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History > A Brief History of ASD


Thomas H. GallaudetA Brief History of ASD

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet (right) was born in Philadelphia on December 10, 1787, to French Huguenot parents. His family later moved to Hartford, near the home of Dr. Mason Fitch Cogswell, a prominent surgeon in the town.

Dr. Cogswell's daughter Alice had been deafened in infancy by a childhood illness associated with a prolonged high fever. Young Gallaudet, a divinity student and a graduate of Yale College, was home from Andover Seminary convalescing from a chronic illness. He observed Alice's attempts to communicate with her siblings and the neighborhood children at play.

Although not trained to teach deaf children, Gallaudet convincingly demonstrated that Alice could learn and should be afforded the opportunity to attend school.

Dr. Mason CogswellDr. Cogswell was excited about the prospects for educating his daughter and all deaf children in the country. The Congregational Churches of New England, probably the most reliable source of census data of that day, reported 80 deaf children in New England and approximately 800 deaf children in entire U.S. Gallaudet, Cogswell, and ten prominent citizens decided an American school for the deaf was sorely needed. In just one afternoon, sufficient funds were raised to send Gallaudet to Europe to study the methods of teaching the deaf.

The Braidwood family, formerly of Edinburgh, Scotland, operated a school for the deaf in London as a family business. They did not wish to share their knowledge to train prospective teachers of the deaf, unless terms could be negotiated to pay the Braidwood family, on a per capita basis, for each deaf child who would be subsequently educated using the Braidwood methods. Gallaudet would not sign such an agreement or embrace the doctrinal tenets of the Braidwood system. He remained in London for 13 months, but gave up hope of bringing the Braidwood system back to Hartford.

The Abbe Sicard, Director of the French Institute for the Deaf in Paris, was in London at that time with his two deaf assistants, Jean Massieu and Laurent Clerc, giving lectures and demonstrations on the methods used to educate deaf children in France. Gallaudet was familiar with the work of the French School, and had even met with the abbe at the beginning of his visit to England, but it was not until he had despaired of reaching his goal with the English that he turned to the French. Gallaudet attended one of the lectures, met with the abbe and his assistants, and accepted their invitation to enter the teacher preparation program at the French school.

Laurent ClercLaurent Clerc (left) worked closely with Gallaudet, but there was not sufficient time for Gallaudet to master all of the techniques and manual communication skills before his diminishing funds forced him to book return passage to America. Gallaudet prevailed on Sicard to allow Laurent Clerc to accompany him on the return trip to America to establish an American School. In the fifty-five days of the return voyage, Gallaudet learned the language of signs from Clerc, and Clerc learned English from Gallaudet.

The oldest existing school for the deaf in America opened in Bennett's City Hotel (picturedabove) on April 15, 1817. The school became the first recipient of state aid to education in America when the Connecticut General Assembly awarded its first annual grant to the school in 1819. When the United States Congress awarded the school a land grant in the Alabama Territory in 1820, it was the first instance of federal aid to elementary and secondary special education in the United States. More than four thousand alumni have claimed this historic school as their alma mater.

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