The Volta Bureau, located in Washington, D.C., was founded in 1887 by Alexander Graham Bell. The Bureau “serve[d] as a center of information for deaf and hard of hearing persons.” Bell had a deaf wife and taught at a day school for deaf children.
As a center of information, one of the things the Bureau did was promote research in regards to marriages of the deaf in America. This work was primarily undertaken by Dr. E. A. Fay. The federal government, seeing a need for an official supplement to the 1890 U.S. census, even appointed Dr. Fay as its special agent for collecting such statistical information.
As part of Dr. Fay’s research on marriages of the deaf, he distributed a questionnaire to deaf couples and family members of deaf individuals. Some of the questions Dr. Fay was trying to answer through these questionnaires included:
- 1. Are marriages of deaf persons more liable to result in deaf offspring than ordinary marriages?
2. Are marriages in which both of the partners are deaf more liable to result in deaf offspring than marriages in which one of the partners is deaf and the other is a hearing person?
3. Are certain classes of the deaf, however they may marry, more liable than others to have deaf children? If so, how are these classes respectively composed, and what are the conditions that increase or diminish this liability?
4. Aside from the question of the liability of the offspring to deafness, are marriages in which both of the partners are deaf more likely to result happily than marriages in which one of the partners is deaf and the other is a hearing person?
About This Database:
This database contains the questionnaires issued by Dr. Fay to deaf couples in America. The questionnaires were completed during the years 1889-1894. Information recorded on these forms includes:
- Names of husband and wife
- Whether deaf or hearing
- Age at which deafness occurred and the cause of deafness
- If attended school
- Details relating to the couple’s marriage (including date and place)
- Details relating to couple’s children (number deaf or hearing, names, dates of birth or death, cause of death, etc)
- Details relating to husband’s and wife’s parents, and brothers and sisters
The above information was taken from the preface to Marriages of the Deaf in America: An Inquiry Concerning the Results of Marriages of the Deaf in America by Edward Allen Fay (Washington, D.C.: Gibson Bros., 1898) and from the Volta Library & Bureau section of the National Register of Historical Places Travel Itinerary website (http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/wash/dc14.htm).