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American Annals of the Deaf

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The History of Gallaudet University: 150 Years of a Deaf American Institution

David F. Armstrong

 

chapter i

 
Establishing a College for the Deaf, 1864–1910

 

The entire early history of the Columbia Institution revolves around the actions of one man—Edward Miner Gallaudet, the youngest son of Thomas Hopkins (T. H.) Gallaudet and Sophia Fowler Gallaudet. The elder Gallaudet is renowned as the founder, along with Laurent Clerc and Mason Fitch Cogswell, of deaf education in the United States. Together the three men established the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons (now the American School for the Deaf), the first permanent school for the deaf, in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1817. The story of T. H. Gallaudet’s voyage to England and ultimately France in search of methods for teaching deaf children, and his return to Hartford with Clerc, an experienced deaf French teacher, is well known in the annals of American Deaf history.1 T. H. Gallaudet’s trip was not at all unusual for Americans of that time who traveled to Europe, most often to France, in search of new ideas, especially in science, technology, and the arts. For example, the American painter Samuel F. B. Morse returned to the United States from France in 1832 with the idea for the  

electric telegraph, after having observed a long-distance system of visual communication in use in France.2 In 1844, the first long-distance telegraphic transmission in history traversed the estate of Amos Kendall, Morse’s business partner. Thirteen years later, Kendall founded the Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind, the institution that became Gallaudet University, on his estate in the northeast section of Washington, DC.

The impetus for the school began in 1856 when P. H. Skinner approached Kendall to solicit donations to found a school for deaf and blind children in the area. Skinner had brought five deaf children from New York and recruited several deaf and blind children in Washington. On learning that the children were not receiving proper care, Kendall successfully petitioned the court to make them his wards. He donated two acres of his estate, named Kendall Green, to establish housing and a school for them. The school opened with twelve deaf and six blind students.3


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