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American Sign Language: Deaf History

(4) Also see: History 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8


Comments from Dr. Bill regarding this article:  "Important People in Deaf History"

Christina, in general you have put forth a fairly good effort. However, I have included a bit of feedback here and there in your paper. For example, you say that Mr. Gallaudet "was accepted under the conditions that he adopted their tradition of a profit making institution and not reveal their secrets" I think it is important to clarify that willingness and/or an offer to accept him is different from his actually accepting the offer.  To get a bit more context on this I tried finding "Mah's" "research paper" (to which you referred) but the link was dead.  Also, your "DHHAP" source was written by an unknown author.  In the future, I encourage you to find sources for your research that are more solid and traceable.  
-- Dr. Bill

Author: Christina [Last name removed to preserve privacy]

Important People in Deaf History

In everyday life people may believe that the loss of hearing is a  disability, but for the deaf community it is not. They view themselves as an  ethnic group only to accept their way of life as normal. They do not dwell on  the fact that this is a physical condition. "Deaf people in America pride  themselves as a linguistic subculture," (DHHAP 2001).

The Deaf community feels that they do not need a cure for their conditions. They have made a social life and folklore of their own. They have created many organizations such as: 

National Theater for the Deaf 
Gallaudet University 
National Association for the Deaf 
Miss Deaf America Pageant
World Federation of the Deaf
American Athletic Association of the Deaf
World Recreation Association of the Deaf 
National Fraternal Society of the Deaf
(DHHAP 2001)

The Deaf community is acknowledged by society as a race such as the American or Hispanic communities. 
It was almost two hundred years after the pilgrims arrived in this country before the Deaf community was able to establish schooling. (Mah 1996) The first school established in America for the "Deaf and Dumb" was in Hartford, Connecticut in 1817, through the efforts of three men. Mason Fitch Cogswell whose daughter was deaf. Her name was Alice and at times she attracted the attention of a neighbor named Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. 
Mr. Gallaudet was a minister who took a special liking in Alice. Mr. Cogswell talked Mr. Gallaudet into going to England to study the deaf schooling community and return to the United States and open their own school.  The school Mr. Gallaudet checked into was ran by a family named Brainwoods. [Braidwoods] They controlled the formal education in the Deaf area there. Their education was based on Oralism (use of speech and speech reading) (Jankowski 1997). The families were only interested in the profit making institution and they were not willing to share their techniques. Finally Mr. Gallaudet convinced them to accept him as an apprentice. He was accepted under the conditions that he adopted their tradition of a profit making institution and not reveal their secrets. This was not appealing to Mr. Gallaudet, but he learned of an exhibition in London and made arrangements to go. There he watched Alexander Graham Bell show former students of schools that taught oralism.

[Editor's note:  To clarify, the Braidwood schools were willing to apprentice him yes, but their stipulations didn't appeal to Gallaudet and so he went to London and watched Abbe Sicard give a presentation--NOT Alexander Graham Bell!]

[Sicard] had them [his students] recite readings to show the people that this was how to teach the Deaf. There [Gallaudet] watched Laurent Clerc demonstrate his abilities. Mr. Clerc was a former student from a Paris school. Mr. Gallaudet moved to Paris to persuade Mr. Clerc to return to the United States with him. He succeeded and upon their return, along with Mr. Cogswell, they founded the school in Hartford. It was the first American permanent school for the Deaf. (Jankowski 1997) Later Mr. Thomas H. Gallaudet's son, Edward Miner Gallaudet was founder and first president of the institution now known as Gallaudet University (Jankowski 1997).
Over the years there have been many battles in the arena of education 
by the Deaf community and the International Congress on Education for the 
Deaf (ICED). There was much uncertainty in what language to use with sign 
and if sign or an oral approach worked best. The ICED voted in Milan in 
1880 to only use an oral approach as a medium for the instructions of Deaf 

Twenty-five years later the Deaf community prepared a coalition to 
compromise the Milan Congress decision, because at the time there was only 
one deaf educator among the delegates. Despite the efforts by the Deaf community the Oralists won and for approximately the next sixty years sign language was banished from the classroom. Oralism continued until the 1960's when it was made possible for sign language to once again be used in the education of Deaf students.


1. Jankowski K. (1997). Deaf Empowerment. Deaf community and their struggles. 

2.  DHHAP (2001). Deaf Culture: Culture, History, and Importance. DHHAP Information and Technical Assistance Series. Deaf and Hard of Hearing Access Program Technical Assistance Center. Retrieved on 08, November 2001:

3. Mah K. (1996). Research paper. "The History of the Deaf" Piedmont Middle School. Retrieved 08, November 2001:

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