Thursday, July 24, 2014

Huh? What Did You Say?




A Victorian lady opens her fan and holds it aloft. A gentleman bows graciously, cane in hand. Across the dance floor a handsome man watches, his eyes hidden by the brim of his hat. A matronly chaperone hugs a vase full of flowers. All are hiding something. Ah, but what could it be?

Would you believe hearing aids?

During the 19th century hearing aids came in all shapes and forms—yes even flower vases. Parasols, umbrellas, muffs, reticules, opera glasses and hats were also designed to hide a person’s hearing problems. One plantation owner ordered a water canteen hearing device to wear on horseback while supervising workers.

Some hearing aids were designed to be hidden in beards or hairpieces.

“The ingenuity and taste of the instrument maker are required to construct mechanical aids to hearing which shall combine gracefulness of form and appearance without detracting from their efficiency, for the burden of deafness is great and the sensitiveness of the sufferers should not be wounded by the necessity of announcing their affliction to the public by having to use instruments either unsightly in form or objectionable in color or material.”        -1883 hearing aid catalog.



Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone by mistake while trying to invent a hearing aid.

He was originally an instructor of deaf children and invented the telephone to help his wife and mother hear.

Bell wasn't the only one who worked to make life better for the deaf. An article in the Texas Daily Herald written in 1892 describes how one man was able to converse with deaf-mute children in sign language learned from Indians. It’s interesting to note that some similarities still exist between Indian sign language and the current system used today by the deaf community.


Friends sitting around a hearing vase.

Measles, smallpox and malaria were some of the diseases that caused deafness. Boiler makers and blacksmiths suffered hearing lost as did many military personnel. Artillery fire and wartime wounds sent many soldiers home deaf.


Deafness and the War Between the States


William Martin Chamberlain had been deaf since five from measles, but he faked hearing and talked his way into the Union army. His deafness was discovered during combat and he was discharged.

The Confederate Army seemed to be more tolerant of its hearing challenged soldiers and used them to good advantage. Benedict Oppenheimer (don’t you just love that name?) claimed that his company always picked him to fire the cannons because he was already deaf.

Following the Civil War Capt. Allen G.P. Brown founded the “Silent Army of Deaf Soldiers, Sailors and Marines.” It was through the efforts of this organization that deaf soldiers and sailors were able to secure an increase in pensions. 


And what about those gunslingers?


Reading about all these deaf soldiers one has to wonder about gunslingers of the old west. How many of our early western heroes were deaf (or would have been had they lived long enough)? Those ten gallon hats could have been hiding more than we know.





Order from your favorite bookstore or on-line.




  1. Oh my! I learn something new (or rather old, as the case may be!) every day here in CFHS.

    Margaret, maybe those gunslingers were mostly deaf. That would explain why they got all up in arms when someone said something that they didn't like.

    Instead of "I like your hat", they thought the nice gentleman who'd bellied up to the bar said, "You old bat", and off they went to another shoot-out! Ha!

  2. Oh, how interesting! I certainly never imagined there were such things as hearings vases, canteens, etc! I love Pam's comment above. :)

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

  3. Pam, this is so funny. As I read you post a scene played out in my head. Hmm . . .

  4. Britney, I loved Pam's comment too. It really got the creative juices flowing. I don't think I ever read about a deaf gunslinger. I did have a hard of hearing aunt in one of my books, who was really funny. Hearing problems are serious and I've struggled with hearing problems all my life due to allergies, but what good is a problem if you can't laugh about it?

  5. My husband has hearing loss as he's gotten older, and it has definitely affected our relationship. I had no idea of the creative ways people attacked the issue as far back as the 1800's. Hmm, maybe I could plant hearing devices around the house in vases, lamps, fans, etc. :)

  6. Not a bad idea Golden! I'm sure he would appreciate it.

  7. Well, this is a first for me! I knew heard about deaf gunslingers and I guess I really never thought about it. What a disadvantage that would be if you were in a duel!

  8. Hi Melanie, I thought about when I went to a shooting range. We had to wear earplugs and the blasts were still loud. Wouldn't it be funny if a gunslinger stopped to put earplugs in his ears before shooting?

  9. I was very interested and entertained with your hearing aide story and photos. Thanks for your research and post. sharon wileygreen1ATyahooDOTcom

  10. Hi Margaret. I can't imagine people having Hearing Aides like that without others hearing them. i have tried so hard to win this book. Maybe someday I will have it. Maxie > mac262(at)me(dot)com <