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ASD Archives/History Room

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 History

StorrsThe 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.

cooking classThe 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, 1644
  • 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 staff
  • Extensive collections of the Silent Worker, Christian Observer and other periodicals.
  • Works by 19th and 20th century deaf artists.

The Archives Today

Sofia  Wedding Dress

The school, which exists for the purpose of educating deaf and hard of hearing children, has had only limited resources to maintain the collection since the retirement of Gary Wait, Archivist, in June 2013. Currently, tours are limited and by appointment only.

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.

Current projects being worked on include:

  • Opening over 100 boxes of various school, community and ASDAA materials and organizing them. 
  • Recording the names of all files and materials we have in the fire proof cabinets in the former Executive Director's house.

Both of these projects are labor intensive and the school is examing it's resources to develop a plan for the future.  We recognize the importance of preparing for 2017, ASD's 200th birthday and hope much of this organization work can be done by then. The new school building will have several areas for the display of ASD's rich historical items. We also hope to have a a photo display put together for Homecoming on October 5, 2013. Volunteers will be needed to work on this display. Please contact Ed Peltier at: ed.peltier@asd-1817.org if you would like to help.

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: dev@asd-1817.org for more information. Click here to make an online donation.

Questions regarding the collection should be addressed to: museum@asd-1817.org.

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139 North Main Street   West Hartford, CT 06107   (860) 570-2300 [Voice]
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