Virginia's Deaf Communities: A Spatial Story

The map below explores some of the people and places that make up the rich history of the deaf and hard of hearing communities in Virginia from the 18th century through the early 20th century. Much of the information included here was compiled by Deaf historian Kathleen Brockway, who served as a consultant to the Library of Virginia's Deaf Culture Digital Library Project, some of which has been published in The Lost Shared Signing Community of Lantz Mills and Shenandoah County, Virginia (by Kathleen Brockway, edited by Doug Stringham), part of the Shenandoah County 250th History Series. 

The map gathers together information on deaf individuals, families, and communities from all parts of Virginia, and from many different social groups. We hope that these initial entries will spur researchers to share new findings and stories with us to include in the map, so as to continue to build the picture of an often-overlooked group in our Commonwealth. Please feel free to share suggestions for additional content or edits with Cassandra Farrell or Barry Trott.

It is important to recall that early efforts to educate deaf children were generally the purview of well-off, white families whose wealth, built on the labor of enslaved peoples, enabled them to send their children to deaf schools in Europe and to hire private tutors. The founding of schools for the deaf in Staunton and later in Newport News/Hampton, expanded the educational opportunities more broadly across Virginia.

The Library of Virginia will at times choose to retain original language in collection descriptions to preserve historical accuracy or to document context. Historical terms and phrases are indicated by the use of quotation marks to differentiate between language taken from a historical source and the language generated by Library of Virginia staff. Examples: Organizational names, titles, place names, and personally chosen identifiers.