As the first phase of planning for renovations to the Royal Institute for Deaf-Mutes in Paris neared its end in the early 1820s, the architect then in charge, Antoine-Marie Peyre, sent a testy letter to Baron Hély d'Oissel, director of public works, regarding a series of “observations” on the plans that Jean-Jacques Tardieu of the Conseil des Bâtiments Civils (Civil Buildings Council) had recently sent him. The council, conceived in 1791 and established in 1795 under the Ministry of the Interior, comprised architectural specialists who oversaw the design, planning, and financing of all public buildings throughout the nation. Would not a single entrance be preferable and safer for an institution of this kind, the council asked, rather than multiple access points? Why was the chapel situated directly over the kitchen? The council members further fretted over the darkness and poor ventilation of some of the building's corridors, the distance from the infirmary to the baths, and the lack of “appropriate dignity” in a staircase leading to an assembly hall intended for both students and the general public. While conceding on the staircase, Peyre issued a point-by-point rebuttal of the other observations, expressing his irritation at such critiques of “a project that had long been deliberated … a project that had been adopted by the former Conseil des Bâtiments Civils, that the minister had approved, a project established by his predecessor who had enjoyed a deserved reputation, a project that [he, Peyre, had] only amended under the eyes, and following the program of, enlightened administrators.”1

Providing a window into the often-frustrating processes and politics underlying the work of civic architects, this exchange also reveals the ideological and material considerations then shaping a new kind of institution in France: the special-needs school.2 As the moral center of the Institute for Deaf-Mutes, the chapel required a prominent location, and the physical security and well-being of the student body were cultivated through careful management of light, air, enclosure, and modern features such as an infirmary and bathrooms. But the school also functioned in large part as a social theater, and its public face was given as much attention as its classrooms and dormitories, if not more. Meanwhile, the paper trail to which Peyre alluded (largely extant in the archives) situated the project as a significant national concern involving dedicated, high-minded civil servants. Disability, thus, became a node through which postrevolutionary France probed intersecting narratives on education, religion, aesthetics, hygiene, and the public sphere.

The birth of special-needs institutions in France was a product of the Enlightenment. In 1753, a Jansenist priest from Versailles, Charles-Michel de L'Épée (1712–89), went to visit a widow living on Paris's Rue des Fossés-Saint-Victor. Finding her away and awaiting her return, he tried to converse with her twin daughters, only to discover that they were deaf and mute. Upon learning that another priest who had been instructing them had recently died, L'Épée determined to help these girls, and ultimately, he devoted the rest of his life to the education of deaf and mute children.3 He began a small free school in 1760, an initiative that attracted widespread patronage in this age of scientific advancement. In 1784, inspired by L'Épée's work, a translator and calligraphy expert named Valentin Haüy (1745–1822), assisted by a recently formed philanthropic society, founded an institute for blind children. During the Revolution of 1789, the Constituent Assembly nationalized both of these schools, thereby assigning the duty of educating deaf and blind citizens to the state.

These two institutions are landmarks in the history of disability, and scholars have studied their creation, development, administration, and pedagogy from various vantage points: as part of the histories of social welfare, bureaucratization, cultural representation, and community formation.4 Yet they are also landmarks in the history of institutional architecture, an aspect that has been largely overlooked until now. During the first half of the nineteenth century, both establishments underwent major reconstruction projects—albeit following different trajectories—under the direction of architects Antoine-Marie Peyre and Pierre Philippon (Figure 1).5 The deaf institute first occupied its current site, in the former seminary of Saint-Magloire on Paris's Rue Saint-Jacques, in 1794 and evolved there through a series of renovations. The blind institute, meanwhile, after occupying several temporary quarters, was eventually housed in a custom-built structure, designed by Philippon between 1838 and 1843, on the Boulevard des Invalides (Figure 2).

Figure 1

Claude-Étienne Beaumont, Antoine-Marie Peyre, and Pierre Philippon, Institute for Deaf-Mutes, Paris, 1790s–1860s (top); Pierre Philippon, Institute for Blind Youth, Paris, 1838–43 (bottom) (1-EST-01425, Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris; Bibliothèque Nationale de France).

Figure 1

Claude-Étienne Beaumont, Antoine-Marie Peyre, and Pierre Philippon, Institute for Deaf-Mutes, Paris, 1790s–1860s (top); Pierre Philippon, Institute for Blind Youth, Paris, 1838–43 (bottom) (1-EST-01425, Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris; Bibliothèque Nationale de France).

Figure 2

Map of Paris, 1825, with dots showing the locations of the Institute for Blind Youth (left) and the Institute for Deaf-Mutes (right) (Bibliothèque Nationale de France).

Figure 2

Map of Paris, 1825, with dots showing the locations of the Institute for Blind Youth (left) and the Institute for Deaf-Mutes (right) (Bibliothèque Nationale de France).

Amid heightened concerns over social order and national renewal in postrevolutionary France, these two projects engaged evolving theories on sensibility, morality, and hygiene that extended far beyond the realm of disability. Alongside intellectual instruction, they addressed the physical and social development of the institutions' students in innovative ways, through the inclusion of programs such as baths, playrooms, gymnasiums, and ateliers. At these reconceived institutes for blind and deaf children, space and materiality became focal points for the development of ideas about pedagogy and citizenship more generally, and the schools' designs set important precedents for urban educational architecture worldwide.

Enlightenment and the Senses

Disability education emerged during the late eighteenth century, intersecting with key intellectual and social discourses of that era. Proponents of sensationism such as John Locke and Étienne Bonnot de Condillac posited that the physical senses were at the root of understanding, countering both Cartesian philosophy and the more traditional deference to God as the source of all knowledge. Blindness and deafness thus struck at the heart of debates on cognition, sensibility, and human progress.6 These debates coincided with the first organized efforts to educate disabled people and integrate them into society, paving the way for the nineteenth century's recognition of blindness and deafness as physical conditions, not mental handicaps.7

The Age of Enlightenment gave rise to what historian William R. Paulson has called the “desacralization of the blind.”8 Once regarded as a mystical, incomprehensible condition beyond human control, possibly a punishment from God, blindness now became medically treatable on occasion (for example, with advancements in cataract surgery) and the subject of scientific and philosophical inquiry. In 1688, the Irish scientist William Molyneux asked, if a man born blind learned to distinguish a sphere and a cube of the same material by touch, would he be able to differentiate them by sight if he suddenly gained the ability to see? That is, were the different forms of sensory knowledge interchangeable? For Molyneux and Locke, sight was perhaps not an immediate source of knowledge; rather, for cognitive “perception” to take place, dialogue was required between vision and the other senses.

If some viewed blindness as a factor limiting mental and moral advancement, others elevated it to a privileged status. In his Lettre sur les aveugles, à l'usage de ceux qui voient (Letter on the Blind for the Benefit of Those Who See, 1749), Denis Diderot discusses the sense of touch on which blind people depend as a “truer” mechanism of knowledge. He begins with an account of the blind man of Puiseaux, for whom tactility is the most useful of the senses. “I would much prefer having long arms,” the man responds when asked if he would like his sight restored. “It seems to me that my hands would better instruct me about what happens on the moon than your eyes or your telescopes; and then eyes cease to see sooner than hands to touch.”9 In his 1762 treatise Emile, or Education, Jean-Jacques Rousseau also questions the traditional elevation of sight over other senses: “We are blind half our time, with this difference: the really blind always know what to do, while we are afraid to stir in the dark …. I had rather Emile's eyes were in his finger tips, than in the chandler's shop.”10

The blind prophet was an occasional trope in literature, but for Christian thinkers, deafness seemed an insurmountable obstacle for one seeking religious knowledge and truth. In the Bible, nonbelievers have their speech removed by God, so that their blasphemy cannot be heard by others.11 Further, theologians believed that religious understanding could be acquired only through the spoken (and heard) word. As with blindness, however, this mystical perspective on deafness was displaced during the eighteenth century by an intellectual discourse on the rationalization of language.

One strand of Enlightenment debate on language, power, and social progress centered on the communication systems of deaf and mute people. Fables and theoretical treatises—such as Pierre-Charles-Fabiot Aunillon's Azor, ou Le prince enchanté (1750), the tale of an English merchant who is shipwrecked and finds himself in a foreign land where the people converse only through gestures; and Condillac's Cours d'étude pour l'instruction du Prince de Parme (1775), which suggests the value of sign language for modern communications—proposed that gestures might offer a more transparent and effective language, one that could overcome the ambiguities, superficiality, and contentiousness of spoken exchanges.12 L'Épée's biweekly demonstrations in which students conversed through sign language piqued the interest of intellectuals. While some questioned the possibility that words could be completely replaced by gestures, others saw the seeds of an absolute, universal idiom in this “methodical” system.13 Some revolutionaries later linked the educational program of deaf-mute children to a national secular project of social regeneration. Indeed, for some, L'Épée's students appeared to embody an ideal breed of modern citizens, disciplined in a more precise national language, one purged of the detritus of the past. Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand accordingly suggested sign language as a means of reforming and clarifying communications in the new revolutionary era.14 These discussions ultimately revolved around the question of whether persons who were blind or deaf could attain the same level of cognition as those who could see and hear. At stake in this debate was the possibility of blind and deaf people's complete integration into civil society.

Early advocates of disability education were also abetted by the rise of philanthropy. Existing charities were experiencing financial difficulties, and with the surge of anticlericalism that contributed to the 1789 Revolution, liberal-minded reformers were able to advance philanthropy as a social responsibility of all modern citizens of means, not solely a Christian duty. The Philanthropic Society of Paris, the first of its kind worldwide, was founded in 1780 and assisted Haüy's establishment of the Institute for Blind Youth.15 These developments were part of a much broader trend. In a short period from the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth century, a spate of establishments for blind and deaf education emerged in places ranging from St. Petersburg to Boston, led by philanthropic organizations and individuals who drew inspiration from French precedents.16 The discourse on compassion and empathy in social relations evident in Enlightenment philosophy revealed itself through these activities.17 The onset of the Revolution and the creation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen fueled further debates on public education and welfare that led to the nationalization of the blind and deaf institutes in 1791.18

These manifestations of new, more humane attitudes toward blindness and deafness paralleled similar shifts in views regarding those with physical and mental disabilities. Until the late eighteenth century, the Hôtel-Dieu, the general hospital of Paris, had functioned as a hybrid prison/asylum/geriatric ward, where the unfortunate patients were crowded into unhygienic rooms and subjected to “therapeutic” regimens such as bleedings, purgings, and cold showers. At the two designated insane asylums for those deemed incurable, La Salpêtrière for women and Bicêtre for men, patients were often shackled to their beds in dank cells. In the new era of psychiatry, following the quasi-mythical “unchaining of the insane” by Dr. Philippe Pinel during the 1790s, torturous corporal methods gave way to “moral treatments,” which engaged the intellect and emotions and emphasized gentleness (douceur) and communication between patient and doctor. Through these compassionate means, the social contract would be retained, and those previously outcast could be restored to society.19

Yet challenges to this uplifting narrative of liberation and enlightenment abound. Most famously, Michel Foucault analyzed the gradual categorization and confinement of the insane, the criminal, and the ill in specialized institutions that operated as mechanisms of surveillance and repression.20 Blind and deaf schools have been similarly appraised.21 While providing enriching and hygienic spaces for the education of a long-neglected population, the architecture of disability could also serve as an instrument for the politically motivated promotion of social discipline and moral uniformity, especially in the wake of revolutionary turmoil.

Institutionalizing Disability

The programs of the two schools shifted with changing political regimes, social contexts, and administrative leadership. The histories of both are inextricably tied to the schools' architectural configurations, for government involvement could provide or withdraw the resources necessary for building specialized spaces and developing curricula. From humble beginnings and relocations to state-expropriated properties during the Revolution, the deaf and blind schools became modern institutions in the period from the 1820s through the 1840s, which coincided with a key time for urban public works and sanitation projects.

L'Épée's school for the deaf began in modest circumstances in 1760, with lessons offered twice weekly at the founder's home on Rue des Moulins, near Paris's Palais-Royal. In these early years, instruction centered on reading, writing, and sign language, through which religious education could be imparted. Louis XVI's interest in the school eventually led to its relocation in 1785 to the former Convent of the Celestines, near the Arsenal. A prospective plan, which appears to have been created before the move, indicates ample structures surrounding gardens and cloisters, with two wings of ateliers to provide vocational training for the predominantly lower-class student population (Figure 3). In reality, the premises were in a degraded state and partly occupied by municipal offices.22

Figure 3

Convent of the Celestines, Paris, unrealized ground-floor conversion plan for the Institute for Deaf-Mutes, ca. 1785 (Bibliothèque Nationale de France).

Figure 3

Convent of the Celestines, Paris, unrealized ground-floor conversion plan for the Institute for Deaf-Mutes, ca. 1785 (Bibliothèque Nationale de France).

L'Épée's death in 1789 triggered a political battle for leadership of his school, which the Paris Commune settled with a competition. The victor, Abbé Roch-Ambroise Sicard, had studied L'Épée's method and was already well known for his work directing the school for the deaf in Bordeaux, founded in 1786. During Sicard's tenure, in 1794, the institution L'Épée founded moved to the former seminary of Saint-Magloire, at the corner of Rue Saint-Jacques and Rue des Deux Églises (later renamed Rue de l'Abbé de L'Épée) on the Left Bank. The existing structures on the site, some dating back to the fifteenth century, were either demolished or renovated during the early nineteenth century to accommodate the institution's growing needs and population.23

Three state architects trained in the neoclassical tradition were involved in this project over several years: Claude-Étienne Beaumont from 1794 to around 1810, Antoine-Marie Peyre (son of Marie-Joseph Peyre) from 1810 until 1832, and Pierre Philippon from 1832 to the 1860s.24 Beaumont established the basic layout of the school grounds in 1801, although the placement and designs of the various facilities were modified in subsequent decades. An 1833 site plan shows a single-story entry sequence lining Rue Saint-Jacques; the main corps de logis between court and garden, a structure originally built in 1620, standing parallel to the entrance street and housing the male students; the rebuilt girls' wing to the left of the courtyard; and a new wing to the right of the courtyard (on the northern boundary) containing an assembly hall accessible to the public (Figure 4).25

Figure 4

Pierre Philippon, Institute for Deaf-Mutes, Paris, 1833, site plan: A, entry sequence lining Rue Saint-Jacques; B, main corps de logis between court and garden; C, rebuilt girls' wing; D, new wing with publicly accessible assembly hall; E, addition for administrative offices (CP/VA//75, Archives Nationales).

Figure 4

Pierre Philippon, Institute for Deaf-Mutes, Paris, 1833, site plan: A, entry sequence lining Rue Saint-Jacques; B, main corps de logis between court and garden; C, rebuilt girls' wing; D, new wing with publicly accessible assembly hall; E, addition for administrative offices (CP/VA//75, Archives Nationales).

The assembly hall wing was the first new construction, completed in 1829 and replacing a fire-damaged Gothic church from the early fifteenth century (Figure 5). A public entryway from Rue Saint-Jacques, separate from the main students' entrance, led to a vestibule and up a grand staircase to the double-height assembly hall. The wing also contained ateliers, study rooms, an infirmary, and various service spaces on the top level, such as maids' chambers and laundry facilities (Figure 6).

Figure 5

Chapel of the Saint-Magloire seminary, fifteenth century, with the Église Saint-Jacques du Haut-Pas to its right, Paris, 1808 view (left); Antoine-Marie Peyre, new assembly hall wing of the Institute for Deaf-Mutes on the chapel's former site, Paris, 1829 (right) (1-EST-01429 and 1-EST-01425, Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris).

Figure 5

Chapel of the Saint-Magloire seminary, fifteenth century, with the Église Saint-Jacques du Haut-Pas to its right, Paris, 1808 view (left); Antoine-Marie Peyre, new assembly hall wing of the Institute for Deaf-Mutes on the chapel's former site, Paris, 1829 (right) (1-EST-01429 and 1-EST-01425, Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris).

Figure 6

Pierre Philippon, Institute for Deaf-Mutes, Paris, ca. 1840, ground- and second-floor plans (CP/VA//75, Archives Nationales).

Figure 6

Pierre Philippon, Institute for Deaf-Mutes, Paris, ca. 1840, ground- and second-floor plans (CP/VA//75, Archives Nationales).

A smaller hall had previously been located in the boys' building, but the passage of outsiders directly through student areas was considered dangerous and inconvenient. This hall, situated where the corps de logis met the girls' wing, was converted to a double-height chapel (Figure 7). Several shared facilities occupied this juncture, but they were carefully arranged to prevent physical mingling or visual contact between the sexes. The kitchen on the ground level served separate dining halls for boys and girls, and in the chapel female students were restricted to gallery seating, which offered them views only of the altar and the presiding priest.26 Girls had originally been housed in a dilapidated structure at the far northwestern corner of the grounds, where Rue des Deux Églises meets Rue d'Enfer, but the left wing of the main quadrangle was rebuilt for them between 1826 and 1831, with new classrooms, workroom, dormitories, and latrines.

Figure 7

Antoine-Marie Peyre, Institute for Deaf-Mutes, Paris, late 1820s, girls' wing, ground-floor to third-floor plans (CP/VA//75, Archives Nationales).

Figure 7

Antoine-Marie Peyre, Institute for Deaf-Mutes, Paris, late 1820s, girls' wing, ground-floor to third-floor plans (CP/VA//75, Archives Nationales).

In the 1830s, the state of the central boys' building became a matter of concern, leading Philippon to make some structural and programmatic improvements (Figure 8). He oversaw construction of a portico along the building's full length, opening onto the courtyard and connecting the two wings; he also updated the ateliers, classrooms, dormitories, and dining hall.27 Facing the garden end of the right wing was an addition he designed for administrative offices (see Figure 4, E). Renovation work continued in the 1840s and 1850s, when Philippon oversaw the creation of various supplemental facilities, such as shared baths adjoining the girls' wing and entrance, and additional recreational spaces and gymnastic equipment.28

Figure 8

Pierre Philippon, Institute for Deaf-Mutes, Paris, 1832, corps de logis, ground- and second-floor plans (CP/VA//75, Archives Nationales).

Figure 8

Pierre Philippon, Institute for Deaf-Mutes, Paris, 1832, corps de logis, ground- and second-floor plans (CP/VA//75, Archives Nationales).

Plans of the institute made at the conclusion of these efforts reveal an attempt to instill Beaux-Arts symmetry and order on an otherwise irregular site. The main entrance—a simple, unornamented gateway situated on a curving street (Figure 9)—faces the renovated boys' building and emphasizes the central axis of the cour d'honneur. Seen from here, the two wings appear to create a symmetrically balanced composition; however, multiple axes intersect and coexist in plan. The boys' and girls' wings are asymmetrically reflected along a diagonal axis, sharing a corner pavilion, while the assembly hall wing and administration building uncomfortably straddle the boys' quarters, with the offices oddly marginalized as a result. The chapel and assembly hall—key gathering places and institutional focal points—are located on the margins of the campus. In plan and in experience, the scheme is decentralized and suggests a multiplicity of circulation trajectories.

Figure 9

Pierre Philippon, Institute for Deaf-Mutes, Paris, 1833, section cut through entrance and cour d'honneur (left) and main entrance (right) (CP/VA//75, Archives Nationales).

Figure 9

Pierre Philippon, Institute for Deaf-Mutes, Paris, 1833, section cut through entrance and cour d'honneur (left) and main entrance (right) (CP/VA//75, Archives Nationales).

Peyre's and Philippon's work on the deaf institute built on Beaumont's master plan and was constrained by existing conditions. In contrast, when Philippon subsequently designed the Institute for Blind Youth, he was faced with a comparatively blank slate—an almost empty and mostly level site—which gave him far more freedom to design as he pleased.

Haüy had originally received funding from the Philanthropic Society to rent a modest building on Rue Coquillière, where he taught blind students to read and write using letter blocks arranged on grooved boards and books printed in relief. In establishing a free school for working-class children who had been born blind, Haüy did not aim simply to educate useful workers. Rather, he intended to expose his students to culture and higher-level learning. To this end, his students received instruction in mathematics, languages, history, geography, and music, as well as manual training in arts, crafts, and trades.29

Haüy's blind institute merged briefly with the deaf school at the Convent of the Celestines after the nationalization of both institutions in 1791. Many educators deplored this union as ineffectual, however, given the different needs of the two student bodies, and the blind school eventually moved to the expropriated property of the Filles-Sainte-Catherine in 1795. In 1801, the government merged it with the Hospice of the Quinze-Vingts, the charity hospital for the blind poor founded by Louis IX in the thirteenth century. This was another unfortunate merger that effectively equated blindness with indigence. The school's progressive agenda stalled during these years, especially under the autocratic regime of the Consulate (1799–1804). At this time, the government dismissed Haüy, and the school entered a period of financial difficulty, unsteady management, and irregular instruction.30

The blind institute regained its separate status in 1815 and moved to the former Saint-Firmin seminary on Rue Victor, on the Left Bank. This property was in a deteriorated state, but no significant work took place there. Finally, in 1838, the July Monarchy (1830–48) administration engaged Philippon to design a more salubrious and ample campus on Boulevard des Invalides, where the school remains to this day (Figure 10).

Figure 10

Pierre Philippon, Institute for Blind Youth, Paris, 1838–43 (CP/F/21/3546, Archives Nationales).

Figure 10

Pierre Philippon, Institute for Blind Youth, Paris, 1838–43 (CP/F/21/3546, Archives Nationales).

Inaugurated at the end of 1843, the building features a U-shaped, four-story corps de logis rising around the cour d'honneur (Figure 11). The central pavilion, which separates the boys' and girls' wings, includes a pediment designed by François Jouffroy, showing an allegorical figure of Religion looking on as Haüy and a female instructor teach blind children (Figure 12).31 This core area houses various shared facilities: kitchen and baths on the rez-de-chaussée, surmounted by a double-height chapel, part of which was conceived as a multifunctional assembly hall (salle des exercices). Each wing has its own smaller courtyard, surrounded on the ground floor by a dining hall, parlor, recreation room, and study rooms; a series of ateliers also borders the courtyard on the boys' side. Classrooms are on the second level, dormitories are on the third, and an infirmary and additional bedrooms are located on the top floor. The building's footprint of 2,860 square meters is supplemented by 8,940 square meters of courtyards and gardens. When the new institute was completed, it accommodated 175 to 180 boarding students and was budgeted to allow for 120 scholarship recipients.32

Figure 11

Pierre Philippon, Institute for Blind Youth, Paris, 1838–43, ground- and second-floor plans (CP/VA//102, Archives Nationales).

Figure 11

Pierre Philippon, Institute for Blind Youth, Paris, 1838–43, ground- and second-floor plans (CP/VA//102, Archives Nationales).

Figure 12

François Jouffroy, entrance pediment design for the Institute for Blind Youth, Paris, ca. 1842 (Archives de la Préfecture de Police).

Figure 12

François Jouffroy, entrance pediment design for the Institute for Blind Youth, Paris, ca. 1842 (Archives de la Préfecture de Police).

These early nineteenth-century architectural projects for the Institute for Deaf-Mutes and the Institute for Blind Youth were widely influential. That said, France had lost ground as an innovator in blind and deaf education during the Bourbon Restoration (1814–30). The stricter regimentation of school life and the harsh disciplinary measures employed at the blind institute after Haüy's departure led one American critic to decry the school's “spirit of illiberality, of mysticism, amounting almost to charlatanism.”33 In the 1830s, several international educators and government officials deemed the blind schools in Edinburgh and Glasgow more effective than their French and English counterparts in combining intellectual and vocational training to make self-sufficient workers of the indigent blind.34 Meanwhile, as the century progressed, the manual method of sign language associated with L'Épée and the French school was increasingly contested by proponents of oralism (teaching deaf students to speak and lip-read, the method prioritized in the German states, Belgium, and Switzerland).35 Disagreement on this point within the Paris institute muddled the curriculum, leading one observer of the 1840s to note that the school was “living on its past glories” and failing to provide adequate instruction.36

Despite these setbacks, or perhaps in reaction to them, architectural reform provided a potent means of thinking about institutional reforms. Such reforms coincided with contemporaneous building projects in other countries, as governmental and public support for special-needs schools grew internationally.37 For example, the birthplace of American Sign Language, the American School for the Deaf in Connecticut—founded in 1817 by Thomas Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc, formerly a teacher at the Paris institute—moved from its original home in a former hotel to a purpose-built structure in 1821 and then gradually expanded from there.38 John Newman remodeled the School for the Indigent Blind in London from 1835 to 1838, incorporating an outdoor playground and garden around two new wings.39 After its beginnings in residential structures, the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston acquired a hotel building in 1839 and renovated its spacious guest rooms into classrooms, workrooms, dormitories, and gymnasiums; the students also benefited from daily bathing in the nearby ocean.40 Alongside these projects, the two Parisian institutions were early materializations of modern hygienic and pedagogical theories, their transformations spurred by a political context that gave the schools' missions added urgency.

The Architecture of Disability and Renewal

At a glance, the blind school and the Institute for Deaf-Mutes present a study in architectural contrasts. The deaf school, emerging from sporadic projects of construction and renovation carried out over several years, is asymmetrical in plan and elevation, irregular and somewhat rambling. The blind school, built fairly quickly during a single building campaign, is symmetrical and highly centralized. Such an arrangement is apt, given the building's purpose: as Enlightenment philosophers such as Diderot noted, symmetry is of greater importance to blind people than to the deaf, and Diderot believed that symmetry was one of the chief means through which those without sight may apprehend beauty.41 Visitors to the blind institute progress from front to back, from center to periphery, and the inhabitants can easily navigate the hierarchy and order of spaces. Even though male students outnumbered females by more than two to one in the 1840s, the wing devoted to the girls was equal to the boys' wing in size.

Despite their evident differences, however, these two institutions shared certain emphases. If the Enlightenment set the intellectual and social backdrop for L'Épée's and Haüy's schools, the medical and pedagogical discourses of the early nineteenth century allowed architecture to become an instrumental component of disability education. The inclusion and arrangement of spaces devoted to moral, physical, and social education represented advanced manifestations of reform measures then emerging in many public institutions of health and instruction.

For example, the redesigned French schools for deaf and blind children deployed strategies analogous to modernization efforts in contemporary hospitals and asylums. Among these were the fortification of boundaries to insulate “campuses,” which were then aerated with courtyards that organized inmates according to their conditions. Such techniques drew on Enlightenment architectural theories, which aimed to translate humanitarian ideals into built form and to promote security, health, and order.42 Although most of the major renovation and rebuilding projects took place during the second half of the nineteenth century, a few early examples demonstrate the spatial implications of late eighteenth-century medical theories.43 Charles-François Viel's reform-oriented renovations to La Salpêtrière in the late 1780s, for instance, comprised a central garden and promenades amid new, healthful pavilions for insane patients. Émile Gilbert redesigned the Charenton hospice in the Paris suburb of Saint-Maurice following the Law of 1838, which recognized for the first time a mentally ill person's right to assistance and treatment and required every département of France to establish a central asylum.44 Working closely with director and head physician Étienne Esquirol, Gilbert composed a series of airy courtyards in which patients were organized according to affliction; the design also included a centralized chapel and yard, as well as promenades. Situated on sloped terrain, the courtyards opened toward a picturesque landscape of a type thought to be favorable to restoring reason.45 Given the shared aims of therapy (physical, mental, and/or moral), security, and rehabilitation across these various specialized institutions, architectural resonances among them are unsurprising.

Meanwhile, in the period of reckoning and recovery that followed the 1789 Revolution, issues of hygiene, health, and moderation became central to the cultivation of a new generation of disciplined, civic-minded citizens. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the state-run system of boys' secondary schools, or royal colleges (known today as lycées), relied largely on repurposed convents, monasteries, and Jesuit colleges expropriated during the Revolution.46 A modern school typology did not materialize until the Third Republic (beginning in 1870), when the need for new republican institutions led to concerted school-building efforts.47 However, given heightened concerns about epidemics and sanitation during the July Monarchy, administrators sought to incorporate nature and recreational spaces into existing, often antiquated, structures.48 Spare yards were converted into makeshift gymnasiums as early as 1829, but still the royal colleges lacked designated recreation rooms and salles de bains into the 1840s.

In comparison, the re-created Institute for Deaf-Mutes and Institute for Blind Youth are notable for having incorporated similar programs quite early on, establishing models for ideal educational environments when few others existed. The nineteenth-century French state administered disability institutions as part of “public welfare” (bienfaisance publique) rather than as part of public instruction, but the architecture of the deaf and blind schools put these institutions at the forefront of pedagogical reform in postrevolutionary France.49

Given the moral discourse long surrounding assistance and education for blind and deaf people, and the recentralization of religion during the Napoleonic era and the Restoration, it is unsurprising that the chapel was a key element at each of the institutes. At the blind school, the chapel, elevated and expansive, was given pride of place inside the central pavilion (Figure 13).50 The chapel's cupola was graced with a mural by neoclassical painter Henri Lehmann, a student of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. The mural depicts Christ positioned between the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist and surrounded by children, above a scroll with the prophet's words, “The eyes of the blind will emerge from darkness and pass into the light” (Figure 14). Although the deaf institute's chapel initially appeared less auspiciously situated, given its placement above the kitchen, it was the hinge between the boys' and girls' wings. As Peyre told the Conseil des Bâtiments Civils when questioned about the chapel's location, this was the only possible place for it. The new right wing was created with the public assembly hall in mind, so the chapel stood on the main axis of students' daily movements through the complex.

Figure 13

Pierre Philippon, Institute for Blind Youth, Paris, 1838–43, section cut through double-height chapel/assembly hall (on right) (CP/VA//102, Archives Nationales).

Figure 13

Pierre Philippon, Institute for Blind Youth, Paris, 1838–43, section cut through double-height chapel/assembly hall (on right) (CP/VA//102, Archives Nationales).

Figure 14

Pierre Philippon, Institute for Blind Youth, Paris, 1838–43, chapel with view toward the altar (top); Henri Lehmann, Ames portées aux pieds du Christ par des anges, 1843–50, mural on the apse of the chapel (bottom) (CP/F/21/3546, Archives Nationales; Diffusion RMN-GP, Ministère de la Culture, Médiathèque de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine, Charenton-le-Pont, France).

Figure 14

Pierre Philippon, Institute for Blind Youth, Paris, 1838–43, chapel with view toward the altar (top); Henri Lehmann, Ames portées aux pieds du Christ par des anges, 1843–50, mural on the apse of the chapel (bottom) (CP/F/21/3546, Archives Nationales; Diffusion RMN-GP, Ministère de la Culture, Médiathèque de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine, Charenton-le-Pont, France).

At both schools, the traditional emphasis on religious instruction and the soul was balanced, less traditionally, by an equal emphasis on the cultivation of the body. As institutions that accommodated both boys and girls, the two schools represented early forays into coeducation, although they increasingly suppressed encounters between the sexes after the Restoration. The segregation of male and female students was reinforced through architectural means—separate residential areas, tribunes in the chapel for the girls—and the boys' wings contained all the ateliers and craft workshops, while music or drawing rooms predominated in the girls' wings. Yet the parity of spaces and programs for boys and girls is noteworthy, and key shared or duplicate facilities reveal broad concerns emerging in social and pedagogical discourses about the body, sensibility, and hygiene. As with Enlightenment-era sensationism, nineteenth-century hygienic theories emphasized the close ties between physical and moral health, and the joint cultivation of these was seen as a key to social advancement.51 This is expressed architecturally in the two institutions through the importance given to such programs as bathrooms, recreation rooms, leisure and instructional gardens, and gymnasiums.

The centrality of a shared salle de bains is a striking feature of each school, although the locations differ. At the deaf institute, a courtyard initially planned by Beaumont for the girls' wing became, under Philippon's direction, an expanded bathroom for both sexes, with different periods of use scheduled for boys and girls (see Figure 6, top plan, lower left corner). Previous designs had projected separate, more modest provisions for male and female students, but as built, the baths occupied a prominent, spacious location inside the entry off Rue Saint-Jacques. The bathroom's importance is still more evident at the blind institute, where Philippon located it in the central pavilion, beneath the chapel on the ground floor. Here as elsewhere, the deaf and blind institutes were ahead of the curve. All educational establishments were required to provide toilets and washbasins in this period, but many lacked designated washrooms, relying instead on local swimming pools or public facilities. Even at the end of the 1840s, a report to the minister of public instruction on necessary hygienic measures for state schools deplored this programmatic deficiency.52

Advancements in public health and medicine in the early nineteenth century added to the urgency of this matter, but the inclusion of shared bathing facilities in educational environments could be vexing. Addressing concern over onanism among boys, Dr. Charles Pavet de Courteille warned in his 1827 treatise on school hygiene: “In isolated bathtubs, each pupil cannot be watched …. He thinks [evil thoughts] in solitude, he is excited by the influence of hot water.”53 Concerns regarding modesty and sexuality were heightened for girls, and convent schools forbade bathing entirely, unless ordered by a doctor; bodily hygiene was limited to the cold-water washing of the face, hands, and feet. Yet from his first design for the blind institute in February 1838, Philippon situated the bathroom in an ample, central space to accommodate both male and female students, expressing progressive medical and social views on hygienic education. The physical and the moral, the ablution of body and soul, were architecturally announced as pillars of the institution.

The equal distribution of spaces devoted to play and physical activity in both schools is also striking. At the deaf institute, these programs were added piecemeal, as were other renovations. The boys' building benefited from an open gallery constructed in the 1830s, communicating with the cour d'honneur, and from a broad terrace overlooking the back garden. The more limited outdoor spaces of the girls' wing were enhanced by a large recreation room that mirrored the dining hall on the ground floor. Meanwhile, the new blind institute featured two recreation rooms at ground level, one for boys and one for girls, at either end of a wide gallery adjacent to the inner courtyards and connecting the two wings. Surrounded by other gathering spaces, such as dining halls and ateliers, both recreation rooms had direct access to gardens.

Scholars such as Philippe Ariès and Jeanne Contou have argued that principles of moderation and gentleness (douceur) gradually invaded pedagogical discourse in the early nineteenth century.54 As one public school inspector recommended in 1840, children needed “more ease in manners, more liberty, more variety in experiences, more recreations, less ink on the fingers, less of rudiment in the mind.”55 At a time when evaluations of state schools for boys of the bourgeoisie were bemoaning the lack of recreational spaces, the deaf and blind institutes provided boys and girls of all social classes an education that integrated architecture and nature, instruction and play.

In 1843, the minister of public works approved the design of two gymnasiums, one for each sex, to be built in the gardens of the blind school (Figure 15).56 The earliest gymnasiums developed from natural landscapes, with trees and rocks used and modified for climbing, balancing, hanging, and jumping.57 In the military, where French physical education was first implemented, such activities were intended to prepare soldiers for battle: vaults, beams, and bars served as stand-ins for obstacles such as hedges, ditches, and trees. The blind and deaf institutes offered no military training, but gymnastics was acknowledged to have great health benefits for the students housed there. On the one hand, the halting movements of blind people negotiating their environments generally precluded invigorating, salutary exercise. On the other, the lack of vocal exercise among deaf people was thought to weaken the lungs and, consequently, the body's overall constitution.58 Gymnastics could help rectify these adverse effects of the students' disabilities.

Figure 15

Pierre Philippon, Institute for Blind Youth, Paris, 1843, gymnastic equipment, plan and elevation (CP/VA//102, Archives Nationales).

Figure 15

Pierre Philippon, Institute for Blind Youth, Paris, 1843, gymnastic equipment, plan and elevation (CP/VA//102, Archives Nationales).

A military officer named Napoléon Laisné oversaw the creation of gymnastics programs for students of both schools. Laisné, who trained at the first military and public gymnasium established in Paris in 1820, made a career of teaching physical education in boys' schools, hospitals, asylums, and even girls' private schools. He had offered gymnastics courses at the blind school's earlier location in the Saint-Firmin seminary, which met with success, and in the 1840s he was engaged to establish gymnasiums at the blind and deaf institutes.59 Emulating military precedents, each of these open-air facilities comprised a central portique, or wooden frame, hung with ladders and ropes for climbing (Figure 16). This frame was surrounded by a structure of suspended bars on which students would hang, swing, and rotate to develop upper-body strength. Portable beams and vaults (wooden “horses”) for balancing and jumping exercises completed the set. Situated in gardens, these gymnasiums also provided students the benefit of regular exposure to nature, fresh air, and sunlight.60

Figure 16

Gymnasium, Institute for Blind Youth, Paris, ca. 1843 (Edmond Texier, Tableau de Paris [Paris: Paulin et Le Chevalier, 1853]; Bibliothèque Nationale de France).

Figure 16

Gymnasium, Institute for Blind Youth, Paris, ca. 1843 (Edmond Texier, Tableau de Paris [Paris: Paulin et Le Chevalier, 1853]; Bibliothèque Nationale de France).

The transference of gymnastics from military purposes to wider pedagogical and therapeutic ones speaks to larger concerns over national decline following the 1789 Revolution. In this era of political reconstruction, the comprehensive development of the body's faculties as a means to moral advancement became a central tenet in the project of social renewal. Regular and ordered movements—swinging on bars, jogging in circles, hurdling evenly spaced obstacles—would not only strengthen the body but also impart greater steadiness to the mind. The songs and chants of uplifting and patriotic character that were often incorporated into these practices would elevate the soul. As articulated by the foremost promoter of gymnastics in France, Colonel Francisco Amoros:

Gymnastics is the rational science of our movements, of their relation to our senses, our intelligence, our sentiments, our mores, and the development of all our faculties …. Beneficence and common good are the principal aim of gymnastics; the practice of all social virtues, of all the most difficult and generous sacrifices, are its means; and health, the prolongation of life, the improvement of the human species, the increase of strength and individual and public wealth, are the positive results.61

As seen here, reformers like Amoros gave renewed currency to the older discourse of sensibility, repackaging it in the modern medical language of hygiene.

The joint cultivation of the moral and the physical at the redesigned blind and deaf institutes would thus lead to the construction of a new social subject: the modern citizen of a rapidly industrializing nation. What would be formed in these schools would be productive bodies, not simply enlightened ones, with vocational training in workshops occurring alongside the higher realms of intellectual instruction. At the deaf school, boys worked in ateliers for metalworking, printing, woodworking, tailoring, and shoemaking, while girls were mostly limited to needlework and produced all of the linens for the establishment.62 At the blind school, training in handiwork and printing supplemented traditional musical instruction.63 Students learned to spin and knit; to make strings, ropes, straps, ribbons, and reins; to produce netting for fishing; and to make espaliers, trellises, and wicker baskets.64

On his visit to the deaf institute in May 1801, Jean-Antoine Chaptal, then minister of the interior, noted the striking moral effects of productive labor on the students:

Several months ago they were difficult, fierce, undisciplined, destructive and breaking everything; dirty and insensible of all ideas of honor and gratitude …. Today mirth is portrayed on their faces; they are happy and gentle; they no longer destroy; they amuse themselves in their leisure time, because they are almost continually busy.65

Undoubtedly exaggerated, this description nonetheless conveys Chaptal's belief in the power of this multifaceted education to regenerate the citizens of the new republic. For him, labor engendered not only joy but also good mores, virtue, and civic-mindedness.

Given the high expectations placed on vocational training, the architecture meant to accommodate this work became a central concern for Philippon during the 1840s and 1850s. The blind school's ateliers were situated in spacious, well-lit, well-ventilated, lofty ground-floor rooms overlooking courtyards or gardens. At the deaf school, after several unsuccessful attempts to consolidate the scattered atelier spaces, Philippon designed an addition in the 1860s; jutting out from the corner of the chapel, it was surrounded by windows and gardens on all sides (Figure 17).66 This new construction provided an important node of airy, sunlit workshops on campus and allowed additional recreational space on the main level of the right wing.

Figure 17

Pierre Philippon, Institute for Deaf-Mutes, Paris, new atelier wing, 1864 (CP/VA//75, Archives Nationales).

Figure 17

Pierre Philippon, Institute for Deaf-Mutes, Paris, new atelier wing, 1864 (CP/VA//75, Archives Nationales).

Facing the Public

As establishments of public assistance devoted to the moral, intellectual, physical, and social education of their populations, the blind and deaf schools also partook in the culture of urban spectacle. The souls nourished in the chapel, the minds sharpened in the classroom, the bodies strengthened in the gymnasium and cleansed in the baths, and the lives changed through the productive skills cultivated in the ateliers were put on display for the public to admire (Figure 18). The achievements of the institutes' students were publicized through images and descriptions in the popular print media and through actual performances. L'Épée first gained widespread attention and funding for his school through public demonstrations of the students' skills, which elite members of French society and tourists appear to have regarded as comparable to pantomime shows.67 During the nineteenth century, both schools were mentioned in guidebooks and were open to visitors several afternoons each week, as well as for periodic public concerts and displays in their assembly halls (Figure 19).68

Figure 18

Student musical performance, Institute for Blind Youth, Paris, undated (top); demonstration of print shop equipment, Institute for Blind Youth, Paris, undated (bottom) (CP/F/21/3546, Archives Nationales).

Figure 18

Student musical performance, Institute for Blind Youth, Paris, undated (top); demonstration of print shop equipment, Institute for Blind Youth, Paris, undated (bottom) (CP/F/21/3546, Archives Nationales).

Figure 19

Martin Claverie, prize ceremony at the Institute for Deaf-Mutes, Paris, early nineteenth century (Archives de la Préfecture de Police).

Figure 19

Martin Claverie, prize ceremony at the Institute for Deaf-Mutes, Paris, early nineteenth century (Archives de la Préfecture de Police).

The architectural refinement of these halls underscores their importance as the public faces of these institutions. At the deaf school, the assembly hall—apparently the most urgent of the many renovations projected for the 1820s—was the first element to be reconstructed in the newly built right wing. In the blind school, the multifunctional assembly hall shares space with the chapel, the crowning feature of the complex, with movable wooden partitions separating or uniting the two areas as needed (see Figure 11, bottom plan). Referring to the hall's use for music lessons, architectural historian Werner Szambien has described this bidirectional space as “half-secular and half-religious.”69 It is likewise both inward and outward facing—a space for students' spiritual nourishment and for their exposition.

As much as they were educational environments, then, these institutions also served as public theaters and artful monuments. While praising Lehmann's mural in the blind institute's chapel as “one of the most beautiful productions of modern art,” the artist and writer Auguste Galimard complained that the work's great flaw is the “eccentric location [that] prevents admirers of great painting from daily contemplating [it].”70 Given the blind school's student population, however, its decorative program appears to have been intended for the “seeing” public, serving ornamental or symbolic functions rather than pedagogical ones. In this, the chapel's mural was allied with Jouffroy's marble pedimental sculpture over the institute's main entrance (see Figure 12).

This impetus to embellish primarily for those with sight is also evident in discussions that took place concerning minor improvement projects. For example, in April 1843, Philippon requested permission from the Department of Public Works to incorporate additional decor in the chapel and assembly room to “break up the austerity of the lines that the current uniformity of tones has engendered, and to produce a more agreeable appearance.”71 With a similar impulse, the bareness of the cour d'honneur was alleviated in 1849 by two symmetrical flower beds surrounded by plantings, which were protected by trellises that prevented students from stumbling across the landscape features.72 In these instances, the enhancements to the school's appearance benefited visitors rather than the students, who were visually or physically excluded from enjoyment of the “improvements.”

The haphazard nature of the deaf institute's renovations meant that contemporaries found less to laud there than at the blind school. In his illustrated guide to the capital, Tableau de Paris (1853), Edmond Texier dismissed the deaf school's architecture as exhibiting “nothing of the monumental, and only [presenting] to the amateur of art a fairly insignificant chapel and a small number of busts of no value.”73 Texier described these shortcomings as inconsequential, since the main point of the institution was its mode of teaching, not its embellishments. Yet, given that visuality is a core aspect of deaf pedagogy, this neglect was unfortunate. Describing the school in the 1860s, Maxime Du Camp noted its lack of refinements and the poor condition of its art classroom:

The plastic element, useful to everyone, indispensable to those children who require everything from the sense of sight, is radically deficient. I only saw two or three old geographical maps. A single pompous and pretentious painting occupies the end of a corridor; under the pretext of history, it represents a fanciful event, absolutely false … from the comedy of Bouilly. I don't demand that one makes the Institute for Deaf-Mutes a branch of the Versailles museum, but it is necessary to speak to the eyes of those who cannot hear.74

Du Camp advocated covering the blank walls with engravings and prints, maps and natural history plates, and scenes of national history and foreign cultures.

What there was to be seen, at least as catalogued by observers of the era, largely benefited the public. At the recommendation of the Conseil des Bâtiments Civils, Peyre increased the grandeur of the vestibule and staircase leading to the assembly hall, devoting more space to both. In the process, he sacrificed the security of the students' enclosure, since the modification resulted in public access, albeit in a limited way, to the cour d'honneur.75 Galignani's New Paris Guide for 1853 highlighted, alongside the busts of L'Épée and Sicard in this hall, a “fine picture” by Marie-Nicolas Ponce-Camus showing L'Épée embracing the young Count de Toulouse, one of his students. The chapel, open to visitors, featured a painting by Étienne-Barthélémy Garnier, Jesus Gives Hearing and Speech to a Deaf-Mute, and a “picture of good execution” by the deaf and mute artist Frédéric Peyson depicting L'Épée on his deathbed.76 Peyson's painting is particularly significant, since commendable art produced by deaf students gave visible testament to the school's success and demonstrated that deafness need not hinder intellectual perception or development.77 If music was the privileged performative realm of blind people, visual arts were the equivalent for deaf students. In this regard, the relative austerity of the art room in the deaf institute, compared to the more lavish publicly accessible spaces, emphasizes the outward-facing impulse of an institution as concerned with publicizing its merit as with fashioning it.


The architectural reconstruction projects described here occurred as France's reputation in disability education was waning. The efforts made from the 1820s onward to introduce oral methods into deaf pedagogy produced doubtful results. Meanwhile, an American critique of European blind schools written in 1833 noted several “great faults” of the French institute.78 First, the educational program was too uniform. Every student submitted to the same curriculum, even if one might be hopelessly unfit for mathematics and another completely lacking in handicraft skills. How was an individual to develop the specialized knowledge necessary to pursue a career in a particular field with such a generalized education? Second, the school placed too much emphasis on vocational training, which was counterproductive given that blind people would always be vocationally disadvantaged and better suited to intellectual pursuits. Finally, the author criticized European blind schools as aiming “too much at show and parade; their object seems to be to teach the pupils to perform such feats at the exhibition as will redound to the credit and glory of the government, rather than to their own good.”79

Paradoxically, a school serving blind students ended up making a visual spectacle of them. If French observers vaunted the dignity conferred on the members of an unfortunate class by their renovated architectural settings, these outsider perspectives placed certain elements—the diversity of ateliers, the grandeur of the assembly hall—in a more critical light.

Looking beyond their pedagogical merits and weaknesses, the schools analyzed here reveal something more general about postrevolutionary education. They aspired to uniformity in their educational systems, but more than that, they aimed to produce uniformly well-developed subjects with regard to mind, body, and spirit. Accounting for ventilation, sanitation, access to nature, and healthful movement through courtyards, gardens, bathrooms, recreation rooms, and gymnasiums, these institutions were, in effect, model educational environments, not simply special-needs schools.

The designs of these early schools for deaf and blind students ultimately reveal a conflicted legacy—their promotion of health and inclusion on the one hand, and their efforts toward social and moral uniformity on the other. Rarely visible in histories of institutional architecture writ large, these buildings and the programs they housed instantiated highly progressive thinking about hygienic education, even as such ideas were only beginning to enter more mainstream public educational establishments. Yet, as in contemporaneous institutions of correction, they also deployed architecture as an instrument of discipline and productive labor for those previously viewed as “out of place.”

From the Enlightenment belief in rational, methodical improvement to the French revolutionary project of national regeneration and postrevolutionary anxieties about restoring social order, the disabled subject proved an important test case—a way of gauging the potentials and limits of human and social “progress,” that pervasive if vexed nineteenth-century concept evocative of both self-determination and repressive conformism.80 Hygienic practices, physical education, and vocational training were all intended to form strong and independent citizens, but they were also key components of a normalization effort, a means of correcting the alterity of deaf and blind children. As the meeting point between the eighteenth-century philosophical discourse on sensibility and the nineteenth-century medical discourse on hygiene, the architecture of disability, far from being marginal, was a significant site for working through the theories on education and citizenship that preoccupied French society during this turbulent period.



Antoine-Marie Peyre, “A Monsieur le Baron Hély d'Oissel, directeur des travaux de Paris,” 8 July 1822, F/13/1253, Archives Nationales (hereafter AN). Unless otherwise indicated, all translations from French are my own.


Blind and deaf schools were referred to as écoles spéciales, établissements spéciaux, or éducation spécialisée in the nineteenth century.


Maxime Du Camp, Paris, ses organes, ses fonctions et sa vie dans la seconde moitié du XIXe siècle (Paris: Hachette, 1875), 5:134–35.


Key publications include François Buton, L'administration des faveurs: L'état, les sourds et les aveugles, 1789–1885 (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2009); Anne T. Quartararo, Deaf Identity and Social Images in Nineteenth-Century France (Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 2008); Jean-René Presneau, Signes et institution des sourds, XVIIIe–XIXe siècle (Seyssel: Champ Vallon, 1998); Zina Weygand, The Blind in French Society from the Middle Ages to the Century of Louis Braille (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2009); Florence Encrevé, Les sourds dans la société française au XIXe siècle: Idée de progrès et langue des signes (Grâne: Créaphis, 2012).


Complete sets of plans for the blind and deaf institutes and detailed documentation and correspondence regarding the institutions' administration, construction, and upkeep are conserved at France's Archives Nationales in the following series: VA//75 and VA//102 (Cartes et Plans), F/13 (Civic Buildings), F/15 (Hospices and Aid), and F/21 (Fine Arts). The historians cited in this article have explored portions of these archives, but the documents related to building and construction (in VA, F/13, and F/21 in particular) have not previously been studied in depth.


On theories relating the psyche and the senses in France, see Jan Goldstein, The Post-Revolutionary Self: Politics and Psyche in France, 1750–1850 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2005).


François Buton, “Infirmité, indigence et âge: L'éducation des sourds et des aveugles (1789–1815),” in Handicaps, pauvreté et exclusion dans la France du XIXe siècle, ed. André Gueslin and Henri-Jacques Stiker (Paris: Éditions de l'Atelier, 2003), 89.


William R. Paulson, Enlightenment, Romanticism, and the Blind in France (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987), 5.


Denis Diderot, Lettre sur les aveugles, à l'usage de ceux qui voient (London, 1749), 26–27.


Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, or Education, trans. Barbara Foxley (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1921), (accessed 6 Oct. 2017).


Presneau, Signes et institution des sourds, 19.


Sophia Rosenfeld, A Revolution in Language: The Problem of Signs in Late Eighteenth-Century France (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2001), 16.


One prominent enthusiast was Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet. Rosenfeld, 93–109.


Rosenfeld, 123–26.


On early philanthropic societies, see Catherine Duprat, “Pour l'amour de l'humanité”: Le temps des philanthropes—La philanthropie parisienne des Lumières à la monarchie de Juillet (Paris: Éditions du Comité des Travaux Historiques et Scientifiques, 1993), 59–108; Dora B. Weiner, “The Role of the Doctor in Welfare Work: The Philanthropic Society of Paris, 1780–1815,” in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques 9, no. 1 (1974), 60–89; Hugh Cunningham, “The Multi-layered History of Western Philanthropy,” in The Routledge Companion to Philanthropy, ed. Tobias Jung, Susan D. Phillips, and Jenny Harrow (London: Routledge, 2016), 48–50.


Among the cities in Europe and North America that had early schools for the blind were Liverpool (school founded in 1791), Edinburgh (1792), Bristol (1793), London (1799), Vienna (1804), Berlin (1806), St. Petersburg (1808), Amsterdam (1808), and Boston (1829). Haüy was involved in founding the St. Petersburg and Berlin institutions. Cities with early schools for the deaf included Leipzig (1778), Rome (1784), Berlin (1788), London (1792), Barcelona (1800), and Hartford, Connecticut (1817).


Louis Dupré, The Enlightenment and the Intellectual Foundations of Modern Culture (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2004), 124, 139–40.


Weygand, The Blind in French Society, 121–32.


Jan Goldstein, Console and Classify: The French Psychiatric Profession in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 64–119.


Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Vintage Books, 1973); Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage Books, 1977); Michel Foucault, The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage Books, 1973).


See John Oliphant, “Empowerment and Debilitation in the Educational Experience of the Blind in Nineteenth-Century England and Scotland,” History of Education 35, no. 1 (Jan. 2006), 47–68.


“Réflexions rapides sur l'établissement qu'on se propose de faire aux célestins pour l'éducation des sourds et muets,” ca. 1790, F/15/2584, AN.


Peyre provides a brief history of the site in “Rapport fait à Son Excellence Mr. le Ministre de l'Intérieur par Mr. Peyre architecte, sur les travaux à faire pour la restauration du bâtiment de face des Sourds-muets,” 4 Mar. 1831, F/13/1253, AN.


Beaumont (1757–1811) is best known for the Salle du Tribunat in the Luxembourg Palace and for several Napoleonic-era buildings. For biographical details on Peyre and Philippon, see Claire Banes, “Peyre Family,” Grove Art Online, 2003, (accessed 12 July 2019); Werner Szambien, “L'institution des jeunes aveugles et sa chapelle,” in L'architecture religieuse au XIXe siècle: Entre éclectisme et rationalisme, ed. Bruno Foucart and Françoise Harmon (Paris: Presses de l'Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2006), 214–16.


Beaumont's original plans are conserved in N/III/Seine/1119, AN.


This point is specified in Président et membres de l'administration de l'Institut royal des sourds-muets, “Délibérations du 24 décembre 1821,” F/13/1253, AN.


Peyre created the framework for these renovations in 1831, prior to his retirement; see “Rapport fait à Son Excellence Mr. le Ministre de l'Intérieur.” For descriptions of the school in 1833 and renovation works then planned or in progress, see Pierre Philippon, “Institution Royale des Sourds-Muets à Paris. Etat descriptif de cet établissement et des grands travaux qui s'y exécutent pour en compléter l'ensemble,” 1 Dec. 1833, F/13/1254, AN; Pierre Philippon, “Etat descriptif de l'Institution Royale des Sourds-Muets,” 1 Feb. 1833, F/21/1668, AN.


Pierre Philippon, “Ministère des travaux publics. Institution Royale des Sourds-Muets. Devis de travaux à exécuter suivant leur degré d'urgence,” 2 Dec. 1844, C//858, AN. Specific budgets and details of these projects are in F/21/1668–69, AN.


Valentin Haüy, Essai sur l'éducation des aveugles (Paris: Clousier, 1786), 6–7.


On Haüy's involvement in the 1789 Revolution and his subsequent removal from the blind institute's leadership in 1802, see Weygand, The Blind in French Society, 158–69.


Edmond Texier, Tableau de Paris (Paris: Paulin et Le Chevalier, 1853), 2:192–93.


William Duckett, Dictionnaire de la conversation et de la lecture inventaire raisonné (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1867), 294–95.


“Review: Education of the Blind,” North American Review 37, no. 80 (July 1833), 45. On the decline of the blind school's reputation after Haüy, see Paulson, Enlightenment, Romanticism, and the Blind, 104–6; Weygand, The Blind in French Society, 261–73.


Gordon Phillips, “Scottish and English Institutions for the Blind, 1792–1860,” Scottish Historical Review 74, no. 198 (Oct. 1995), 183–86.


This debate eventually led to a controversial ban on the teaching of sign language in deaf schools, issued at the Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf, held in Milan in 1880. On the ramifications of this ban for deaf pedagogy, see Jean-René Presneau, “Les sourds face à l'hégémonie des oralistes après le Congrès de Milan (1881–1900),” in L'institution du handicap: Le rôle des associations, XIXe–XXe siècles, ed. Florence Paterson, Catherine Barral, and Henri-Jacques Stiker (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2000), 105–16.


Quartararo, Deaf Identity and Social Images, 78. Publications on blind and deaf education in other national contexts include Gordon Phillips, The Blind in British Society: Charity, State, and Community, c. 1780–1930 (Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2004); Anne Borsay, “Deaf Children and Charitable Education in Britain 1790–1944,” in Medicine, Charity, and Mutual Aid: The Consumption of Health and Welfare in Britain, c. 1550–1950, ed. Anne Borsay and Peter Shapely (Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2007), 71–90; R. A. R. Edwards, Words Made Flesh: Nineteenth-Century Deaf Education and the Growth of Deaf Culture (New York: New York University Press, 2012); Margret A. Winzer, The History of Special Education: From Isolation to Integration (Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 1993).


Much work remains to be done on the architecture of early special-needs schools. Useful studies include Mary E. Kitzel, “Creating a Deaf Place: The Development of the Asylum for Deaf and Dumb Poor Children in the Early Nineteenth Century,” Journal of Cultural Geography 34, no. 2 (June 2017), 149–69; Amanda Bergen, “A Philosophical Experiment: The Wilberforce Memorial School for the Blind c. 1833–1870,” European Review of History 14, no. 2 (June 2007), 147–64.


Prints from 1821 and 1881 document the architectural development of the Hartford school during this period. See Edward Allen Fay, ed., Histories of American Schools for the Deaf, 1817–1893 (Washington, D.C.: Volta Bureau, 1893), 1:13; and H. P. Arms's lithograph “American Asylum for Deaf and Dumb, Hartford, Conn.” (Philadelphia: T. Hunter, 1881), (accessed 8 Aug. 2019). The school moved to its current West Hartford campus in 1921.


“The School for the Indigent Blind,” Illustrated London News, 28 May 1853, 429–30.


B. L. McGinnity, J. Seymour-Ford, and K. J. Andries, “Campus Locations,” Perkins History Museum, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, Massachusetts, 2004, (accessed 8 Aug. 2019).


Denis Diderot's discussion of this point is addressed in Andrew Curran, “Diderot's Revisionism: Enlightenment and Blindness in the ‘Lettres sur les aveugles,’ ” Diderot Studies 28 (2000), 82.


Anthony Vidler charts these ideas in plans for eighteenth-century factories, prisons, hospitals, and asylums in The Writing of the Walls: Architectural Theory in the Late Enlightenment (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Architectural Press, 1987). See also Robin Middleton, “Sickness, Madness and Crime as the Grounds of Reform (Part 1),” AA Files, no. 24 (1992), 16–30.


On hospital and asylum architecture in France from the 1780s through the nineteenth century, see Vidler, Writing of the Walls, 51–72; Louis S. Greenbaum, “Scientists and Politicians: Hospital Reform in Paris on the Eve of the French Revolution,” in The Consortium on Revolutionary Europe, 1750–1850: Proceedings 1973, ed. Claude C. Sturgill (Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1975), 168–91; Michel Foucault, Blandine Barret-Kriegel, Anne Thalamy, François Béguin, and Bruno Fortier, Les machines à guérir: Aux origines de l'hôpital moderne (Paris: Institut de l'Environnement, 1976); Robin Middleton, “Sickness, Madness and Crime as the Grounds of Reform (Part 2),” AA Files, no. 25 (1993), 14–29; Adrian Forty, “The Modern Hospital in England and France: The Social and Medical Uses of Architecture,” in Buildings and Society: Essays on the Social Development of the Built Environment, ed. Anthony D. King (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980), 61–93; John D. Thompson and Grace Goldin, The Hospital: A Social and Architectural History (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1975), 170–205; Lucile Grand, “L'architecture asilaire au XIXe siècle: Entre utopie et mensonge,” Bibliothèque de l'École des Chartes 163, no. 1 (Jan. 2005), 165–96.


Originally a convent of the Sisters of Charity where insane patients had been cared for since the sixteenth century, the redesigned Charenton asylum was intended to be the primary facility in Paris for the mentally ill. In 1867, under Baron Haussmann, the central asylum moved to a new building designed by Charles-Auguste Questel in the fourteenth arrondissement, on the site of the old Sainte-Anne farm. For detailed plans and description of the Sainte-Anne asylum, see Charles-Auguste Questel, “Asile d'aliénés de Sainte-Anne, à Paris,” Revue générale de l'architecture et des travaux publics 34 (1877), columns 211–23, plates 36–38.


Pierre Pinon, L'hospice de Charenton: Temple de la raison ou folie de l'archéologie (Liège: P. Mardaga, 1989), 7. Plans of the new Charenton asylum are reproduced in Revue générale de l'architecture et des travaux publics 10 (1852), plate 28.


Marc Le Cœur, “Les lycées dans la ville: L'exemple parisien (1802–1914),” Histoire de l'éducation 90 (2001), 6–7, doi:10.4000/histoire-education.835.


Studies of Third Republic educational architecture include Anne-Marie Châtelet, La naissance de l'architecture scolaire: Les écoles élémentaires parisiennes de 1870 à 1914 (Paris: Champion, 1999); Fabienne Chevallier, Le Paris moderne: Histoire des politiques d'hygiène, 1855–1898 (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2010), 187–228; Catherine Weill-Rochant, “Les lycées affirment leur différence,” in Paris à l'école, “qui a eu cette idée folle …,” ed. Anne-Marie Châtelet (Paris: Éditions du Pavillon de l'Arsenal/Picard, 1993), 90–97.


Sun-Young Park, Ideals of the Body: Architecture, Urbanism, and Hygiene in Postrevolutionary Paris (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018), 72–100. The private schools that flourished in the early nineteenth century were more architecturally innovative in this respect, developing hygienic school environments from former residential structures.


Buton, “Infirmité, indigence et âge,” 95.


For a discussion of this chapel, see Szambien, “L'institution des jeunes aveugles,” 211–20.


Park, Ideals of the Body, 38–45.


B. D. Demeaux, “Exposé de quelques mesures hygiéniques à introduire dans les établissemens destinés à l'instruction publique,” ca. 1849, F/17/7580, AN.


Charles Pavet de Courteille, Hygiène des collèges et des maisons d'éducation (Paris: Gabon, 1827), 84.


Philippe Ariès, Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life, trans. Robert Baldick (New York: Vintage Books, 1962), 257–65; Jeanne Contou, “Les punitions dans les lycées et collèges de l'instruction publique en France au XIXe siècle (1814–1854) (approche historique d'une relation conflictuelle)” (PhD diss., Université René Descartes, 1980).


“Collège Royal de Louis-le-Grand. Inspection générale de 1840,” 27 Mar. 1840, F/17/7647, AN.


Pierre Philippon, “Devis général du mobilier et autres travaux d'installation,” 12 Jan. 1843, F/21/1506, AN; Pierre Philippon, “Etat estimatif des travaux à faire à l'Institution Royale des Sourds-muets pendant l'année 1844,” 13 Jan. 1844, F/21/1668, AN.


Early educational treatises illustrating such garden-gymnasiums include Johann Christoph Friedrich Guts Muths, Gymnastik für die Jugend (Schnepfenthal: Buchhandlung der Erziehungsanstalt, 1793); Jean-Augustin Amar Du Rivier and Louis-François Jauffret, La gymnastique de la jeunesse, ou Traité élémentaire des jeux d'exercice, considérés sous le rapport de leur utilité physique et morale (Paris: A. G. Debray, 1803).


For an in-depth study of orthopedics in deaf education, see Didier Séguillon, L'éducation de l'écolier sourd, histoire d'une orthopédie 1822–1910: De l'art de prévenir et de corriger les difformités du corps à celui de faire parler et entendre (Nanterre: Presses Universitaires de Paris, 2017).


For details on Laisné's work in hospitals and schools, see Napoléon Laisné, Résultats obtenus par l'application de la gymnastique en ville et dans les hôpitaux (Paris: A. Picard et Kaan, 1894).


“Rapport à Mr. le Ministre Secrétaire d'État au département des Travaux publics,” 10 Apr. 1846, F/21/1669, AN. Indoor gymnasiums, basically large covered hangars, were built in the 1860s to accommodate physical education. Séguillon, L'éducation de l'écolier sourd, 100.


Francisco Amoros, Nouveau manuel complet d'éducation physique, gymnastique et morale (Paris: Roret, 1848), 1:i.


Sales of the needlework items the girls produced contributed to the institution's funds, bringing in around 800 francs in 1810. Quartararo, Deaf Identity and Social Images, 52.


Paulson, Enlightenment, Romanticism, and the Blind, 101–2.


Camille Bloch and Alexandre Tuetey, eds., Procès-verbaux et rapports du Comité de mendicité de la constituante 1790–1791 (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1911), 755.


“Paris, le 10 prairial,” Le moniteur universel 251 (29 May 1801), 1046.


Pierre Philippon, “A Son Excellence le Maréchal de France, Ministre de la Maison de l'Empereur et des Beaux-Arts,” 23 Dec. 1864, F/21/870, AN, with accompanying drawings in CP/VA//75, 64–70. Earlier, unrealized projects include Peyre's proposal from 1811, documented in “Devis estimatif des ouvrages à faire pour la construction d'un grand corps et hangard en pan de bois,” Sept. 1811, F/15/2590, AN; and Philippon's scheme from the 1850s, “Demande des frais et honoraires pour projects d'ateliers,” 16 July 1859, F/21/870, AN (corresponding plans are in CP/VA//75, 58–61).


Rosenfeld, Revolution in Language, 93.


See the descriptions of the schools in Galignani's New Paris Guide for 1853 (Paris: A. and W. Galignani, 1853), 382, 446.


Szambien, “L'institution des jeunes aveugles,” 214.


Auguste Galimard, Peinture murale: Décoration générale de la chapelle des jeunes aveugles par Henri Lehmann (Paris: Bureau de la “Revue des beaux-arts,” 1852), 14.


“Rapport à Monsieur le Ministre Secrétaire d'État au département des Travaux publics,” 28 Apr. 1843, F/21/1506, AN.


Pierre Philippon, “Etat estimatif des travaux à faire à l'Institution Royale des Jeunes-Aveugles pendant l'année 1848,” 25 Dec. 1847; Pierre Philippon, “Etat estimatif des travaux à faire à l'Institution nationale des Jeunes-Aveugles pendant l'année 1849,” 20 Dec. 1848, F/21/812, AN.


Texier, Tableau de Paris, 2:194.


Du Camp, Paris, ses organes, 159.


An earlier version of the design of the right wing had a public entrance opening directly into the building's vestibule rather than the cour d'honneur. See CP/VA//75, 1, AN.


Galignani's New Paris Guide, 446.


Nicholas Mirzoeff, Silent Poetry: Deafness, Sign, and Visual Culture in Modern France (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995), 90.


“Review: Education of the Blind,” 43–46.


“Review: Education of the Blind,” 46.


On theorizations of progress from the eighteenth through the nineteenth centuries, see Tom F. Peters, Building the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996), 28–33.