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Boston Guild for the Hard of Hearing records

Identifier: M105


Until its closure in 2003, the Boston Guild for the Hard of Hearing (BGHH) was the largest nonprofit organization in New England dedicated to serving the needs of people with hearing impairment. Founded in 1916 as the Speechreader's Guild of Boston by Mildred Kennedy, Anna L. Staples, and Clara M. Ziegler, BGHH initially provided educational and recreational services out of rented rooms in Jefferson Hall in Trinity Court, Copley Square. As membership grew, BGHH purchased a larger facility at 339 Commonwealth Ave. in 1921. BGHH relocated again to 283 Commonwealth Ave. in 1937 and 1505 Commonwealth Ave. in Brighton in 1999. BGHH provided lip reading classes for children and adults, conducted hearing tests, and held various events to raise awareness for the hard of hearing.


  • Creation: 1916-2003


Conditions Governing Access:

The collection is unrestricted.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use:

Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the University Archivist.

Historical Note

Until its closure in 2003, the Boston Guild for the Hard of Hearing (BGHH) was the largest nonprofit organization in New England dedicated to serving the needs of people with hearing impairment. It provided a range of services, including preventive, diagnostic, rehabilitative, educational, and counseling services to people of all ages who were hard of hearing, late deafened, deaf, or at risk for developing hearing loss.

Originally called the Speechreader's Guild of Boston, BGHH was founded in January 1916 by three women, Mildred Kennedy, Anna L. Staples, and Clara M. Ziegler, who worked as teachers at the Mueller-Walle School of Lip Reading in the Pierce Building, Copley Square, Boston. There were 52 hard of hearing charter members; initially, only the hard of hearing could be active members and vote. At first, BGHH taught lip reading and served as a social group for hard of hearing members. By 1917, however, it began to help with the war effort; members made surgical dressings for the Red Cross and knitted for the Navy League.

When membership increased by 50% in the first year, BGHH rented rooms in Jefferson Hall, in Trinity Court, Copley Square in November 1916. The rooms were kept open daily so members could use them for rest, reading, social events, and lip reading practice. On March 31, 1920, BGHH was incorporated. On December 4, 1920, thanks to an anonymous benefactor, BGHH was able to rent an entire house at 339 Commonwealth Ave. BGHH rented out seven bedrooms to visitors, many of whom came to Boston to study at one of the three local lip reading schools, and offered tea and community suppers in the dining rooms.

By 1922, the membership had grown to 493, and members participated in 12 committees, including a Men's Division, Educational Exchange, Entertainment, Hospitality, Publications, and Recreation. Eleven teachers volunteered to teach lip reading, and in 1922-1923, 1066 students were enrolled in lip reading classes. In 1923, a social worker was hired, and BGHH began to work with the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, the Women's Educational and Industrial Union, and the Massachusetts Division of Vocational Education, among others. With more private donations, the Guild was also able to purchase a building 339 Commonwealth in 1923.

In 1925, BGHH decided to began publishing the newsletter "The Guilder." It initially began as a monthly publication, but later became a quarterly. Between 1917 and 1925, "The Bulletin" updated members of the BGHH about recent activities of the group. "The Guilder" continued to be published until 1995, although it briefly restarted again in 2002.

In 1926, BGHH began to advocate various technologies for testing and improving hearing. It purchased one of the first audiometers to test hearing. It also offered 10 electric hearing aids and many other non-electric varieties for demonstration. In the next year, it purchased a phono-audiometer for testing the hearing of school children and began demonstrating its usefulness in Boston-area schools.

In 1929-1930, BGHH membership reached its peak at 583 members. Membership dwindled in succeeding years, while the number of people served remained fairly steady. In 1934, BGHH began a lasting partnership with the Boston Emergency Campaign, the forerunner of the United Community Services and United Way, and was one of the charter members of this group. One of the results of this partnership was the "Red Feather Campaign," an annual fund raiser to help those in the community that needed assistance.

To reflect the variety of services it offered, it changed its name from the Speechreader's Guild to the Boston Guild for the Hard of Hearing in 1936. In 1937, the New Otological and Laryngological Society provided six otologists to offer hearing services for free or a nominal fee at the Guild. Due to the demand for BGHH services, BGHH sold the building at 339 Commonwealth Ave. and moved to larger quarters at 283 Commonwealth Ave.

In the 1940s, BGHH started to offer classes in speech and auditory training. It also commenced charging for some of its services and classes. In the 1950s, BGHH emphasized services to children, replacing the rented rooms with space for treating children and starting a preschool for hard of hearing children. Also in the 1950s, BGHH established classes and evaluative services to help people better utilize their hearing aids. It also continued to expand its mission to teach the public about hearing loss.

Beginning in 1960, BGHH operated a series of Mobile Audiological Testing Vehicles. The vehicles traveled throughout the Boston area to provide screening tests to people of all ages in schools, homes, and at local events. In the 1960s, BGHH also began to receive at least half of its funding from the United Way, a trend that continued to grow in subsequent decades. In 1961, BGHH started a recruitment program, traveling to colleges and universities in New England to advocate the need for more people to get involved in the study of hearing loss and to pursue degrees in audiology.

In the 1970s, BGHH began to conduct a number of projects and studies to demonstrate the benefits of audiological services in schools, the dangers of noise in causing hearing loss, and the need for teachers for the hard of hearing. Among these were the Ears for Education program in Waltham schools in 1977, a study of hearing loss in vocational schools in 1983, Project Ear for the elderly in 1993, and a partnership with Iron Workers Local 7 in 1999.

In 1983, BGHH began a partnership with The Self Help for the Hard of Hearing (SHHH), a national organization founded in 1979 by Howard E. "Rocky" Stone. Stone, who was the keynote speaker at the Guild Annual Meeting in 1981, began the group as a way for the hard of hearing to help themselves. BGHH provided space for the Greater Boston Chapter of SHHH's meetings.

In 1999, BGHH sold 283 Commonwealth and moved to 1505 Commonwealth in Brighton. It moved in order to be more accessible to its clients and to reconnect with a local community. Upon relocating, BGHH became active in a number of local health programs in the Allston-Brighton area. Throughout the 1990s, BGHH ran an operating deficit, largely due to reduced funding from the United Way and competition from commercial providers. In 2003, the Board of Directors voted to cease offering services and turned over its resources and assets to the Audiology Department and Clinic at Northeastern University.


Martha E. Bruhn opened first school of lip reading in Boston, Massachusetts.
Jan. 1916
First meeting of the Guild organized by Mildred Kennedy, Clara Ziegler, and Anna Staples; Mildred Kennedy elected president
Mar. 1916
Works on surgical dressings for the Red Cross
Nov. 1916
Rooms rented in Trinity Court, Copley Square, Boston, MA
Feb. 1918
Men's group forms
Fall 1918
Part-time secretary hired
The Exchange for Guild members began selling articles to raise funds
Mar. 31, 1920
Guild was incorporated
Dec. 1920
Rented building at 339 Commonwealth Ave.
Oct. 1923
First social worker hired
Mar. 1924
Building at 339 Commonwealth Ave. purchased
Began close affiliation with the Boston Council of Social Agencies
First issue of the Guilder published; Green Twigs, the youth group, was formed
Purchased 3-A Audiometer to test hearing; Friendship Committee formed to meet needs of shut-ins or sick members; loaned hearing aids for demonstration
Purchased the 4-A photo-audiometer to test hearing of school children
Sunday services inaugurated; Publicity Committee organized; Psychiatric social worker hired
Attendance at Guild activities reached 12,517
May 1931
Staffing at Guild reorganized
Group audiophone purchased so that music, Sunday services, lectures, and business meetings could be better heard; first university extension class offered
Attendance at lip reading classes reached 1398
Guild became active in the Boston Emergency Campaign, the forerunner of the United Community Services and the United Way; New England Lip Reading Teachers' Association formed at meeting at Guild House
Guild's speaker's bureau formed
Mar. 1936
Name changed to the Boston Guild for the Hard of Hearing
Membership dwindled to 366, but services reached 11,589 people
Legislative Committee met at Guild house to study all laws and regulations for the hard of hearing and presented bill to the Massachusetts General Court
339 Commonwealth Ave. sold and 283 Commonwealth Ave. purchased; the New Otological and Laryngological Society assigned six otologists to provide services for free or for a nominal fee
Fund started to help needy people purchase hearing aids; Guild began to supply war veterans with hearing aids
Free hearing tests offered during National Hearing Week are highly attended; speech class for children started; youth group became known as the Supper and Social Club
Jan. 1948
Auditory training classes for children and adults started
Dec. 1948
Began to charge fees for consultation services and lip reading and auditory training classes.
Guild eliminated rented rooms and used rooms for improving services for children
Sep. 1950
Hired full time speech therapist
Nursery school program for hard of hearing preschoolers established; Claire K. Kennedy started 30-year career as executive director
Apr. 1953
Bylaws changed to allow hearing persons serve on the Board of Directors
Sep. 1953
Red Cross honors Surgical Dressings Group
Nursery school discontinued; began recruitment program to encourage training of qualified teachers in lip reading and speech; began to offer free free-field testing and hearing aid evaluation
Better Hearing Month replaced Better Hearing Week
Began to offer free help sessions to ensure clients got maximum service from their hearing aids
Mar. 1960
Unveiled the Hearing Test-Mobile, a 20-foot trailer equipped for testing hearing; audiologist Alma Johnson (now Alma J. Powell) in charge of hearing tests
Began public education program about rehabilitative services; almost half of the operating budget came from the United Community Services
Offered lip reading instruction on television, Boston Channel 2.
Began program to give screening hearing tests to pre-school children at day care centers with the mobile unit
In response to the Noise Control Amendment to the Walsh-Healy Act (1969), the Guild began to train industrial personnel to conduct hearing tests in their companies
Began to teach volunteers how to teach lip reading in their home communities
Began to offer free 40-hour course for volunteers to teach lip reading in senior centers and nursing homes
Conducted workshops for industrial nurses and safety engineers on how to set up hearing conservation programs to meet federal requirements to protect workers hearing
Conducted the "Ears for Education" program, an educational audiology project to show how audiology services should be provided in schools
Conducted first study in Massachusetts about hearing loss in mental health patients
Jan. 1983
Greater Boston Chapter of Shhh (Self Help for Hard of Hearing) established and met monthly at the Guild
Took action against high levels of damaging noise in vocational schools
Board voted to liquidate capital to deal with operating deficit
Introduced Project EAR (Education, Access, and Respect) to test, educate, and empower elderly community members about hearing loss
Introduced specialized consumer-premises telephone equipment distribution program
Began dispensing all types of hearing aids, assistive listening and alerting devises and systems; provided direct services to 10,756 people; 4,375 people received testing in mobile vehicle
Worked with the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents to conserve hearing for Iron Workers in Local 7
May 1999
Sold 283 Commonwealth Ave. and moved to 1505 Commonwealth Ave. in Brighton, largely based on a desire to be in a neighborhood to reconnect with the local community
Jan. 13, 2003
Board of Directors voted to cease providing clinical services and affiliate resources and assets with the Audiology Department and Clinic at Northeastern University.
May 2, 2003
Guild stopped offering audiology services


17.25 cubic feet (32 containers, 1 flat file folder, 2 art files)



System of Arrangement:

Organized into 3 series: 1. Administration; 2. Audio-Visual and Visual Materials; 3. Artifacts

Physical Location

63/2-3, 73/1, FF3/D3, Art File 19, 22

Finding aid for the Boston Guild For the Hard of Hearing Records/
Finding aid prepared by Michelle Light, Lloyd Williams, Jeanine Rees, and John Fienberg
November 2004
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections Repository

Snell Library
360 Huntington Avenue
Boston MA 02115 US