
Library of Congress Call Number HV2426.H44 O85

1 Source
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  1. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Samuel Heinicke. German Educator.

By Jamie Berke
 Jamie Berke is a deafness and hard of hearing expert.