For centuries the deaf community endured a mixture of derision, ignorance and poverty; they suffered what Dr Johnson described as ‘one of the most desperate of human calamities’.
A few schools for deaf children had been founded from the 1780s but it was only in the early decades of the 19th century that philanthropists, evangelists and the deaf themselves began to create institutions to offer spiritual and temporal care for the deaf adults of the great cities of the industrial revolution.
This classic example of Victorian charity has received little detailed research. Nick Waite discovered that his own great great grandparents Stephenson had neither hearing nor speech; in the accepted language of their day they were ‘deaf and dumb’. His story brings together social, local and family history to show how care for Sheffield's profoundly deaf developed from the mid-19th century to the present day, together with the three generations of the family who ran the Sheffield Deaf and Dumb Institute from 1871 until it closed in 1960.
As in many areas of social reform over the last two centuries, political involvement led to clashes of interest and values, and the Sheffield story illustrates perfectly the gradual and sometimes rocky progress from Victorian philanthropy to the Welfare State.
Alone in a Silent World will appeal to those who are interested in the history of care for disadvantaged minorities, specifically the deaf, as well as those who are part of the deaf community, and those with an interest in local history.