Yale, Caroline A. (1848–1933)

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Yale, Caroline A. (1848–1933)

American educator whose methods of teaching the deaf were adopted throughout the country. Born Caroline Ardelia Yale on September 29, 1848, in Charlotte, Vermont; died of bronchial pneumonia on July 2, 1933, in Northampton, Massachusetts; daughter of William Lyman Yale (a farmer) and Ardelia (Strong) Yale; educated by tutors at home and at the local academy; attended Mt. Holyoke Seminary, 1866–68.

Introduced innovations that influenced how the deaf were taught in the U.S.; served as teacher, then principal, at the Clarke Institution for Deaf Mutes, later renamed the Clarke School for the Deaf (1870–1922); co-founded and elected a director of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf (1890); received honorary degrees from Illinois Wesleyan University (1896), Smith College (1910), and Mt. Holyoke College (1927).

Selected works:

(booklet) Formation and Development of Elementary English Sounds (1892); (autobiography) Years of Building: Memories of a Pioneer in a Special Field of Education (1931).

Born in 1848, Caroline Yale was the third daughter of William Lyman Yale and Ardelia Strong Yale , of Welsh and English descent. Despite her frailty as a child, Caroline was encouraged by her parents to study and live actively. Her invalid mother read aloud to her and her four older siblings and supervised their education by tutors from Mt. Holyoke Seminary. When Caroline was ten years old, the family moved to Williston, Vermont, to provide the children with greater opportunities. Here, Yale attended an academy that her father had helped found. Beginning in 1866, she spent two years at Mt. Holyoke Seminary, returning home in 1868 to teach in Vermont schools.

Yale began a lifelong association with the Clarke School for the Deaf in 1870 when, at age 22, she was hired by the recently formed Clarke Institution for Deaf Mutes in Northampton, Massachusetts. By the end of her second year, she had relinquished plans to return to Mt. Holyoke in favor of a career at Clarke. Within three years, she became associate principal of the school, and 13 years after that she was named to replace the ailing founder, Harriet B. Rogers , as principal, a position she held from 1886 to 1922.

Yale was devoted to the school and to advancing the methods used to teach the deaf to become capable members in the world of people with normal hearing. To accomplish this goal, she developed new approaches to teaching that went beyond the reliance on finger spelling and signs for communication. Convinced that the deaf must also be able to communicate with those unfamiliar with sign language, she initially provided her students with visual representations of the movements of mouth and tongue needed to make a sound. In 1882, however, she devised a new system of phonetic symbols that used the 26 letters of the English alphabet to represent the more than 40 basic sounds in the English language. The system, laid out in the "Northampton Vowel and Consonant Charts," was created with the help of Alice C. Worcester , a teacher at Clarke. It became widely used for teaching the deaf and eventually for teaching the method to children with normal hearing. The method was popularized in part by the publication of Yale's booklet Formation and Development of Elementary English Sounds (1892). She also pioneered classes in athletics and manual skills for deaf children.

When Yale was 41, a few years after she was named principal of Clarke, she established a teacher education department at the school. This innovation was effective in spreading Yale's teaching philosophy through the student teachers she trained and the visitors who came to the program from around the world. By the time of her death in 1933, almost every school for the deaf in America had implemented her suggested methods.

In 1890, Yale co-founded and became a director of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf. After her retirement as principal of Clarke in 1922, she continued to oversee teacher training. Yale also was deeply involved in the Northampton community, serving on the Northampton School Committee for 25 years, and as a trustee of the Northampton Hospital for the Insane. She was also a faculty member of Smith College for several years, teaching phonetics. Yale received honorary degrees from Illinois Wesleyan University (1896), Smith College (1910), and Mt. Holyoke College (1927). In 1931, she published her autobiography, Years of Building: Memories of a Pioneer in a Special Field of Education. She died of bronchial pneumonia in her home on the Clarke campus on July 2, 1933.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Cyndia Zwahlen , editor and writer, Phoenix, Arizona