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Sarah Fuller: early deaf education advocate

Sarah Fuller is best known for giving Helen Keller her first speech lessons. But did you know that giving Helen Keller speech lessons is only a small part of Sarah Fuller’s story?

Sarah Fuller was born in Weston, Massachusetts, in 1836.  She worked as a teacher in Newton and Boston. Early in her teaching career, she became interested in deaf education.  By her early 30s, she was taking classes at the Clarke School for the Deaf.  After completing her training, she became the principal at Boston’s "Deaf and Dumb School," which was later renamed the Horace Mann School.

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At the Horace Mann School, Sarah worked with Alexander Graham Bell to train the school staff to teach deaf children to speak. Sarah advocated for the practice of teaching deaf children to speak. She also promoted early childhood education for deaf children.

In 1890, after years of experience teaching deaf children to speak, Sarah Fuller gave Helen Keller her first speech lesson. Though this became perhaps the single best-known episode in Sarah’s life, it represented years of work with hundreds of deaf children. Fuller worked with both Helen Keller and Helen's teacher, Anne Sullivan. Sarah gave Helen about eleven speech lessons, and then Anne Sullivan continued the lessons. The photograph below shows Anne Sullivan giving Helen Keller a speech lesson. 

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Sarah retired from the Horace Mann School in 1910, but the school still operates today. It is the oldest public day school for deaf and hard of hearing students in the United States. It owes much of its success to the work of Sarah Fuller.

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