William G. Vicars, Ed.D.
Jan 1, 2001
In the early 1800's, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, a hearing minister and a
graduate of Yale University met and became friends with a young Deaf girl
named Alice. Gallaudet took an interest in teaching the girl and succeeded
at teaching her a few words. The girl's father Dr. Mason Cogswell,
encouraged Gallaudet to become involved with the establishment of a school
for the Deaf.
So, in 1815 Gallaudet headed for Europe in search of methods for
teaching the Deaf.
He approached a number of program directors, (the Braidwood schools,
the London Asylum, etc.), but none of them were willing to share their
techniques with Gallaudet.
Fortunately while in England Gallaudet met up with the director of a
Paris school for the Deaf, a man by the name of Sicard.
Sicard was there with two of his deaf pupils, Jean Massieu and Laurent
Clerc who were also teachers at the school in Paris. They were in England
giving demonstrations on how to teach the deaf by using sign language. The
Paris school, which had been founded by the Abbe Charles Michel de L'Epee
in 1771, was using French Sign Language in combination with a set
methodically developed signs.
Gallaudet persuaded Clerc to return with him to the States and in 1817
the first American school for the deaf was established in the city of
Over time, the signs used at that school, plus the signs that were
already being used by Deaf people in America evolved into what we now know
as American Sign Language.
It is important to note that sign language was being used here in
America before Gallaudet and Clerc set up the school. One example
(that you might want to research more) took place in Martha's
Vineyard. At one time many Deaf people lived there and all or almost
all of the townsfolk knew how to sign whether or not they were Deaf!