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American Sign Language: Deaf History

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

By Alexis Harrington

Deaf History: The founding of the first School for the Deaf in America

Regarding Deaf History, one achievement stands out among the rest: The founding of the first School for the Deaf in America. The founder, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, is an icon in deaf as well as hearing culture. Gallaudet took the bold first step in educating the deaf. Founding the American School for the Deaf revolutionized education and took great strides in educating everybody; for purposes such as Literacy, Salvation, and teaching the skills needed to earn a living.

            Thomas Gallaudet was born December 10, 1781.  He could never keep up with his friends as a child, because he was born naturally weak with breathing problems. He wore hand-me-downs from his younger brother because of his small stature (Bowen, 1995). While he was a child, his parents moved to Hartford Connecticut so he could go to grammar school (Corporation, Thomson).

After graduating from Yale University with the highest honors, he started a career as a traveling sales man. As he taught the children on his travels things like history and the Bible, it allowed him to realize he wanted to be a minister (Enders). Gallaudet went to Andover Theological Seminary. After graduating in 1814, (Corporation, Thomson) he came across a deaf and mute girl named Alice Cogswell (Enders). Alice had been stricken with a fever that caused her deafness when she was two (American School for the Deaf, 2009). Intrigued by Alice, he desired to educate her, and taught her words using sticks in the mud. Dr. Cogswell, Alice's father, encouraged Gallaudet to instruct her. Eventually, Cogswell and other families funded Gallaudet's trip to Europe to find means of educating the deaf (Hager, 2006).

While he was touring Great Britain in search of greater methods of education for the deaf-mute, Abbe Sicard, was giving lectures there (Gallaudet, 1888). Sicard was the Director of the French school for the deaf (American School for the Deaf, 2009). Gallaudet also met up with Laurent Clerc, a pupil and assistant of Sicard (VirtualologyTM, 2001). While attending the lectures, Gallaudet convinced Clerc to travel back to America with him. In a couple years, Gallaudet mastered these new methods and went back to America (Enders). On the long way home, Gallaudet and Clerc exchanged teachings and learned each other's languages.  Gallaudet effectively mastered French Sign Language.

Once Gallaudet returned to America, he and Clerc (with the help from the Cogswell family) established the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons (Hager, 2006).  The school got special attention from the president, James Monroe.  Soon, the government gave large grants of land and funds to help support the institution. He and Clerc developed the American Sign Language, and taught it to the individuals who went to their institution (Enders).

Today, although the institution is out of commission, newer institutions, like the American School for the Deaf and Gallaudet University, have replaced it with newer facilities and resources. (Hager, 2006). Ever since the first student, Alice Cogswell, had attended the school; both Deaf and Hearing people of all ages could find means of education in the institution. Gallaudet successfully revolutionized education for the Deaf world.


VirtualologyTM. (2001). Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. Retrieved Janurary 16, 2011, from

American School for the Deaf. (2009). A Brief History of ASD. Retrieved Janurary 17, 2011, from

Bowen, A. R. (1995). A World of Knowing: A Story about Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet . Minninapolis.

Corporation, Thomson. (n.d.). Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet from Encyclopedia of World Biography. Retrieved Janurary 2011, from

Enders, K. (n.d.). Gallaudet, Thomas Hopkins. Retrieved Janurary 16, 2011, from

Gallaudet, E. M. (1888). Life of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet: founder of deaf-mute instruction in America. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Hager, R. T. (2006, Fall). Gallaudet, Thomas Hopkins. Retrieved Janurary 16, 2011, from


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