Searching for the Deaf history of Martha’s Vineyard
The island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts has a legendary place in Deaf history. Known by most as an affluent resort where the kinds of people who use ‘Summer’ as a verb go to Summer, it is also hugely important as an island which from the 17th century to the 1950s had an unusually high number of Deaf residents.
In places like Chilmark, up to one in twenty-five people were Deaf, and the small town of Squibnocket had one in four, all of whom were well known and respected members of the community. As such, both Deaf and hearing residents incorporated the specific Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language into their daily lives. This effectively eradicated many of the social and linguistic boundaries which Deaf people continue to experience in society today.