MSS 160

Balfour, Louis M., 1908 –

Papers of Louis M. Balfour, 1926 – 2003 Gallaudet University Archives

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Gallaudet University Archives

Call No.: MSS 160


Title: Papers of Louis M. Balfour, 1926-2003.

Quantity: 13.0 Linear Feet (26 document boxes)Abstract: Louis M. Balfour (1908- ) is a retired Deaf printer and researcher on the history of Deaf education and peddling.


Administrative Information

Acquisition Information: 2004. Processed by: Michael J. Olson. May 2006.

Custodial History:

Processing Note: None.

Conditions on Use and Access: This collection is open to the public with no restrictions. Photocopies may be made for scholarly research.

Related Material in the Archives

Vertical Files

  • Louis M. Balfour. Gallaudet University Archives, Call Number: Deaf Biographical


  • Louis M. Balfour. Gallaudet University Archives, Call Number: Portraits

Biographical Sketch

Louis M. Balfour, a life long Deaf researcher of the history of Deaf education and peddling, was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1908. At a young age, Louis moved first to Philadelphia with his parents and siblings, then to Pittsburg and finally, to Chicago in 1916. He was educated in Chicago until the family again moved to Richmond, Virginia in 1922. Louis had a Deaf sister and they both began attendance at the Virginia School for the Deaf in Staunton in the fall of 1922. Louis was active in the school where he participated as a member of the Boy Scouts. He learned printing as a trade at the school. Following his graduation in 1930, he resided in Richmond area where he worked as a paperhanger with his father and uncle. He also worked as a house painter. He worked in Richmond from 1932 – 1942, with an exception in 1941 where he worked in Washington, DC for two months as a painter in one of the Senate Office Buildings.

Louis attended the first Boy Scout Jamboree in 1930 where he met many Boy Scout members from all over the world and began correspondence with them. He continued to be active with the Boy Scout until his marriage to Mildred White, a graduate of the North Carolina School for the Deaf, on December 24, 1938 in Richmond. Louis and Mildred had a daughter, Josephine, who was born in 1940. During World War II, jobs were limited which forced Mildred and Josephine to relocate to Winston-Salem, North Carolina where they lived with Mildred’s parents while Louis searched for employment in the District of Columbia area.

From 1942 to 1944, Louis worked as a printer at the various newspapers plants in the DC area. Louis worked in a printing office at the Army Map Service in Washington, DC from 1944 to 1948. The family moved to the DC area soon after Louis got a secure job. Louis became a member of the Columbia Typographical Union #101 in 1946. After 1948, he worked at the Washington Times-Herald, The Washington Post and Washington Evening Star where he held the position for 19 years until retiring in 1974.

Louis and Mildred had three more children after Josephine: Robert, Latane, and Patricia. They resided in Chevy Chase, Maryland for many years. Louis spent his spare time visiting and researching at various historical societies and libraries. He collected copies of historical information on Deaf education and the families of Bolling, Braidwood, Gallaudet, Cogswell, and Clerc. He spent much of his time researching Deaf peddling and Deaf peddlers.
Louis was a member of various organizations: Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, Gallaudet University Alumni Association, Convention of American Instructors of the Deaf, the Connecticut Historical Society, and the Virginia Historical Society.

Scope and Content

The Louis M. Balfour Papers consist of letters, clippings, certificates, diary, poems, receipts, greeting cards, postcards, notebooks, manual alphabet cards, research notes, and business cards.
The collection, which consists of approximately 22,100 pages, dates from 1926 to 2003. The bulk of the collection consists of his research papers on the history of Deaf education, especially on the families of Bolling, Braidwood, Gallaudet, Cogswell, and Clerc. There are some copies of biographies of individuals who are associated with Deaf education. The bulk dates are mostly between the 1940s and the 1990s.

The largest subject in the collection is focused on the history of Deaf peddling. Louis spent much of his time writing to the Federal authorities and State agencies and encouraged them to crack down on Deaf peddlers. Not only that, he also wrote to the Schools for the Deaf superintendents and principals and also to Deaf organizations about the exploitation of Deaf peddlers.

The most interesting collection is that there are some letters from members of the Boy Scouts from other countries that Louis received between 1930 and 1933. One Boy Scout member from India wrote many letters telling of the social revolution in India.

Series Descriptions

Series 1: Family Correspondence and Files

Boxes 1 – 7 (Folder 11) 1929-2003

Louis M. Balfour corresponded with his wife, Mildred and their children. Also, he corresponded with his sister, brothers, and other relatives. Included in this series, there are some of Louis’ writing exercises to brush up with his English literacy. There is a sub series on Josephine Balfour from 1940 to 1987. She corresponded with his parents and siblings. Also she wrote letters to her alma mater, Augustana College of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The second sub series is about the Boy Scouts from 1930 to 1951. There are letters with members of the Boy Scouts between 1930 and 1933. Included in this collection is a diary which describes Louis’ experiences with the First National Boy Scout Jamboree which was held in 1930. The third sub series is about his employment from 1930 to 1998. He wrote many letters on his difficulties to obtain a steady employment during the Great Depression and World War II. The last and fourth sub series is about Deaf peddling. Included in the collection are several manual alphabet cards produced by Deaf peddlers. Louis researched and collected many articles, clippings, and research notes on Deaf peddling.

Series 2: General Files

Box 7 (Folder 12) – Box 10 (Folder 26) 1926-2003

Louis corresponded with his deaf friends, various churches, and organizations. Included are some correspondents who are related to Bolling Family. There are some file folders on Brightwood Citizens Association of DC. Included is one letter from Ulysses S. Grant, III, a descendant of President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant.

Series 3: Research Notes

Box 10 (Folder 27) – Box 18 (Folder 5) 1930-2003

Louis researched and made many copies of the materials on history of Deaf education from various historical societies and libraries, also from the Volta Bureau Library. He researched on Alexander Graham Bell’s notes on Bolling and Braidwood. There are several pages of bibliographies on Deaf education. The bulk copies of materials on Deaf education are included. Also, there are several notebooks included. There are newspaper clippings related to Deaf history and people in general.

Series 4: Educational Institutions and Organizations

Box 18 (Folder 6) – Box 22 (Folder 7) 1931-2003

Louis wrote many letters to the superintendents and principals of the schools for the deaf across the country concerning Deaf peddlers and also inquiring for information on the history of Deaf education. He wrote letters to various people at Gallaudet University, included Presidents Leonard M. Elstad, Edward C. Merrill, Jr., Jerry C. Lee, W. Lloyd Johns and Irving King Jordan. He has done much of his correspondence with people at the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Volta Bureau. He wrote and inquired with various historical societies and libraries for information on history of Deaf education and biographies of people who associated with Deaf education.

Series 5: Federal and State Agencies

Box 22 (Folder 8) – Box 26 1931-2003

Louis spent much of his spare time writing letters to Senators and Representatives of Congress to complain about the plight of Deaf peddlers and encourage making a law that prevent Deaf peddlers from peddling. Also, he wrote to local State Governors and Legislators concerning Deaf peddlers. Included in this collection, many letters Louis wrote with Federal Government agencies for same inquires on Deaf peddlers. He corresponded with J. Edgar Hoover of the Federal Bureau of Investigation concerning Deaf peddling.

Click here to folder listing

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