David Fredrik (Fritz) Hirn (1834–1910) is a pioneer of Finland’s Deaf club activities. He was a well-liked teacher in the Turku Deaf School and founded the first kindergarten for Deaf children. Even after retiring, he started collecting the first Finnish sign language dictionary.
Fritz Hirn was born in 1834 to a wealthy officer family. Fritz became deaf after a scarlet fever at the age of four. There were no Deaf schools in Finland in Fritz’s childhood, but when young C. O. Malm arrived from Stockholm, Manilla School, Fritz Hirn became his private student in 1846.
On September 27th, 1863, Fritz married his former private student Maria Klingenberg. Malm had advised Fritz to hold on to the relationship with Klingenberg family after Maria moved to Deaf school. The couple had five children, of which only two – Julius and Julia – survived.
Birth of the Deaf community
Due to Deaf schools, in 1880′s sign language had been used in Finland for around 20 years and the amount of sign language users was growing. The biggest number of sign language users lived probably in Turku, where they by and by developed a habit of meeting at Fritz and Maria Hirn’s home every Sunday. The most important thing must have been sign language using company. The vivid life at home was gradually too much for Fritz, and following the example from Stockholm he decided to suggest forming a club.
The first meeting was a great success. With blessings of the headmaster A. E. Nordman, a group of enthusiasts started assembling at Turku Deaf School in Autumn 1885. The rules of Döfstumföreningen i Åbo (The Deaf-and-dumb Association in Turku) were accepted in 1886. Fritz Hirn was the first elected chairman and remained on the seat until 1899. The association continued its Sunday meetings in the school assembly hall, as earlier in the Hirn living room.
Also Helsinki got its Deaf club soon, and Fritz Hirn was summoned its honorary member in 1896. The two clubs started immediately an active co-operation, with Helsinki club having Fritz’s son Julius as its chairman. Fritz Hirn retired in 1898 and moved with his wife to Helsinki. They spent their time taking part into new club’s activities and at the Deaf club Fritz was known of his lively signing and funny stories. He was also involved in founding the Finnish Association of the Deaf.