Importance to the deaf community
Malm’s work at the state school for the deaf in Turku was short-lived: he fell ill and passed away as the semester ended, on 8 June 1863 at the young age of 37. He had only worked at the school of his dreams for three and a half years.
The cause of death was pneumonia, but there are various explanations as to what caused it. Miss Betty Elfving, whose family knew Malm, mentions that he caught a severe catarrh in the spring. Carl Oscar’s brother had tried to take him to the doctor’s, but with no luck. According to Elfving, the catarrh got worse and turned into a fatal pneumonia. Elfving also recounted that Malm’s last years were joyless and that he suffered from melancholy and emptiness in life.
A story told by Malm’s former students still lives on in the deaf community on how Malm had seen a horse fall in the River Aura near his apartment. He had rushed to help the animal get back on dry soil and he had either burdened himself too much or caught a cold so bad that he caught a pneumonia a few days later.
Malm’s funeral attracted a lot of attention in Turku, and great many townspeople joined the funeral procession. Few deaf people attended, however, as the school semester had already ended and the students had returned to their home regions.
In all, Malm taught over a hundred people in Porvoo and Turku. For him, the ideal deaf person was an independent individual who knew sign language and had received an all-round education. After Malm died, teaching started to focus on practical studies at the expense of liberal arts, however, but as a result of his work, there was more debate on the teaching of deaf people and special groups. Furthermore, deaf people started to receive education at an early age compared to the general folk education received by the hearing.
In the mid 1800s, it was common for deaf people in Europe and the United States to work as teachers and headmasters at deaf schools. Malm’s memoir emphasises, nonetheless, that he founded the first school by ’rising from their own ranks’. Malm’s success was furthered by his own exceptional talent and the awareness and wealth of his family. Porvoo as a location was also highly significant, as it was home to intelligentia as well as supporters of popular education and charity work. In other words, Malm was in the right place at the right time, and his school initiative fitted the contemporary trends.
The deaf community started to cherish Malm’s memory as early as 1896 when the first general deaf meeting in Finland was organised in Turku. Malm’s gravestone was unveiled, carrying a relief made by the deaf artist Karl Albert Tallroth. There were also other deaf artists who found inspiration in Malm’s life and produced paintings, drawings, busts and reliefs of him.
At the beginning of the 1900s, the pioneer’s memory was honoured by collecting material related to him in the Finnish Museum of the Deaf and by publishing his biography in 1913. The 100th anniversary of Malm’s birth was celebrated in 1926. The festivities included unveiling Malm’s statue made by the deaf artist Juho Felix Talvia at the yard of the Porvoo school for the deaf. The 100th anniversary of deaf’s education was celebrated in 1946. At that time, the Finnish Association of the Deaf sent its member associations instructions on how to honour Malm’s life work, and according to them, his portrait needed to be decorated with garlands for any festive ceremonies.
Carl Oscar Malm still holds important standing within the deaf community, and stories of his life live on in the signed tradition as an example of what a deaf person can do.