John Walter Michaels
Born near Richmond, Virginia, John Walter Michaels was a child of the Civil War. Amidst the turmoil of the war, the accounts of when and how he became deaf are vague - he either became deaf at age seven or nine either due to canon fire or to untreated erysipelas, a skin disease that causes very high fever. However he became deaf, Michaels worked hard to convince his mother to allow him to attend the Virginia School for the Deaf which she finally did when he was fifteen. After four years at the Virginia school, he entered Gallaudet College but left after three years of study to return home and marry his high school sweetheart. John Michaels first taught at the Virginia school while also working other side jobs to make ends meet. After three years, Michaels took a position at the Arkansas School for the Deaf and taught there 22 years before leaving to pursue God's call to be a Southern Baptist missionary to the Deaf in the South. He was known as an authority on Shakespeare and other classical writers. He received a conferred Bachelor of Arts degree from Gallaudet College in 1902 which was signed by Theodore Roosevelt and in 1939, a conferred Doctor of Divinity signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt. During his tenure at the Arkansas school, the governor refused to appropriate funds for the school, but due to Michaels' keen mind for business, he subsidized the school until a new governor restored funding to the school. As an itinerate missionary to the Deaf, Michaels was responsible for establishing Sunday school ministries in eighteen states throughout the South and Midwest although his travels encompassed more area. He was known for his art of storytelling and the magic tricks he used to capture the attention of deaf audiences. He was also on the NAD Federal Plan committee in 1907. At age 72, Michaels published his Handbook of Signs which was used extensively in the eighteen states his ministry covered, with one volume of his book ending up in China, brought there by another missionary. He died just shy of his 90th birthday.
(Sources: The Silent Worker vol. 27 no. 5 (February 1915); The Silent Worker vol. 39 no. 7 (April 1927); The Arkansas Democrat Sunday Magazine, Little Rock, July 12,1953; The Deaf Mississippian (January 20, 1936); The Life and Works of J.W. Michaels: First Southern Baptist Missionary to the deaf and developments in deaf work among southern baptists by Robert Marshall Landes (1965))