ASD maintains a museum
containing many items from the history of deaf education. Other links are listed at the left of this page. For a kid-friendly site related to Deafness and Deaf History, visit "Deaf Is...", a site of information collected by students at ASD. For a list of Hartford Historical Sites Important to the History of Deaf Education, click here (pdf).
A Turning Point in American
The founding of the American School
for the Deaf in Hartford, Conn., in 1817 was a crucial milestone in
the way society related to people with disabilities. The time and place are
significant because it was a unique conjunction of different currents which led
to the school's establishment.
Many threads in developing U.S. society coalesced in Hartford in the early nineteenth century. The
importance attached to universal literacy (by no means common in the world at
the time) and the particular missionary religious doctrines of the prevalent
Protestant sects provided both means and motive for the attempt to educate deaf
people. The concept of self-reliance and the belief that religious salvation is
possible through understanding the Bible determined the methods and purposes of
the founders. Literacy, salvation and the skills needed to earn a living were
the goals. Achieving these required clarity and fluidity of communication,
which is why the school was based on sign language from the start.
The experiment aroused great
interest. Governor Oliver Wolcott, in an 1818 proclamation, asked the public,
"to aid . . . in elevating the condition of a class of mankind, who have
been heretofore considered as incapable of mental improvement, but who are now
found to be susceptible of instruction in the various arts and sciences, and of
extensive attainments in moral and religious truth." His words express the
great change in attitude toward deaf people which had only just occurred.
The school's founders were
well aware of the groundbreaking importance of their project, and they and
their successors saved a great many letters, teaching aids, illustrations, books
and other objects. These materials remained in the school's possession and now
form a rich collection. They document not only the history of deaf education,
but also the study of educational techniques, the history of religion, and the
history of Hartford, of Connecticut,
and of the United States.
Among the thousands of items
in the archives are:
The oldest book on signs in English, Chirologia,
- Numerous books from the 17th, 18th and 19th
century, in several languages, on deaf education
- Personal papers of those involved in opening ASD,
including founders Mason Cogswell, Thomas H. Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc;
the school's earliest pupils, notably Alice Cogswell and George Loring; Alice's early tutor
Lydia Sigourney, later a famous American poet, and others.
- Documents relating to the first state and first
federal aid to special education in the history of the United States.
- Complete collection of the school's Annual
Reports, as well as many from other schools for the deaf.
- Complete collection of the American Annals of the
Deaf, oldest professional journal in the field, begun in 1847 by ASD
- Extensive collections of the Silent Worker,
Christian Observer and other periodicals.
- Works by 19th and 20th century deaf artists.
The Archives Today
While the ASD archive is
extensive and unique, its condition has suffered over the years from the
ravages of time and from well-meaning but ill-informed efforts at preservation.
The school, which exists for the purpose of educating deaf and hard of hearing
children, has had only limited resources to maintain the collection. However,
in the autumn of 2000, a professional archivist was engaged to sort, evaluate,
stabilize and preserve the materials.
Valuable 185-year-old letters
which were lying unprotected in file cabinets have now been suitably housed;
books which were turning to dust are being restored; and century-old photos,
fading from exposure, are now protected. The school has made a commitment to
properly stabilize, preserve and catalogue the collection, make it accessible
to scholars and, eventually, develop interpretive exhibits and materials for
the public. The school hopes to preserve for the nation's future this precious
piece of its past.
Providing the best education
possible for deaf and hard of hearing students remains the principle priority
of the American School for the Deaf. A limited amount of
funding has been made available by the school to begin the preservation,
cataloguing and display of the magnificent collection housed in the ASD Archive.
However, additional funding is required for the school to achieve its goals.
How You Can Help
All those who have an
interest in preserving these treasures - members and friends of the deaf
community, friends of history, of education, and others - are encouraged to
consider a gift to the Archive Fund, recommend the names of others who may have
an interest, or assist in continuing to build the archive collection. Call
860.570.2355 (Voice/TTY) or E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Questions regarding the
collection should be addressed to the museum archivist, Mr. Gary Wait at