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The beginnings and the Great Depression

The roaring twenties found the Chicago League for the Hard of Hearing located in a three-story house at 206 East Superior Street. The roots of our present day Hearing Aid Bank can be traced to this time period, as lip-reading classes and social activities continued to be an important part of the League's program.

In the early 1920s, the League sponsored hearing tests in Chicago public schools. These early tests were tuning fork, whisper and watch tests. By 1929, the League began promoting the use of the phonograph audiometer to take the place of whisper tests in schools.

Hearing test
A student has her hearing tested with a phonograph
audiometer in the early 1930s.
The audiometer was
a technological improvement over tuning forks and
whisper tests, which had been used in earlier years.

In May 1927, the League exhibited Hearing Devices from the Leading Chicago Companies at the third annual Woman's World Fair held at the Chicago Coliseum. Members of the older generation and even some "flappers" were wearing carbon-type hearing aids with separate battery packs. Some of the more fashion conscious were wearing bone conduction hearing aids with the receiver hidden in a tortoise shell or rhinestone tiara.

In May 1929, the League moved from its community house on Superior Street to club rooms located on the tenth floor of DePaul Building at 63 East Lake Street. The League started the 1930s by joining the Chicago Woman's Aid organization in a drive for the installation of group hearing aids in theaters, movie houses and churches.

The May 1930 issue of the League Bulletin contained a notice for a "number of second hand hearing aids...which can be purchased at very reasonable rates." The 1939 annual report indicates that hearing aids were given to 20 persons who were unable to purchase an aid.

The League continued its work in public schools by employing a nurse to administer and follow up on hearing tests. A report on the League's work indicated that close to 30,000 students in 27 public schools were given the whisper test. Of the 2,590 who failed and were referred to an ear specialist, 900 were found to be hard of hearing.

During the 1930s, the effects of the Great Depression were felt throughout the Chicago area. The League noted that in a six month period, 350 hard of hearing men and women applied for jobs and only 58 were placed. The 1939 annual report noted that the League served 152 "welfare cases" by helping people apply to a public agency for assistance and distributing food and clothing.

In the late 30s, the League moved to Chicago's Fine Arts Building on South Michigan Avenue.

Next: Wartime growth and the birth of "Chicago Hearing Society"



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