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The early 1900s saw a country shifting from an agricultural to an industrial economy. People were moving from rural farmlands to urban cities for work. Two world wars created a huge demand for ships, vehicles, weapons, and many other industrial products, so factory work was plentiful
Like women and minority groups, deaf people found wartime jobs in large numbers. This concentration of deaf people in cities provided the opportunity to build social clubs, church groups, sports organizations, and alliances that would foster community life.
Gallaudet University Archives, Benjamin M. Schowe, Sr. Collection
A "Deaf club" was more than a place for card games and conversation. Clubs hosted social events as varied as holiday parties, lectures, fundraisers, plays, and performances by traveling deaf comedians.
By 1920 nearly 1,000 deaf employees were in the Goodyear and Firestone plants. But like women and minority workers, most deaf people lost their jobs at war's end as servicemen returned home and factories converted to peacetime production.
Through an ever-growing variety of organizations-including state and national associations, alumni groups, literary clubs, churches, and conventions of all sorts-deaf people formed links in their own communities and across the nation.
From 1902 until 1986, according to one historian's account, over 150 movies and network TV programs had deaf characters. Until recently, these characters were rarely played by deaf actors, nor did they accurately portray the experiences of deaf people.
War had an impact on deaf children as well, as some schools patterned routines and dress codes in military fashion. Boys wore uniforms and carried rifles during marching drills.
The National Association of the Deaf formed an Automobile Bureau to compile statistics on deaf drivers and track discriminatory legislation. The association set up state committees to repeal bans on deaf drivers.
Deaf people who found jobs in Akron created an active and visible community. The "Silent Colony" supported clubs, church groups, amateur sports, and company sponsored teams.
Deaf people could not serve in the military, but like other civilians contributed on the homefront. They made blankets, packaged bandages, raised funds, and gave blood.
Deaf employees established impressive work records and supported the war effort in industries producing military products such as gas masks, missiles, tires and machinery.
Gallaudet University, chartered in 1864, is a private university for deaf and hard of hearing students.
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