Little Paper Family

A lithographic image featuring workers engaged in various stages of printing; hand typesetting, page make up, and editing. Two printing presses are visible.

The masthead image of The Silent Worker (1888) features men engaged in various typesetting and printing processes.

Many Deaf residential schools produced newspapers in their training classes. These periodicals eventually formed what was referred to as “The Little Paper Family,” a network of publications which exchanged news, announcements, and other information about students, faculty, and the broader Deaf community. These school papers, and independent Deaf newspapers, ran during the latter part of the nineteenth century through the 1930s. The majority of the papers were directed by Deaf editors and featured reporting, announcements, and advice written by and for Deaf people. Most LPFs were shared amongst school alumni, parents, and school administrators, but others had a wide geographic circulation.

A pdf of the cover of The Ohio Chronicle Vol.27, No.1. The traditionally printed page features a simple text masthead and five columns of text.

A publication of the Ohio School for the Deaf, The Ohio Chronicle was produced by students and staff since 1868.

As previously noted, not all Deaf students had access to printing training. Similarly, the production of school papers reflected racial divisions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. No southern school for black Deaf students produced a newspaper. At their foundation, the publications of the Little Paper Family functioned as alumni periodicals and, produced primarily by white Deaf students and editors, their coverage largely centered on the experiences and concerns of white Deaf people.

A pdf of The Gallaudet Guide and Deaf Mute's Companion. The traditionally printed page features a text masthead and five columns of text.

The Gallaudet Guide and Deaf-Mutes Companion was an independent Deaf paper published in Boston, Massachusetts. The paper ran from 1860-1862.

Social Power of the Press

At the same time that Deaf community members began to use the press to form national communication networks, other social groups in the United States created and operated their own periodicals. In the second half of the nineteenth century the number of Black newspapers multiplied rapidly. These were found primarily in larger cities. Similarly, ethnic groups that emigrated to the United States to settle in places like New York City and San Francisco between the 1880s and 1930s began to publish newspapers in their native languages. Those newspapers, like the Deaf publications, included news about employment opportunities, social events, and dispensed etiquette lessons and advice for navigating the norms of white American culture.

As a geographically dispersed community, for many Deaf people newspapers were essential to maintaining social networks with one another. The stories included in the Deaf press were centered on Deaf peoples’ experiences and concerns. While LPFs described the activities of students and events on the campus of the residential Deaf school, many also shared stories of social and political importance to Deaf adults. Through LPFs readers kept up with what was happening in the Deaf community in different parts of the country.

This map, created by graduate research assistant Brenna Smith, visualizes the publications of Deaf schools from 1849 to the present. Where possible a cover of the publication is included. Clustering is used to display multiple publications from one school. Zoom in and out on the map to explore the publications. Click the icons to reveal each paper and click the title learn more. For a list of the publications that appear on the map, see the LPF Collection.

There were over 40 newspapers published by state residential schools within the Little Paper Family. They were published at various intervals, with most published weekly or monthly. At residential schools, students and teachers took great pride in putting out their papers. Some had elaborate masthead banner illustrations, such as The Silent Hoosier, a publication from Indiana School for the Deaf.

The masthead of the Silent Hoosier features the title of the publication with lithographic images of school buildings.

The masthead for the Indiana School for the Deaf publication, The Silent HoosierMany LPFs featured elaborately designed headers with images that featured sign language or schools.

Vocational training in printing provided training for future skilled workers in the printing craft. In composing a regular paper, students learned all aspects of the printing profession, from hand-typesetting to linotype and the operation of various types of presses. For those with aspirations as writers and editors, LPFs were another form of crucial preparation. Each paper was carefully written and proofed. The regular demands of a school paper familiarized young printers with the demands of the printing profession. 

An image of the front cover ofThe Silent Worker which features a border of lithographic drawings of the American Sign Language Alphabet. At center a handshape emerges from clouds and small figures dressed in grecian robes dance around it. Text at the bottom of the page reads "Dactylology, March 1926 vol 39 no 6."

This 1926 cover of The Silent Worker, printed at the New Jersey School for the Deaf, celebrates the use of sign language.

These experiences prepared would-be printers to the flow of a newspaper composing room. Training under Deaf editors and instructors, white Deaf students learned not only the mechanical side of printing, but also elements of accountability, responsibility for ensuring a clean and organized workroom, meeting deadlines, and essential communication. For state officials and school administrators, newspapers published at the schools provided physical evidence that state funds were utilized in a careful and responsible manner. In turn, the schools could claim that they were training and graduating students who would secure employment following graduation as contributors to the larger society.  

For a list of sources used, see Works Consulted.