These five individuals came from very different backgrounds and lived in very different eras. Their shared experience? They each made remarkable contributions while living with hearing loss in years that long predated today’s life-changing hearing aids.
Jonathan Lambert (1657 – 1738)
He was an early settler on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts. He was the first deaf person known to have settled in the community, which eventually became the site of an unusually large deaf population. By 1854 one in 155 people on Martha’s Vineyard were deaf—as compared to the national average of one in 5,728. The community’s official form of sign language, developed in the early 18th century, eventually played a role in the development of American Sign Language.
François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville (1818 –1900)
Called “dashing, popular and mischievous” in his 1900 New York Times obituary, the Prince of Joinville was a navy Admiral who lived through the upheaval of the French revolution and his subsequent exile. Poet and novelist Victor Hugo, a personal friend, remembered him as a lively prankster.
George Washington (1732- 1799)
Perhaps the most famous person on our list, founding father and first U.S. president George Washington experienced hearing loss in the last decade of his life. Washington wasn’t the only president with hearing loss, however: Thomas Jefferson, Grover Cleveland, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton also struggled with it.
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)
Former slave, abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Sojourner Truth left a powerful legacy that endures today. Remembered for her 1851 speech given at a women’s rights conference in Akron, Ohio, in which she famously asked the audience “Ain’t I a Woman?” Truth advocated for women and helped former slaves adjust to new lives after the Emancipation Proclamation. Truth is reported to have been “nearly deaf” by the end of her life.
Slava Raškaj (1877 –1906)
Born deaf in Ozalj, Croatia (then the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia, a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), Slava Raskaj was a celebrated painter educated in Vienna. Known for her ethereal landscapes and haunting self-portraits, Raskaj sadly suffered from acute depression and died of tuberculosis at a young age, but her work is still exhibited at museums throughout her native country.