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Fletcher Booth

10 Fletcher Booth.jpg

Fletcher Booth

Fletcher Booth came from a close-knit and supportive family who were strongly involved with the Wesleyan faith and later with the Church of England. It seemed that his whole family could communicate through signs and fingerspelling, although they were not all deaf.

Booth was educated at the Institute in Sydney from the age of seven for about eight years. When he left at the age of 15, Booth trained as a draftsman and an architect, working for architectural companies in both Parramatta and Sydney.

Booth was the first native Sydneysider who was paid to take charge of “the uplift of the Adult Deaf”. He was paid £1 per month in the 1890s to provide club meetings on Friday evenings and assist with divine services on Sunday mornings at various churches in the Sydney area. At first Booth provided assistance to others during church services but he eventually established church services specifically for Deaf adults scheduled after hearing people had their church services.

Due to the lack of services and support for Deaf adults in Sydney, Booth, with the support of the Institute’s Superintendent Samuel Watson, established a building for the adult deaf community on the Institute grounds. It provided an office space for Deaf adults to use for social clubs, meetings, and church services.

In 1902 Booth married Laura A Begent, one of the very few Deaf teachers in Sydney. They had two sons together, one of whom was deaf. Subsequent generations have had at least one or two family members with a hearing loss.

In 1913, the proposal to form the “Adult Deaf and Dumb Society of New South Wales” was successful after the first public meeting at the Town Hall in Sydney. As with other ‘charitable organisations’ at the time, it was hearing rather than deaf people who were appointed to the Board.

Struggles with the very ‘hearing’ administration of the Deaf Society during the 1920s led Booth and others to form the Association of Deaf and dumb Citizens in 1929. The establishment of this new organisation was met with resistance from the Deaf Society as it meant competition for the provision of services to Deaf adults in NSW.

With the Deaf Community’s support, Booth went on to form and preside over a national organisation, the Australian Association for the Advancement of the Deaf (AAAD).

Following the forced amalgamation of the Association with the Deaf Society in 1927, Booth decreased his political involvement in the Deaf Community although he did attend the Deaf Club at 5 Elizabeth St in Sydney (the one he originally helped to select and renovate) until his death.

Fletcher Booth with his fluency in both Auslan and written English was the driving force behind two publications: the Silent Messenger and the Deaf Advocate. In addition to serving as an editor for Deaf publications, Booth wrote other papers, mostly documenting the history of the Deaf Society. 

Booth died in 1956 at a nursing home for the deaf in Strathfield, at the age of 86. His activism has left us with the Deaf Society and the Silent Messenger, both still benefiting the present Australian Deaf Community. Booth was posthumously recognised for his services to the Deaf Society of NSW which named its Boardroom in his honour in 2010.